thirsty in the desert

Be prepared! Cannabis-induced dry mouth can be super uncomfortable if you don’t have a cool beverage nearby.

Almost every cannabis consumer has experienced it: that dry, pasty sensation rightfully referred to as cottonmouth.

For some it’s not a big deal – and if anything it’s a good reminder to hydrate.

For others it can be seriously annoying, interrupting sleep, work, or conversation. That witty remark that was on the tip of your tongue? Forget it. It’s stuck there forever, along with that bite of sandwich you thought would be such a great idea ten minutes ago.

Seriously though, of all the side effects of marijuana, what exactly is the deal with cottonmouth? Why does it happen, and what’s the best thing to do about it when it does?

As with all your cannabis questions, we at Green Flower have got you covered.

A careful look at cannabinoids and the mouth.

man smoking cannabis in park

Most cannabis consumers have come to accept dry mouth without question, but it’s interesting to learn why this happens in the first place.

It has been known for many decades, if not centuries, that cannabis use can cause excessive oral dryness. However, it wasn’t until recently that the world began to glean some understanding of the biological processes at work.

In 2003, a team of Italian researchers discovered the endogenous cannabinoids 2-AG and anandamide in the salivary glands of a lone star tick. These are the same two cannabinoids our own bodies produce to interact with the endocannabinoid system.

So this Italian study is interesting for sure, but here’s a crazy side-note: apparently this North American parasite produces saliva-based endocannabinoids for their analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. This would explain why we rarely feel it when a tick has latched on to our flesh!

One year later in 2004, a team of researchers from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina did a study with rats where they found anandamide and cannabinoid receptors in the parotid glands – one of the three main types of salivary gland, along with the sublingual and submandibular.

Then in 2006 came the study that would shed serious light on the subject, conducted by a different team at the University of Buenos Aires. In it, the researchers showed that both cannabinoid receptors 1 & 2 were present in the submandibular glands of rats, and that high levels of anandamide caused a reduction in saliva secreted from the glands by acting directly on the receptors.

So because THC acts in a similar manner to anandamide, it too can cause a temporary reduction in saliva by acting on those receptors in your saliva glands.

What are cannabis receptors doing in the saliva glands anyway?

salivary glands

Researchers are finding cannabinoid receptors just about everywhere!

The regulation of appetite is just one of the endocannabinoid system’s many functions. So it makes sense that saliva production would be part of the system as well, tying in to the subjective experience of hunger, appetite, salivation, enjoyment of food, and subsequent satiety.

These discoveries relating to the salivary glands further demonstrate just how integrated the endocannabinoid system is. Consuming cannabis can help keep that system in balance (especially if you have an endocannabinoid deficiency), but it’s also easy for certain steps within the process to go slightly awry when we flood those cannabinoid receptors.

But even though dry mouth can be annoying or uncomfortable it is – similar to most side effects of marijuana – temporary and does not appear to be harmful in any way.

What can you do about cottonmouth?

The side effect of dry mouth may be more pronounced in certain cannabis strains, but really there is no ultimate cure just yet.

However, there are a few basic things you can try to alleviate the problem:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Try chewing gum (especially with xylitol)
  • Sugar-free lozenges might help
  • Sugary or milky drinks tend to make it worse for some people

How do you feel about cottonmouth – significant annoyance or no big deal? Feel free to share any tips or stories in the comments below.