The Science Behind Cannabis and Cottonmouth

Currently, cannabis consumption is legal for medicinal purposes in a majority of American states. Also, an increasing number of states are legalizing it for recreational purposes. This has led to a substantial rise in the number of legal marijuana users. What many of them have in common is the experience of a side effect called cottonmouth.

You may have suffered dry mouth after consuming cannabis, but do you know what causes it? This article provides a scientific explanation.

What Is Cottonmouth?

It is a minor adverse effect associated with the use of marijuana. Symptoms include a sticky mouth and persistent thirst. Previously, it was assumed that harsh smoke from cannabis irritated tender oral membranes, which resulted in cottonmouth. However, it is nothing more than a normal response of saliva glands in the mouth to cannabis components that run through the bloodstream.

Cottonmouth is nothing more than a normal response of saliva glands in the mouth to cannabis components.

One of the biggest myths surrounding cottonmouth is that ingesting or vaping cannabis 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 called xerostomia. It’s described as a reduced salivary flow and is commonly associated with cannabis use. A standard recommendation is not to use marijuana if you don’t have any beverages to hand. Once the mouth dries out, the cottonmouth travels to the throat.

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

Understanding Cottonmouth: Why Do We Have Saliva?

Human saliva consists of 98% water and is produced by three pairs of glands. These consist of the parotid, sublingual, and submandibular glands. The latter is also called the SMG.

Saliva is a critical part of our everyday lives. Its primary function is to protect our mouth and help to keep it smooth. The smooth sensation is essential because it enables food to slide down the throat easily. This prevents choking and 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 essential saliva glands come into play. The SMG produces around 70% of the saliva in your mouth and is thus the most crucial gland.

What’s the Connection Between Dry Mouth and Cannabis?

What is it about marijuana that causes the dry mouth effect? The answer is in our endocannabinoid system (ECS), a network of naturally occurring cannabinoids like anandamide, cannabinoid receptors, and enzymes.

The ECS helps regulate a variety of cognitive and physiological processes. 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 are responsible for most of our saliva production. These glands contain cannabinoid receptors. When you consume cannabis, the cannabinoids bind to these cannabinoid receptors.

Related article

This process 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 relates to how cannabinoids interact with the ECS. THC is the main intoxicating ingredient in cannabis and is thought to be the main culprit in cottonmouth.

A 2012 study investigated this issue. The researchers found that due to THC and anandamide’s similarities, when THC binds to SMG receptors, it prevents them from getting messages from the nervous system.

Therefore, it is the THC in cannabis that likely decreases saliva production in the mouth. This explains why cottonmouth can happen whether you smoke, vape, drink, or eat cannabis.

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 essential to keep hydrated.

Here are a few cottonmouth treatment methods that you can use to restore any moisture lost when using marijuana.

Stay Hydrated

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

drink water smoke weed

Once the cottonmouth fully sets in, you will probably notice that even a glass of water won’t fully help. Instead, 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 marijuana is a regular part of your life, water should be, too.


Chewing stimulates saliva production, which means it can help with dry mouth. A single strip of chewing gum can stimulate the salivary 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. 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 created to fight dry mouth.

Crushed Ice

Like 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 beneficial for this.

cannabis and ice


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 dryness.

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. It is an annoying side effect. However, in the greater scheme of things, it’s not that serious and is relatively easy to deal with.

Related article
Join the discussion

    TOC Protection Status © 2000 - 2021 All Rights Reserved Digital Millennium Copyright Act Services Ltd. |

    WayofLeaf use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue to use this site we will assume that you are happy with it.