Humans have enjoyed marijuana since ancient times, so “cotton mouth” isn’t exactly something new. But it was only recently, in 2006[1], that this peculiar effect of weed has become the subject of scientific research, which is now helping us to understand it more.

Because of the similarity between anandamide and THC, it is now believed that when THC binds to the receptors in the submandibular glands[2], it stops them from receiving messages from the nervous system. In other words: the THC in cannabis is likely the reason for the decrease of saliva production in the mouth.

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What is THC?

What Causes Dry Mouth Besides Cannabis?

While we often associate the feeling of cotton mouth with cannabis alone, there are various reasons one may experience dry mouth. For starters, you're likely to get it if you aren't regularly drinking fluids, especially water. Eating excessive amounts of dry food like crackers and beef jerky can cause these symptoms as well, along with spending a lot of time in hot, dry weather. Those who sleep with their mouth open will be familiar with the feeling as well; we constantly produce saliva, but it can dry out quickly if your mouth isn't closed.

Is Cotton Mouth Bad for Your Health?

So, is getting cotton mouth bad for your health? Well, it's not anything that'll land you in the hospital, but it can still cause some notable issues. To start, dry mouth can be pretty uncomfortable over an extended period, which can dampen your mood and throw off your focus.
It can also lead to a dried out throat, which can make swallowing very difficult without the assistance of water. Along with that, if you let it go on long enough, your teeth will start to weaken as they get more and more dry, becoming more sensitive in the process.

The Science Behind Cotton Mouth From Weed Smoking

Humans have enjoyed marijuana since ancient times, so “cotton mouth” isn’t exactly something new. But it was only recently, in 2006, that this peculiar effect of weed has been the subject of scientific research, which is now helping us to understand it more.

The Science Behind Cotton Mouth From Weed Smoking
  • The Endocannabinoid System, Saliva & Cannabinoids

Cotton mouth may seem like it is dryness from smoke (and some do indeed think it is), but this is not the whole story; there is a lot more to it. The real cause for cotton mouth has to do with how cannabinoids, the active compounds in cannabis, interact with the human endocannabinoid system.

The endocannabinoid system consists of cannabinoid receptors that are located throughout the entire human body, including the brain. Cannabinoids in marijuana can activate these receptors, where they cause all sorts of reactions and processes. This is how the high from marijuana comes about, but the interaction with these cannabinoid receptors can affect many more bodily processes, with saliva production one of them.

The saliva production in our mouths is controlled by a part of our autonomic nervous system known as the rest and digest system. The brain sends nerve impulses towards the salivary glands to stimulate saliva production, and this happens without us needing to do anything for it. Our subconscious brain can also influence this process. For example, when the mere thought of some tasty food causes the brain to send more impulses to the saliva glands, making our mouths water.

With cannabinoids receptors being present in all parts of our body, it wasn’t too surprising when researchers found them, also in the submandibular glands, the saliva glands under the mouth which are responsible for producing most saliva. The researchers also found that anandamide, which is similar in structure to THC, causes decreased saliva secretion.

Because of the similarity of anandamide and THC, it is now believed that when THC binds to the receptors in the submandibular glands, it makes them stop receiving messages from the nervous system. In other words: The THC in cannabis is likely the reason for the decrease of saliva production in the mouth.

This new understanding how smoking cannabis results in a dry mouth opens up new ways to treat the problems associated with saliva production. Not only may weed lovers one day be able to find a way to get rid of the annoying cotton mouth, but this research may also well come in handy for treating a variety of conditions where patients suffer from dry mouth for other reasons.

What Can You Do When You Experience Cotton Mouth?

Most people experience dry mouth to some degree when they smoke cannabis, but it’s usually not a big deal if you only have a few hits. It can get unpleasant during heavier sessions, though, and just drinking water doesn’t really do anything significant to relieve it. You definitely should drink water when you've got it, but there are a few other tricks you can try out as well.

  • Chewing

Chewing stimulates saliva production, and this means that it can help with a dry mouth. A strip of chewing gum can be all that you need to help to stimulate the glands once again.

If you don’t like chewing gum, you can also look into things like beef jerky or dried fruits. Basically, any food that will need some chewing can act as an alternative.

Chewing
  • Candy / Lollipops

In the same way as chewing can be a good way to get some saliva flowing, you can lick a lollipop, take a cough drop, or some hard candy. Sucking on the candy or a lollipop has the same effect as chewing; it will increase saliva production to help you get rid of dry mouth.

Bonus tip: Sour flavours will really get your mouth watering, so some sour-tasting candy can be better than sweet ones. If you’re brave enough, you can even start munching on a slice of lemon!

Candy / Lollipops
  • Cough Medicines (Demulcents)

In those cases where you think that chewing along or licking a lollipop doesn’t really help to get rid of a really nasty spell of dry mouth, you can look into demulcent cough drops. These oral demulcents are widely available over the counter. What they do is coat the mucous membranes with a moist film, which can prevent or help get rid of the dry cotton mouth feeling.

Cough Medicines (Demulcents)
  • Herbal Teas

Along with the feeling of an unpleasantly dry mouth often also comes a feeling of a sore and irritated throat from smoking. If you look around most modern grocery stores, you should be able to find herbal teas. These are great at offering relief. Tip: Add a squeeze or two of sour lemon juice to your herbal tea for an even better effect to help with your sore and dry mouth.

Herbal Teas
  • Limit Sugar and Salt Intake

If you want to really make sure you don't run into dry mouth, you should make a point to limit your sugar and salt intake on a regular basis, even when you're not smoking.

Sugary and salty foods taste great, yes, but they also dehydrate us at a rapid pace. In turn, consuming them more regularly will lead you to develop dry mouth more quickly when you smoke. Eating those foods during or after the session will also lead to significant discomfort.

Limit Sugar and Salt Intake
  • Humidifier

Now, if you know you keep your mouth open at night, getting a humidifier to run while you're asleep can save you from discomfort in the long run.

Normally, when you fall asleep, you produce saliva that's protected by your closed mouth, fending off dryness in the process. If you keep it open, however, all that saliva dries out, and you'll end up with constant cotton mouth that's only worsened by smoking. Running a humidifier while you sleep will help you evade that situation thanks to an abundance of moisture in the air.

Humidifier
  • Brush Your Teeth and Use Mouthwash

Prevention is great, but sometimes you need a solution in the moment. Thankfully, you can just head into the bathroom and brush your teeth! The mint in the toothpaste will stimulate your salivary glands, and having some mouthwash and mints afterwards will help ensure that dry mouth stays far away. You should be keeping your teeth clean anyway, but now you know it can save you from discomfort in a pinch!

Brush Your Teeth and Use Mouthwash

Things You Should Avoid When You Have Cotton Mouth

Not all beverages are suitable if you want to get rid of cotton mouth. Black teas and green teas can actually dry out your mouth even more (basically anything with caffeine), so you should avoid them. Stick with herbal teas or plain water. If you get the munchies after smoking, you should also avoid salty foods and salty snacks because they will also make it worse. So keep your hands off those pretzels! The same goes for alcohol and tobacco.

External Resources:
  1. Inhibition of salivary secretion by activation of cannabinoid receptors - PubMed https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  2. Cannabinoid receptors in submandibular acinar cells: Functional coupling between saliva fluid and electrolytes secretion and Ca2+ signalling | Journal of Cell Science https://jcs.biologists.org
Disclaimer:
This content is for educational purposes only. The information provided is derived from research gathered from external sources.

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