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why does marijuana cause dry mouth

Why weed makes your mouth feel dry, and what to do about it

I enjoy partaking in the herb every now and then, especially now, savoring the high it brings as a brief reprieve from the coinciding stressors of a pandemic and worldwide racial reckoning. But cannabis, like any substance, can have side effects. One of my least favorite: It leaves the inside of my mouth parched AF, an annoying phenomenon commonly referred to as “cotton mouth.” As a health reporter who also loves her edibles, I’m curious as to why weed makes my mouth feel dry, and what, if anything, I can do about it. I reached out to scientists to investigate.

At first, people simply blamed it on the particulates in the smoke formed when you light up, since cigarette smoking can dry out your mouth, too, says Lewis Nelson, professor and chair of the department of emergency medicine and chief of the division of medical toxicology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. But, “it’s also become pretty clear over the years that you can get dry mouth from pot brownies and gummy bears,” he tells me. (The last time I experienced it, I was sipping on cannabis-infused seltzer water.) “It’s a direct effect of THC,” short for tetrahydrocannabinol, the compound in cannabis that makes you feel high.

First, let’s back up, and walk through what THC actually does in your body: A cell signaling system, known as the endocannabinoid system, regulates sleep, appetite, and a bunch of other biological functions, Healthline explains. It consists of molecules your body makes on its own, known as endocannabinoids, which, in turn, bind to endocannabinoid receptors, located in numerous regions of your body. As it turns out, THC mimics the activity of endocannabinoids, binding to the same receptors as they do.

When THC binds to the endocannabinoid receptors on your salivary glands, it “reduces the amount and increases the viscosity” of the saliva they secrete — hence the dry, sticky feeling inside your mouth.

Among these receptors are those found on your salivary glands, including the major glands nestled around the back of your lower jaw. The binding of THC to these receptors inhibits the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), responsible for “rest and digest” functions, such as slowing your heart rate, moving food through your digestive tract — and, increasing your saliva production.

Indeed, “things that block the PNS cause you to have a dry mouth,” Nelson says. When THC binds to the endocannabinoid receptors on your salivary glands, it “reduces the amount and increases the viscosity” of the saliva they secrete — hence the dry, sticky feeling inside your mouth. You might’ve noticed that your mouth also feels dry when you take Benadryl and other antihistamines; that’s because they, too, block the PNS, but by binding to different receptors.

How you imbibe doesn’t really matter, Nelson explains. In other words, taking an edible won’t make you more likely to experience a dry mouth than smoking a joint, since the THC in your weed doesn’t bind to the endocannabinoid receptors on your salivary glands right away—instead, it circulates through your bloodstream to reach those glands.

While it might be tempting when the inside of your mouth feels like sandpaper, Nelson cautions against gulping down massive amounts of water. Although not producing enough saliva is a symptom of dehydration, your body isn’t actually dehydrated, “it’s just that the glands are shut down.” He notes that some people suck on candy to keep their saliva flowing. Also, try to lower your intake of alcohol, which can also reduce saliva secretion, suggests Yu-Fung Lin, an associate professor of physiology and membrane biology at UC Davis.

While you can minimize mouth dryness to some extent, you might also just need to accept it as a trade-off to getting high, Nelson says. But for the moment of chill cannabis offers when I do occasionally use it, it’s a trade-off I’m willing to make — I’ll just suck on some Smarties while I’m at it.

This article was originally published on June 30, 2020

I enjoy partaking in the herb every now and then, especially now, savoring the high it brings as a brief reprieve from the coinciding stressors of a pandemic and worldwide racial reckoning. But cannabis, like any substance, can have side effects.…

Dry Mouth and Thirst

Updated on January 25, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer

Why Does Marijuana Cause Dry mouth

Many medications cause dry mouth, and medical marijuana is no different. When you have dry mouth, your mouth feels dry like you’re dehydrated, even when you drink the typical amount of water.

Most patients don’t consider dry mouth as a deal-breaker when they weigh the benefits and drawbacks of using marijuana medicine. However, they don’t enjoy having dry mouth, either. With some simple tricks, you can stop feeling like you have a desert in your mouth.

Side Effects of Medical Marijuana

Depending on your condition, the side effects of medical marijuana can also help you. While a side effect like tiredness could inconvenience one patient, it could help another patient who has issues sleeping. In the same way, patients with excess saliva sometimes use medical marijuana because of its mouth-drying properties.

Many patients express experiencing similar side effects from cannabis — think anxiety, giddiness and insomnia.

How Cannabis Causes Dry Mouth

Some folks think that marijuana-related dry mouth only comes from smoking it. However, the dry mouth comes from chemical reactions, not smoke.

Cannabis contains different compounds called cannabinoids. Medical cannabis pros usually focus on tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) when they talk about cannabinoids because we have the most knowledge about them.

But, did you know that our own body makes cannabinoids? We have our own receptors for them in our brain and body. Cannabinoid receptors take cannabinoids and communicate their benefits to the rest of our body. One part of our bodies that contains cannabinoid receptors is the submandibular gland, which produces most of the saliva in our mouths. It also makes enzymes that help saliva break down starches.

When cannabinoids interact with the receptors there, the submandibular glands make less saliva and enzymes. So, your mouth won’t have as many substances to keep it wet. Therefore, you get dry mouth.

Managing Dry Mouth Caused by Cannabis

Patients who don’t desire the reduced saliva cannabis causes have a few options to manage the effect. By using certain management methods, you’ll hardly notice it.

The easiest way to reduce your dry mouth symptoms is to avoid them altogether. If you find that a certain medication doesn’t cause dry mouth, you might want to prioritize it over one that does. Finding the right treatment for you requires a little experimentation, so don’t be afraid to try another medication if your doctor approves.

Can’t avoid having dry mouth when you take your medication? Keep these tips in mind:

  • Drink plenty of water. While you should already stay hydrated, patients with dry mouth should drink even more water. You can also chew gum or use mouthwash that has xylitol in it, which increases your saliva.
  • Avoid consuming other mouth-drying substances. Both alcohol and tobacco can dry out your mouth and exacerbate your symptoms. High-tannin drinks like fruit juice and tea can do it, too — that’s why we recommend water over any other beverage.

Your dry mouth symptoms won’t have any long-term consequences after you stop taking cannabis medicine — they just cause a little discomfort.

The Verdict: Marijuana Is Worth It

Most side effects of cannabis are mild and safe, with the perks outweighing the risks. Check out all the ways marijuana can relieve your symptoms. To get personalized medical advice, a licensed physician with experience recommending cannabis can help you out.

Learn why some cannabis users experience dry mouth as a side effect and how to combat side effects to get the most out of your cannabis.