Dry mouth or “cotton mouth” is one of the hallmark side effects of marijuana use. For medical users it tends to be an annoyance that doesn’t hinder daily function. For recreational users, it can stop a brilliant philosophical discussion in its tracks, or it may force a pause in the Call of Duty action for the immediate application of orange soda.
Either way, cannabis-induced dry mouth isn’t that big of a deal, but it can cause dental problems in chronic users if you don’t manage it properly.
The medical term for dry mouth is xerostomia, a “hyposalivary” condition in which your saliva glands don’t produce enough spit to keep the mucous membranes in your mouth fully hydrated.
This doesn’t only happen to weed smokers; a variety of therapeutic and recreational drugs cause dry mouth, and cigarette smokers experience these problems as well.
How do you make saliva?
The production of saliva, as with most physiological processes in the body, is complex. In a general sense, your brain relies on information from the taste and touch nerve endings in your mouth to decide how much spit it tells your saliva glands to produce.
So, anything that compromises the function of the taste and touch nerve endings in the mouth — part of the body’s parasympathetic nervous system — will cause the nerves to send faulty information to the brain.
To use a metaphor, imagine you manage a grocery store and figure you need to order 300 loaves of bread from the bakery. You’re so distracted by other tasks, however, you accidentally fill out the order form to read 30 loaves. When your order comes in, your stock is far short of demand, and your shelves empty almost immediately.
Does weed cause cotton mouth if you eat it?
The tar and other compounds in smoke are one culprit in dry mouth. As observed with cigarette smokers, smoke deadens the sensory response of both taste and touch nerve endings in the mouth, reducing the response sent to the brain and thereby causing the brain to short-change the mouth on saliva production.
But it isn’t only smoking that causes dry mouth. People who ingest marijuana in edible form and who use various pharmaceutical distillates in pill form also report dry mouth.
This is because the cannabinoids in marijuana, specifically the main psychoactive chemical Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), interact with the nervous system to inhibit all sorts of parasympathetic responses, including the one responsible for saliva production.
It’s unclear whether or not Cannabidiol (CBD) can cause dry-mouth, but anecdotal reports seem to suggest that “if it doesn’t get you high, it doesn’t give you dry-mouth”. The mechanisms that support both psychoactive effects and salivation have yet to be unveiled.
Can dry mouth from weed cause health problems?
People who use marijuana frequently may have an increased risk of cavities and gingivitis (inflammation and shrinkage of the gums). Bad breath is also an issue that cannabis-induced dry mouth can exacerbate.
How do you treat dry mouth?
Unlike people who have autoimmune disorders like Sjogren’s syndrome that degenerate salivary glands, marijuana-induced dry mouth goes away when you stop using marijuana.
Even if you continue to use marijuana, managing dry mouth to avoid dental problems and bad breath is pretty easy. Avoid drinking sugary beverages as a remedy, and instead, keep sugar-free gum or lozenges handy.
Also, don’t use mouthwash with alcohol in it, as alcohol also makes dry mouth worse.
DRY MOUTH REFERENCES:
“Cannabis use and xerostomia”
Analia Veitz-Keenan and Debra Ferraiolo
Dimensions of Dental Hygeine
“Effect of Long-term Smoking on Whole-mouth Salivary Flow Rate and Oral Health”
Maryam Rad et al
Journal of Dental Research, Dental Clinics, and Dental Prospects
“Salivary Secretory Disorders, Inducing Drugs, and Clinical Management”
Jaume Miranda-Rius et al
International Journal of Medical Sciences