Cannabis & Cotton Mouth: What Causes It & How to Avoid It
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Most who use cannabis have heard of or have experienced cotton mouth (dryness of the mouth) as a side effect, but many do not understand why it happens. The sensation is called “cotton mouth” because it can feel like your mouth is full of cotton balls, dehydrated and thirsty.
Scientists have recently begun to shed light on the causes and cures for cotton mouth. Learn why cannabis users experience this undesired effect when smoking weed and how it may be prevented.
Learn more about cannabis and cotton mouth, what causes it, and how to avoid it.
The Science Behind Cotton Mouth
Before the onset of cannabis legalization, which led to the wide selection of products seen in dispensaries today, recreational smoking was the primary method of use. In those times, many believed cotton mouth was caused by the thick smoke from burning cannabis.
However, as users began vaping as an alternative to smoking, cotton mouth remained a side effect. As capsules, oils, and gummies began to make an appearance, those products also carried with them the same results. The question of why cotton mouth occurs could only be answered when scientists began to study the problem.
What Causes Cannabis Cotton Mouth?
Dry mouth as a side effect of consuming cannabis is relatively common, and most refer to it as “cottonmouth,” though the scientific name for dry mouth is “xerostomia.” In 2006, Juan Pablo Prestifilippo and his colleagues at the Centro de Estudios Farmacologicos y Botanicos in Buenos Aires searched for potential causes of cotton mouth, specifically, a decrease in saliva secretion.
The team theorized that there are cannabinoid receptors located in the salivary glands are responsible for this effect. Experiments on male rats determined receptors CB1 and CB2 were present in specific locations of the submandibular gland – a salivary gland in rats. It was discovered that the cannabinoid anandamide attaches to these receptors, resulting in hyposalivation (decreased saliva output).
Olga Kopach and Juliana Vats at The State Key Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Kiev found that normally, the cells of saliva glands use the endocannabinoid system to signal feedback that inhibits the over-accumulation of saliva in the mouth.
When a person consumes cannabinoids, receptors CB1 and CB2, bring about a significant drop in saliva production, causing the mouth to feel dry. Kopach also reported findings that these receptors behave differently at the cellular level. “CB1 receptors predominantly modulate the flow of saliva, while CB2 receptors seem to influence consistency and content of saliva (such as sodium levels) . . . Cells in the salivary glands can synthesize anandamide”.
A dry mouth from consuming cannabis does not cause dehydration throughout the rest of the body, which is why it does not cause the type of hangover some experience from alcohol consumption. Interestingly, what scientists have learned about how the salivary glands and cannabinoids interact could lead to new therapies for those who experience complications with salivation.
Is Cotton Mouth Dangerous to Health?
A collection of research from the Department of Periodontology at the Academic Centre of Dentistry in Amsterdam suggests that with increased cannabis use, oral health is a concern. The researchers stated that oral health care providers need to be more aware of the potentially chronic side effects associated with dry mouth from cannabis consumption.
Mainly, these are:
- Leukoedema – “A white or whitish-gray edematous lesion of the buccal and labial oral mucosa.”
- Candida Albicans – A type of yeast present in microbes on the skin (including inside the mouth) and gastrointestinal tract that is healthy at normal levels but harmful when multiplied. In that case, it becomes known as thrush or Candida overgrowth.
- Periodontal Disease – An infection of the gums that can cause bad breath, swollen or red gums, bleeding or tender gums, pain when chewing, loss of teeth, sensitive teeth, and receding gums.
- Tooth Decay and Cavities.
Saliva lubricates the mouth to taste food, swallow, and speak. It protects the mouth, throat, and teeth from bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms. As such, saliva levels that are consistently low become a risk factor for tooth decay, cavities, periodontal disease, and even tooth loss.
Less serious side effects include: feeling thirsty, hoarseness, sore throat, tingling in the mouth, a raw or red tongue, cracked lips, mouth sores, and skin split in the mouth. While marijuana is not the only medicine that may result in xerostomia, hyposalivation is typically solved when the user stops taking the problem medication, such as radiation treatments for cancer patients.
On the other hand, those who consume cannabis tend to do so frequently and consistently over long periods. Understanding ways to prevent or cure cotton mouth is key to avoiding these harmful side effects.
How to Prevent Cotton Mouth
The American Dental Association encourages consumers of cannabis to maintain regular visits with a dentist, chew sugar-free gum, and maintain a regimen of teeth brushing at least twice daily using fluoride-enriched toothpaste.
Some other health professionals have suggested reducing citrus-based foods and alcohol-based breath sprays, beverages, and mouthwash because they can dry the mouth. Some drug stores carry gums and sprays that help keep the mouth moist and are a good idea. Gum chewing helps prevent signals from the endocannabinoid system that limit saliva production.
Another obvious dry mouth cure is drinking water, especially while consuming cannabis. While it may be tempting to have a refreshing beer or wine, those beverages contain tannins that can further dry the mouth. Some fruit juices and teas may also contribute to the problem.
In an article published by American Marijuana titled “Cannabis & Cotton Mouth – Get Rid of Marijuana Dry Mouth,” Dwight Blake provides the following additional remedies for cotton mouth:
1. Drink Water
Drinking water before and while consuming cannabis can help reduce dry mouth. Using a straw may help you keep hydrated better.
2. Chew Gum
When you chew food or a snack, it triggers your mouth to produce saliva. Chewing gum or snacking on dried fruit or beef jerky may help reduce symptoms of dry mouth.
3. Use Hard Candy
Lick a lollipop or suck on some hard candy. These stimulate saliva production – sour flavors are usually better for increased saliva production.
4. Try Cough Medicines
Cough medicines, also known as demulcents, help reduce mouth dryness by covering the mucus membrane with a dewy film.
5. Herbal Tea
Herbal tea, like green tea, can help reduce the dry feeling of the throat. Herbal teas do not contain caffeine, a diuretic (dehydrating).
Another approach to avoid cotton mouth symptoms is to research the strains of cannabis before you purchase them. Because some medical marijuana strains can exacerbate dry mouth.
Research Different Strains of Medical Marijuana to Avoid Cotton Mouth
Patients should always search online for information about strains of cannabis. With so many different types of medical marijuana, it can help you create a list of strains with effects you may want to avoid.
Chewing gum may not be enough to combat chronic cottonmouth. Online resources like Weedmaps, Leafly, AllBud, and more, show details about specific strains. And data (based on user reviews) about common psychoactive and physiological effects. Including dry mouth.
Aaron Bloom serves as the CEO, overseeing the mission and growth of DocMJ and Medwell Health and Wellness Centers. Aaron’s passion for improving patients’ lives comes from his background in health care. For more than 20 years, Aaron owned, operated, and represented traditional healthcare organizations. This experience created a passion for finding improved ways to relieve suffering. His goal as CEO is to work daily to relieve all patients who seek better health and wellness through the medicinal benefits of medical cannabis and evidence-based alternative medicines.