The morning after I smoked my first joint, I woke up choking. Not because it was the first time I’d exposed my lungs to smoke, but because my saliva glands seemed to have vanished overnight. I assumed I’d caught some weird virus that dried my mouth out.
Later, when I chatted to the benefactor who’d given me the joint, I was assured that this was no virus, but my first-ever case of xerostomia, or cannabis cottonmouth. Cottonmouth occurs because cannabis causes saliva secretion to decrease. The most common symptoms are a persistent thirst, and uncomfortably dry mouth and throat. While the name of the condition is enough to make you laugh out loud (cottonmouth sounds like a PG13 insult from a Nickelodeon show), its symptoms aren’t really a laughing matter. Gagging for water when emerging from slumber is less than ideal, and somewhat stressful. Not only is cottonmouth unpleasant, but it’s also super common.
About 68.9 percent of those who use cannabis frequently experience it. Hervé Damas, cannabis expert, and director of Grassroots Wellness, cottonmouth can happen to anyone who uses cannabis. “Those who have certain conditions like Sjogren’s [syndrome] or scleroderma tend to be more susceptible, though,” says Damas. While many assume a dry mouth is provoked by smoking, cottonmouth can occur after you ingest cannabis in any form. The cannabinoids (what’s excreted from the cannabis plant, like THC or CBD) present in cannabis interact with receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system. This interaction can produce an assortment of reactions including feeling high, feeling hungry, or having a dry mouth. “Cannabinoids decrease salivation caused by the neurotransmitters methacholine and norepinephrine,” explains Damas. “On a molecular level, these receptors cause a change in cellular signaling, causing a decrease in saliva production.” The majority of saliva production takes place in the submandibular glands under the mouth. Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD bind to receptors in the salivary glands. Once the cannabinoid has attached itself to a receptor, it causes the glands to stop receiving messages from the nervous system. The nervous system reduces saliva production, and your mouth becomes as dry as the Sahara. Saliva serves the function of protecting the teeth and mouth from bacteria. When saliva production is interrupted for too long, common side effects like a sore throat or dragon breath can show up. That being said, cottonmouth doesn’t present any real danger — except one. “Cottonmouth is usually harmless and transient,” says Dr. “In some cases, people have had difficulty swallowing food. This can lead to increased choking risk in certain people — those with Sjogren’s or scleroderma, the elderly, and those with medical conditions that affect their ability to swallow.” Tips to avoid cottonmouth. If you like to consume flower regularly, chances are you’ve already figured out that plentiful hydration is essential to avoiding cottonmouth. Tea, coffee, and other caffeinated beverages should be avoided when smoking as they will only dehydrate you further. “Alcohol is also an inhibitor of salivary gland activity, so try to cut down on the booze while consuming cannabis,” recommends Damas. “Chew gum too, as mastication can lead to increased saliva production.” Stay away from tobacco, as it contributes to a dry mouth. Salty foods and snacks are also an obvious no-go as they only make you thirstier. And if all else fails and you need some quick relief, here are some go-tos: Cannabis & Cotton Mouth. Cannabis consumption is currently legal for medicinal purposes in more than half of US states, with a growing number of states providing recreational protections as well. And while marijuana usage is a popular topic of discussion in both social and legislative arenas, there is a common side effect of cannabis that needs to be better understood: cotton mouth.
A common complaint of cannabis users is a persistent thirst and sticky mouth, often referred to as cotton mouth or “the pasties”, that just won’t go away. Once thought to be caused by harsh smoke irritating tender oral membranes, cotton mouth is now better understood as a normal (though annoying) response of the saliva glands in our mouths to cannabis components in the bloodstream. It’s a myth that vaping and ingesting marijuana don’t cause dry mouth. Cotton mouth strikes whether you prefer combustion, concentrates or edibles. So, if imbibing pot in any form can lead to cotton mouth, what is it about cannabis that has such a drying effect? The answer lies in our Endocannabinoid System (ECS), a biological system consisting of naturally occurring cannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, and enzymes. The ECS aids in regulating many different cognitive and physiological processes, but we’re only concerned with the relationship between the ECS and the parasympathetic nervous system. Our submandibular saliva glands (located right under the jaw bone) are responsible for 70% of saliva production. When you imbibe marijuana, the cannabinoids bind to those cannabinoid receptors, preventing your ECS from sending messages to your parasympathetic nervous system.
In short, your nervous system isn’t getting the message to keep the saliva flowing. So, putting the science aside, what can you do to treat cotton mouth from smoking pot or ingesting cannabis? Sip water, ideally through a straw Chew xylitol gum, like XyliGum, to stimulate your salivary glands Avoid alcohol, coffee, tea, and other caffeinated drinks Avoid using tobacco in any form Apply XyliMelts or XyliGel for fast and long-lasting relief. XyliMelts are oral-adhering discs that stick to your teeth or gums while slowly releasing ½ gram of xylitol and oral lubricant, to stimulate saliva production and to coat, moisturize, and lubricate your mouth for those suffering from dry mouth. XyliMelts can be used discreetly during the day or in comfort while you sleep.