Almost every cannabis consumer has experienced cottonmouth. You take a couple of puffs of your favorite strain and a few minutes later, your mouth is sticky and maybe even feels a little like sandpaper. But, what causes the notorious cannabis dry mouth? Is there a way to stop it from happening? Here’s the scoop on what causes cottonmouth and how to get rid of it:
What causes cottonmouth?
Cannabis gives you cottonmouth because the active compounds in the plant, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), engage with cell receptors on the salivary gland that control saliva secretion.
THC is the primary psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis. When inhaled, THC binds to special receptors called cannabinoid receptors. Cannabinoid receptors live on proteins that make up parts of membranes. These receptors allow cells to receive chemical messages, which are sort of like instructions. These instructions cause a cascade of chemical reactions that can influence all sorts of interactions in the body, from memory formation to saliva secretion.
Research in rodents has found that the two most common types of cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, are present in salivary glands. There are three primary salivary glands, which include the parotid glands, submandibular glands, and sublingual glands.
A 2006 study published in the journal Experimental Biology and Medicine discovered that a specific endocannabinoid molecule, which can loosely be described as the human version of THC, reduces saliva production when it engages with receptors in submandibular glands.
The submandibular glands are responsible for over 60 percent of the moisture in the mouth when not stimulated by food or hunger. The researchers found that the endocannabinoid anandamide (AEA), which is often referred to as the “bliss molecule”, reduced saliva flow in treated rodents.
When you consume cannabis, THC hijacks the cannabinoid receptors that would otherwise be triggered by AEA. In a way, THC is AEA amplified. THC stays active in the body longer, which is one reason why it can cause severe dry mouth.
Additional research from 2004 has found that AEA also affects saliva secretion from the parotid glands. The parotid glands release saliva in response to a stimulus, such as the smell of food or taste. Since AEA can affect these glands, so can its plant equivalent, THC.
Interestingly, a 2012 study published in PLoS One suggests that the presence of endocannabinoids like AEA in saliva is a marker of obesity. The lower your body weight, the less likely you are to have these compounds in your saliva. Saliva is the first form of digestion in humans and animals.
Do edibles cause dry mouth?
Both inhaling and ingesting cannabis can cause dry mouth. When you inhale or chew activated cannabis, the cannabinoid receptors in your mouth are some of the first to be exposed to THC. This means that the salivary glands are strongly affected when consuming the plant.
However, cannabis can also have a systemic effect on various mucous membranes throughout the body. This includes the mouth and the nose. As THC travels through the bloodstream, it circulates in the body until it can find fatty places to land. While taking a cannabis capsule may not cause dry mouth to the same extent that smoking does, it’s possible that your mouth might feel a little sticky.
THC and other cannabis compounds can also be absorbed into the bloodstream via mucous membranes. In fact, oral mucosal delivery is thought to be a fast and effective way to feel the active effects of cannabis. This is why medical cannabis oil is often administered via an oral syringe and applied under the tongue and on the cheeks.
How to get rid of cottonmouth
Now that we know why cannabis causes cottonmouth, we’re on to a more important question: how do you get rid of it? Cottonmouth is by no means pleasant. It can make food taste bad and is just plain irritating. Here are a few tricks that might help:
1. Sip water
Taking some slow sips of water can help you re-moisten your mouth after cannabis. To really get things going, take a small sip and gently swish the water around in your mouth. Doing this a couple of times can improve symptoms of cottonmouth. Sucking on an ice cube can also help.
2. Cook food
Saliva production starts when you anticipate food. The process of cooking and preparing food can help prime the mouth for a feast. Not only are you thinking about the meal that you are about to eat, but you can see, smell, and touch the food as well. This anticipation kickstarts saliva production, which may help re-moisten your mouth.
3. Chew sugar-free gum
Chewing stimulates saliva production. However, chewing gum with sugar in it is bad for your teeth. Picking up a pack of sugar-free gum prior to a smoke or vape session is a nifty way to quickly counteract the effects of cottonmouth. For best results, make sure the gum is flavored. In fact, a 2011 study found that strawberry and apple-flavored gums caused more of a salivary response than other flavors, like cinnamon.
4. Suck on something sour
Hoping for moisture in a hurry? Sucking on a lemon or something sour can quickly flood the mouth with saliva. Different compounds are secreted depending on the taste you are consuming. Sour foods like lemon tend to cause a very quick salivary response to neutralize the bitter taste. Sour hard candy is another option, though sugars and acids are not healthy for the teeth.
5. Avoid caffeine, tea, and alcohol
If you have dry mouth, taking a sip of wine or beer probably won’t help. Common drinks like coffee, tea, and alcohol can further dry out the mouth, potentially worsening the cottonmouth situation. Caffeine and alcohol are diuretics, meaning that they cause you to pass excess water through the urine. This makes you dehydrated.
Many herbal teas contain astringent compounds called tannins, which can shrink pores and cause skin and other tissues to become dry. Reaching for a glass of water or an ice cube instead will provide better relief.