Why weed makes your mouth feel dry, and what to do about it
I enjoy partaking in the herb every now and then, especially now, savoring the high it brings as a brief reprieve from the coinciding stressors of a pandemic and worldwide racial reckoning. But cannabis, like any substance, can have side effects. One of my least favorite: It leaves the inside of my mouth parched AF, an annoying phenomenon commonly referred to as “cotton mouth.” As a health reporter who also loves her edibles, IвЂ™m curious as to why weed makes my mouth feel dry, and what, if anything, I can do about it. I reached out to scientists to investigate.
At first, people simply blamed it on the particulates in the smoke formed when you light up, since cigarette smoking can dry out your mouth, too, says Lewis Nelson, professor and chair of the department of emergency medicine and chief of the division of medical toxicology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. But, вЂњitвЂ™s also become pretty clear over the years that you can get dry mouth from pot brownies and gummy bears,вЂќ he tells me. (The last time I experienced it, I was sipping on cannabis-infused seltzer water.) вЂњItвЂ™s a direct effect of THC,вЂќ short for tetrahydrocannabinol, the compound in cannabis that makes you feel high.
First, letвЂ™s back up, and walk through what THC actually does in your body: A cell signaling system, known as the endocannabinoid system, regulates sleep, appetite, and a bunch of other biological functions, Healthline explains. It consists of molecules your body makes on its own, known as endocannabinoids, which, in turn, bind to endocannabinoid receptors, located in numerous regions of your body. As it turns out, THC mimics the activity of endocannabinoids, binding to the same receptors as they do.
When THC binds to the endocannabinoid receptors on your salivary glands, it вЂњreduces the amount and increases the viscosityвЂќ of the saliva they secrete вЂ” hence the dry, sticky feeling inside your mouth.
Among these receptors are those found on your salivary glands, including the major glands nestled around the back of your lower jaw. The binding of THC to these receptors inhibits the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), responsible for вЂњrest and digestвЂќ functions, such as slowing your heart rate, moving food through your digestive tract вЂ” and, increasing your saliva production.
Indeed, вЂњthings that block the PNS cause you to have a dry mouth,вЂќ Nelson says. When THC binds to the endocannabinoid receptors on your salivary glands, it вЂњreduces the amount and increases the viscosityвЂќ of the saliva they secrete вЂ” hence the dry, sticky feeling inside your mouth. You mightвЂ™ve noticed that your mouth also feels dry when you take Benadryl and other antihistamines; thatвЂ™s because they, too, block the PNS, but by binding to different receptors.
How you imbibe doesnвЂ™t really matter, Nelson explains. In other words, taking an edible wonвЂ™t make you more likely to experience a dry mouth than smoking a joint, since the THC in your weed doesnвЂ™t bind to the endocannabinoid receptors on your salivary glands right awayвЂ”instead, it circulates through your bloodstream to reach those glands.
While it might be tempting when the inside of your mouth feels like sandpaper, Nelson cautions against gulping down massive amounts of water. Although not producing enough saliva is a symptom of dehydration, your body isnвЂ™t actually dehydrated, вЂњitвЂ™s just that the glands are shut down.вЂќ He notes that some people suck on candy to keep their saliva flowing. Also, try to lower your intake of alcohol, which can also reduce saliva secretion, suggests Yu-Fung Lin, an associate professor of physiology and membrane biology at UC Davis.
While you can minimize mouth dryness to some extent, you might also just need to accept it as a trade-off to getting high, Nelson says. But for the moment of chill cannabis offers when I do occasionally use it, itвЂ™s a trade-off IвЂ™m willing to make вЂ” IвЂ™ll just suck on some Smarties while IвЂ™m at it.
This article was originally published on June 30, 2020
I enjoy partaking in the herb every now and then, especially now, savoring the high it brings as a brief reprieve from the coinciding stressors of a pandemic and worldwide racial reckoning. But cannabis, like any substance, can have side effects.вЂ¦
Cannabis & Cotton Mouth: What Causes It & How to Avoid It
Cannabis & Cotton Mouth: What Causes It & How to Avoid It
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. Scientists have recently begun to shed light on the causes and cures for cotton mouth. Read on to learn about why cannabis users experience this undesired effect and how it may be prevented !
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The Science Behind Cotton Mouth
Before the onset of cannabis legalization that 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 that resulted from burning cannabis. However, as users began vaping as an alternative to smoking, cotton mouth remained to be a side effect. As capsules, oils, and gummies began to make an appearance, those products also carried with them the same results. The question behind why cotton mouth occurs could only be answered when scientists began to study the problem .
Dry mouth as a side effect of consuming cannabis is fairly 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 which are responsible for this effect. Experiments on male rats determined receptors CB 1 and CB 2 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 CB 1 and CB 2 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. “CB 1 receptors predominantly modulate the flow of saliva, while CB 2 receptors seem to influence consistency and content of saliva (such as sodium levels) . . . Cells in the salivary glands can synthesize anandamide” . 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 out of the Department of Periodontology at the Academic Centre of Dentistry in Amsterdam suggests that with increased cannabis use 4 , oral health is a concern. The researchers stated that providers of oral health care 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 Cavities8
Saliva lubricates the mouth so that we can taste food, swallow, and speak. It also 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 that is 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 with radiation treatments for cancer patients. On the other hand, those who consume cannabis tend to do so frequently and consistently over longer periods of time. 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 two times per day using fluoride-enriched toothpaste. Some other health professionals have suggested a reduction in citrus-based foods and alcohol-based breath sprays, beverages, and mouth wash because they can dry the mouth. Some drug stores carry gums and sprays that help keep the mouth moist and are a good idea for those who consume cannabis on a regular basis or who tend to experience cotton mouth . Gum chewing helps by preventing signals from the endocannabinoid system that limit saliva production.
Another obvious cure for dry mouth is to drink 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. The important part is to sip on water throughout the day or before, during, and after cannabis consumption. Even drinking water will not be as effective once dry mouth has set in. Some prefer to eat crushed ice as a means to break up the monotony of drinking water .
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:
- “Sipping water frequently especially with a straw keeps you hydrated.
- Chewing gum, beef jerky or dried fruit stimulates the release of saliva.
- Lick lollipop or suck on some hard candy. These stimulate saliva production – sour flavors are usually better for increased saliva production.
- Cough medicines, which are also known as demulcents, help reduce dryness of the mouth by covering the mucus membrane with a dewy film.
- Herbal teas help reduce the dry feeling on the throat” .
Cannabis & Cotton Mouth: What Causes It & How to Avoid It Cannabis & Cotton Mouth: What Causes It & How to Avoid It Most who use cannabis have heard of or have experienced cotton mouth