The Science Behind Cannabis and Cottonmouth

Currently, cannabis consumption is legal for medicinal purposes in more than half of the states across the U.S, and an increasing number of states are legalizing it for recreational purposes. But while cannabis is a popular topic of discussion in both legislative and social arenas, there’s a common side effect of weed that most users (whether a veteran smoker or newbie) have likely experienced: Cottonmouth.

Cottonmouth, dry mouth, pasties – no matter what you call it, all cannabis consumers are at risk of experiencing the dry mouth sensation anytime that they vape, smoke, or even eat anything with THC. But while you are likely to have experienced cottonmouth in the past, most people don’t understand the connection that exists between cannabis and cottonmouth. In fact, until recently it wasn’t well understood how exactly weed causes a dry mouth and sore throat.

Cottonmouth is one of the most common and annoying side effects of consuming cannabis. Thankfully, recent research has shed some new light on cottonmouth and what causes it, as well as how to combat it.

What is Cottonmouth?

One of the most common complaints of cannabis users is a sticky mouth and persistent thirst, typically referred to as cottonmouth, that just won’t go away. Previously thought to be caused by harsh smoke that irritates tender oral membranes, cottonmouth is now better understood as a normal response of saliva glands in the mouth to cannabis components that run through the bloodstream.

One of the biggest myths surrounding cottonmouth is that ingesting or vaping weed won’t cause it. In reality, whether you prefer concentrates, combustion, or edibles, cottonmouth is a possible side effect.

In the medical community, cottonmouth is known as Xerostomia. It’s described as a reduced salivary flow and is commonly associated with cannabis use. It’s often recommended not to smoke weed if you don’t have anything around to drink. Once the mouth dries out, the cottonmouth travels to the throat.

If you take too long to treat cottonmouth, other side effects, like rank breath and a sore throat, may manifest.

Understanding Cottonmouth: Why Do We Have Saliva?

To better understand how and why cottonmouth occurs, you need to have an understanding of why the mouth produces saliva in the first place.

Human saliva is made up of 98% water and is produced by three pairs of glands. These consist of the following; the parotid, sublingual, and submandibular glands. The latter is also known as the SMG.

Saliva is a critical part of our everyday lives. Its main function is to protect our mouth and help to keep it smooth. The smooth sensation is essential because the mouth needs to be smooth enough for food to be easily able to slide down the throat. This doesn’t only prevent choking, but also allows for quick access to essential vitamins, nutrients, and minerals.

You can think of a throat without saliva as a person sliding down a giant water slide without any water on it. Painful, right? This is where those very important saliva glands come into play. The SMG produces around 70% of the saliva in your mouth and is thus the most important gland.

What’s the Connection Between Dry Mouth and Cannabis?

So what is it about weed that causes the dry mouth effect? The answer is in our endocannabinoid system (ECS), a system of naturally occurring cannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, and enzymes. This is the system that helps to regulate a variety of cognitive and physiological processes, but in the case of cottonmouth, the relationship between the parasympathetic nervous system and ECS is what matters.

Let’s break it down. The submandibular saliva glands are found under the jaw bone, and as mentioned above, are responsible for 70% of saliva production. These glands contain cannabinoid receptors. When you consume weed, the cannabinoids bind to these cannabinoid receptors, which prevents the ECS from transmitting messages to the parasympathetic nervous system. In other words, the nervous system isn’t getting the message to keep saliva flowing.

Essentially, the real cause of cottonmouth has got to do with how cannabinoids interact with the ECS. THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, and it’s thought to be the main culprit in cottonmouth. It’s a powerful cannabinoid, and when it enters the body, the THC binds to endocannabinoid receptors, including ones in the mouth. It temporarily shuts down the communication lines between the nervous system and the saliva-producing glands, and this causes the mouth to dry up.

Hacks to Combat Dry Mouth When Smoking Weed

If you consume cannabis regularly, it’s a good idea to stay hydrated. Our mouths produce saliva for a reason, and it’s important to keep hydrated.

With this in mind, there are a few cottonmouth treatment methods that you can use to restore any moisture that you may lose when smoking weed.

Stay Hydrated

For anyone who uses weed several times a day, this is an important one. Regular marijuana consumers constantly interrupt the flow of saliva, and this causes dehydration in the throat and mouth.

Once the cottonmouth fully sets in, you will probably notice that even a glass of water won’t treat it completely; you will feel like you need to drink five more! One of the best ways to avoid this is by hydrating before and after a session. If weed is a regular part of your life, water should be too.

Drink Water Smoke Weed


Chewing stimulates saliva production, which means that it can help with dry mouth. A single strip of chewing gum may be all you need to help stimulate the saliva glands once again. If you’re not a fan of chewing gum, you can also use things like dried fruit and beef jerky.

Cannabis and Chewing Gum


Some mouthwashes are made specifically to combat cottonmouth. So shop around, and look into replacing your regular mouthwash with one that prevents and treats dryness.


Candy is one of the quickest fixes for cottonmouth. A small Jolly Rancher should have you salivating again without needing any water. Alternatively, there is also candy that is made to fight dry mouth.

Crushed Ice

Similar to water, this is also a great way to combat cottonmouth – simply chew on some ice. It’s all about keeping the mouth moist, and ice can be very effective for this.


This doesn’t work for everyone as for some it will cause mucus. Milk is high in fat which helps to cover your throat and mouth reducing the dryness.

Cannabis and Ice

Final Thoughts on Weed and Cottonmouth

 These days, there are a variety of ideas and methods to deal with cottonmouth. From staying hydrated to chewing some candy or ice, you can find a way to overcome the dry mouth sensation as it arises. While it is an annoying side effect, in the greater scheme of things, it’s not that serious and is fairly easy to treat.