Here’s why cannabis gives us ‘cotton mouth’

Cotton mouth, or ‘dry mouth’, is that dry, grainy feeling we often get when we consume cannabis. Here's why it happens, and how we can prevent it.

One of the most annoying side-effects of cannabis is cotton mouth. In my opinion, it’s way worse than the munchies.

Cotton mouth, or ‘dry mouth’, is that dry, grainy feeling we often get when we consume cannabis. When cotton mouth hits us, we seem to stop producing saliva, our mouths feel sticky and uncomfortable, and swallowing becomes difficult. Like the name suggests, cotton mouth feels like you have a bunch of cotton balls in your mouth.

Because saliva is an important part of the digestion process, cotton mouth becomes a huge problem when we get munchies. Trying to eat with a dry mouth is not fun.

But why exactly do we get cotton mouth? What does the science say? And how can we ease the symptoms of this annoying phenomenon?

Why we get cotton mouth

Many people believe we get cotton mouth because the smoke dries our mouth and throat when we smoke a joint. In reality, we don’t only get cotton mouth from smoking weed but also from ingesting edibles, vaping, and using tinctures. So, while hot smoke can certainly dry your mouth out, there is a more complicated reason for cotton mouth.

Cannabis contains active ‘ingredients’ called cannabinoids. These chemicals work by affecting our endocannabinoid system, which in turn affects a lot of our bodily functions. Different cannabinoids will affect our endocannabinoid system in different ways.

The endocannabinoid system is located all over the body – including in our submandibular glands. These glands are located near our mouth, and they produce about 70% of our saliva. This saliva lubricates the mouth and contains enzymes that help us digest our food.

One of the most well-known cannabinoids is THC, which is responsible for the psychoactive ‘high’ we feel when we ingest cannabis. It also affects our submandibular glands. When THC hits our endocannabinoid system, it prevents the parasympathetic nervous system from telling those glands to produce saliva.

Cannabis doesn’t just dry out your mouth. It can also lead to vaginal dryness by affecting the mucus membranes in the groin area. Much like with cotton mouth, THC prevents the parasympathetic nervous system from stimulating the mucous membranes to produce vaginal fluids. This phenomenon, called ‘cotton vagina’, is a huge downside for those who use cannabis to enhance sex.

How can we prevent cotton mouth?

Unfortunately, there’s no quick, universal cure for cotton mouth – but there are a few things we can do to prevent and ease that dry feeling.

It seems that certain strains cause cotton mouth more than others. With experience, you’ll learn to avoid these strains. If you can’t avoid those strains, there are a few things you can do to keep your mouth lubricated.

First of all, stay hydrated. When our body is dehydrated, one of the first areas it affects is our mouths. If your body gets lots of fluids, your salivary production will naturally be more consistent. Drink lots of water before and after consuming cannabis to keep your mouth lubricated.

There are certain foods that naturally increase our salivary production. Herbal tea and lozenges will sooth your dry throat while stimulating the production of saliva. Sour foods also have a tendency to increase saliva production. A sour fruit like grapefruit, a few drops of lemon juice in water, or some sour candy can keep dry mouth at bay.

Sucking on foods also increases the production of saliva. Next time you have cotton mouth, try sucking on a sugar-free lollipop or crushed ice.

There are also a few foods you should avoid when you have cotton mouth. Your mouth is dehydrated, so avoid consuming anything that will dehydrate you further. Alcohol and caffeine both tend to dehydrate you, so it’s best you stay away from coffee and alcohol until your cotton mouth goes away.

Tobacco products, sugary drinks and foods, and foods high in tannins (like Ceylon tea) can also dry your mouth out more.

How cotton mouth can help people

Cotton mouth is horrible – but there is an upside to this strange side-effect.

According to LeafScience, studying cotton mouth has helped scientists understand saliva better. The phenomenon has demonstrated that our endocannabinoid system affects saliva production.

This means that scientists are now better equipped to study chronic salivary problems. People might struggle to produce saliva if they’re using certain medications, if they’re undergoing treatment for cancer, or if they have hereditary diseases of the salivary glands.

Hopefully in future, scientists will be able to develop medicine that targets our cannabinoid receptors to help increase or decrease salivary production.

More about marijuana and health here

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