Cottonmouth, also known as dry mouth, isn’t just something you get from consuming cannabis products, but it is certainly a common side effect. Xerostomia is the medical term, and it is considered one of the few “mild and transient” adverse effects of cannabis use (Crescioli et al., 2020).
If you experience it as an immediate side effect of inhaling or ingesting a cannabis product, it shouldn’t be a cause for concern. Having a dry mouth is an extremely common side effect and most people who consume cannabis have experienced it at one time or another. When you know how to treat it, it goes away quickly.
An exception to this is if you experience dry mouth unrelated to cannabis use. With no clear cause, it could be indicative of a more serious health complication and can also have implications for dental health. If you suspect this is the case, it could be prudent to check in with your doctor.
For the most part, cottonmouth is easy to treat in the short term. And these short-term solutions applied habitually, will benefit your health in the long term.
How Does Cannabis Cause Dry Mouth?
The gradual onset of cottonmouth can be surprising for first-time cannabis users. Indeed, the psychoactive effects of THC can intensify the symptoms of dry mouth. As you become more inwardly focused and attentive, you may over-fixate and intensify the effects. Again, there’s no need for concern (spoiler: drink water!).
But what’s actually happening?
In ‘What is The Endocannabinoid System?’ we explain the basics of how the phytocannabinoids from cannabis, like THC and CBD, interact with your ECS (or don’t – it’s complicated). Essentially, cannabinoid receptors can be found throughout our body and the mouth is no exception.
When you inhale cannabis vapor or smoke, THC binds to CB1 and CB2 receptors in the submandibular glands, responsible for most saliva production. Furthermore, THC also interacts with cannabinoid receptors in the brain, leading to reduced saliva production all around (Prestifilippo et al., 2006).
What Are the Symptoms of Cottonmouth?
For the most part, dry mouth is exactly what it sounds like. Your salivary glands stop producing the typical amounts of saliva. This results in a dry mouth cavity, including the back of the throat, tongue, and sides of the mouth. This dryness can even feel sticky or even burning. It can be experienced as a dry, hoarse throat or a tongue that feels like sandpaper.
Don’t Panic! It’s Only Cottonmouth!
Let that be your mantra! Many experience trouble with basic functions like swallowing, speaking, chewing, or even experiencing taste effectively. First-time cannabis users can sometimes experience intense discomfort around swallowing. This is often mistaken for an allergic reaction in more severe cases, where anxiety and hyper-fixation can give the perception of breathing difficulties. Don’t panic! It’s only cottonmouth!
Watch Out For Underlying Medical Conditions
Cottonmouth that results from a medical condition can have long-term implications like halitosis, oral infections, and altered taste perceptions. For instance, previously tolerated sour or spicy foods can be experienced as painfully stimulating. If these side effects persist noticeably, check in with your family doctor to ensure they aren’t indicative of any underlying medical conditions.
Quick Tips For Treating Cottonmouth Symptoms
The following short-term suggestions to alleviate cottonmouth can also be thought of as long-term advice. Daily attention to optimal hydration and maintaining good health will not only eliminate severe cottonmouth, possibly for good but improve your overall quality of life.
First-Timers: Prepare to Relax!
Before partaking in a cannabis product, it’s always good to be prepared. Long-time cannabis enthusiasts have a ritual and rhythm to their use and rarely think about cottonmouth. And so for them, the tips that follow will be second nature.
Lip Balm for Cottonmouth
Believe it or not, simply applying lip balm regularly not only treats cotton mouth but it keeps your lips nice and soft! Think about it. When you’re dehydrated, your lips are also dry. And what do you do? You lick your lips, making the whole situation worse. So for your next session, don’t forget your lip balm.
Drink Fluids and Stay Hydrated to Banish Cottonmouth
The simplest solution to cottonmouth is a glass of cold water. When it comes to maintaining optimal hydration, in general, there is no more effective beverage than water (Sikalidis et al., 2020). And the addition of any fresh citrus or a slice of ginger help to stimulate your salivary glands.
Pretend-Chewing Stimulates Saliva Production
Sucking on ice chips can help you hydrate with water while stimulating saliva production through the action itself. Even simulating chewing can trigger saliva production. You can also chew on sugar-free gums to achieve the same effect, but sucking on ice chips is cheaper, healthier, and better for your teeth.
Coffee and Cannabis: Dry Mouth Friend or Foe?
Avoid drinks containing artificial sweeteners, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol as these all serve to dehydrate you. Of course, coffee and cannabis is a cultural cornerstone (and a legal necessity) in the Netherlands. These aren’t rules, but rather suggestions. If cottonmouth doesn’t bother you, then this writer certainly can’t think of a better combination than coffee and cannabis. A glass of cold water on the side quickly banishes any onset of dry mouth in a pinch!
Chronic Dehydration and Cottonmouth
If cottonmouth persists even after hydrating, it could be that you are generally dehydrated from over-exposure to the offending beverages above. Certainly, if your diet contains a lot of processed foods and artificially sweetened or alcoholic beverages, then this could be the core of the problem.
Plant-Based Diet for Optimal Hydration
Reduce your intake of processed food, which is extremely high in added sodium and nitrates. And if you’re game, switch to a mostly or completely whole-foods, plant-based diet. Fruits and vegetables are naturally high in water content, low in calories, yet nutritionally dense. By incorporating them, plus whole grains, legumes, pulses, and seeds into your diet, you vastly improve your overall health and wellbeing. And yes, you’ll get plenty of protein (Jakše et al., 2021).
An added bonus to the plant-based diet is its environmental footprint. The UN and WHO have both released definitive studies urging our species to switch to a whole-foods plant-based diet for the sake of the planet’s survival (Wood, 2021 and Schiermeier, 2019).
And for those of us who love animals, eliminating animals and their by-products from our diet is a bare minimum act of mercy and kindness, which is what cannabis culture is all about!
Get as Much Sleep as You Need to Feel Rested (Seriously)
Sleep is the great resetter (Walker, 2017). Whatever happens to us during the day takes a toll on us. Over-activity, no activity, sitting, standing, it seems that everything about human life diminishes our reserves. And that includes water! Since sleep helps to restore balance, try to get your 8 hours a night and if you can’t, try napping.
If you don’t have time, quit your job. Sleep is important! (Just kidding, please don’t send us angry emails). Luckily, cannabis is an excellent natural sleep aid. To learn ‘How To Use Cannabis For Sleep‘, check out the article.
Cut Out Processed Foods, Not Good Foods!
Overall, over-salted foods will dehydrate you, and this applies to most processed foods. But also, processed foods are over-seasoned with many highly concentrated, laboratory-produced, powdered ingredients. Sound familiar?
And this includes artificial sweeteners, as well as overly concentrated sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup and yes, even agave. Also, food that is difficult to chew, like cereal (admit it, after bowl #4, you’re raw), taffy (I think kids still eat that?) and hard candy will create demand for saliva that your stoned glands may not be up to.
This isn’t the same as eating a well-seasoned meal with actual herbs and spices, which can help to alleviate cottonmouth by producing plenty of saliva. It also satisfies the munchies, which alleviates the psychological stress you accrue when over-fixating on cottonmouth.
Check Your Living Conditions for Cottonmouth
It is also possible that you live in a very dry environment, either artificially with indoor air conditioning, or climactically. Luckily, you can exercise some control over your enclosed living space by purchasing an air humidifier. A tell-tale sign of dehydration is dry skin, so if you suffer from this, it could be from an overly dry environment.
Next Session: Hydrate and Chill to Avoid Cottonmouth
So next time you sit down to a much-anticipated session, get your favorite water-based beverage ready, moisturize those lips, and get ready to chill. Or whatever it is that Sativa-lovers do.
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