Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on January 17, 2023

Cannabis users know that smoking cannabis can cause some common side effects like bloodshot eyes, munchies, cottonmouth, etc., and many experience them regularly. And while these side effects aren’t generally a reason for concern, they’re also not very pleasant, unless you use weed to increase your appetite and smoke it precisely for the munchies.

Even though cannabis is vastly understudied as a result of it being illegal in most countries around the world, recently, more and more scientists are tackling research where the main focus is the cannabis plant.

Cottonmouth is a side effect of cannabis consumption which has been researched in a number of studies in recent years. Scientists are looking into how cannabinoid consumption affects the oral environment, and what happens in the body as a result of cottonmouth. In this article, we’ll dive into what cottonmouth is, what causes it, and how to deal with it. 

What Is Cottonmouth?

Cottonmouth, dry mouth, or “the pasties” is a side effect of cannabis use which is known as xerostomia. Xerostomia is associated with reduced salivary flow or a change in the composition of saliva, and it can often be a side effect of some over-the-counter medication, disease, or as a result of vaping, smoking marijuana, consuming edibles, or other cannabis products.

Cannabis users experience this condition quite often and explain it as being extremely thirsty and their mouth being sticky. Cottonmouth is related to the cannabinoid receptors in the body, and that’s why cannabis use affects saliva production.

Cottonmouth and the Endocannabinoid System

Cottonmouth happens as a result of the interaction between the cannabinoids found in weed (THC, CBD, and others), and the body’s endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is made up of cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) located all over the body, naturally occurring cannabinoids like anandamide, and enzymes. It regulates vital functions in the body including cardiovascular, immune, and nervous functions inside the cells, has therapeutic properties, and is a link to the parasympathetic nervous system. 

Some cannabinoid receptors are found in the submandibular glands (salivary glands) at the bottom of the mouth, under the jaw bone. These glands, the submandibular glands (SMG), are responsible for the production of saliva, and when THC binds to the cannabinoid receptors, it blocks the messages that the submandibular glands get from the parasympathetic nervous system. Hence, there’s a reduction in the production of saliva because the nervous system stopped getting messages to keep the saliva flowing.

What’s the Connection Between Dry Mouth and Cannabis According to Studies?

The effects of cannabis have been researched in a few studies that analyzed smoking weed in relation to cottonmouth.

A 2006 study done by the Centro de Estudios Farmacológicos y Botánicos in Buenos Aires, showed that rats have both CB1 and CB2 receptors present in the SMG glands. When binding the endocannabinoid anandamide with these receptors, the result is hyposalivation (dry mouth caused by decreased saliva output).

A 2008 study by the Department of Periodontology in Amsterdam, concluded that cannabis use significantly affects oral health and it’s associated with conditions like xerostomia, leukoedema (white lesions in the oral cavity), as well as an increased chance for Candida albicans (fungal infection). 

A 2012 study by the State Key Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Biology in Kiev, investigated the connection between THC and cottonmouth. The research showed that cannabis decreases saliva production in the mouth no matter what the method of weed consumption is. Since the saliva glands rely on the endocannabinoid system to relay a signal to increase saliva production, when people consume cannabinoids, the receptors (CB1 and CB2) are inhibited, and the salivary glands reduce the production of saliva. 

Does Cottonmouth Pose Danger to Oral Health?

As the 2008 Amsterdam study we previously mentioned showed, cannabis use may have potential side effects on oral health that may result in conditions like:

  • Leukoedema – white edematous lesions in the oral cavity, specifically on the buccal and labial oral mucosa.
  • Candida Albicans – a type of yeast infection present in the skin microbes, the oral cavity inside, and the gastrointestinal tract. Normal levels are healthy, though higher levels are harmful. 
  • Periodontal Disease – infected swollen or red gums that cause bad breath, bleeding, pain when chewing, receding gums, and sensitive teeth.
  • Tooth Decay and Cavities.

Preventing Cottonmouth

To prevent cottonmouth, cannabis users should drink a good amount of water before, during, and after using weed to maintain proper hydration levels. It’s also important to stay away from alcohol since it contains tannins that further dehydrate you. Mouthwashes that contain alcohol may also increase the chances of dry mouth if you’re consuming weed, so opt for a mouthwash that contains xylitol (which keeps the mouth moist and also kills bacteria).

A good option for cannabis users might also be chewing gums and sprays that keep the mouth moist, which can be found at most dispensaries. It’s also important to regularly visit a dentist and maintain good oral hygiene to prevent any potential threats to your oral health

Overcoming Cottonmouth

Dryness in your mouth is likely to happen if you’re consuming marijuana on a regular basis. No matter if you’re taking medical marijuana, or you’re enjoying it recreationally, it’s important to know how to fight cottonmouth.

The first option is hydration, and you can go either for a glass of water, or a glass of herbal tea. Avoid hard liquors, alcohol, and other drinks that contain tannins which only dry you out even more. The same goes for caffeinated drinks like black and green tea, and also coffee.

Another option would be to chew some chewing gum, or eat beef jerky or dried fruits that trigger the salivary glands and increase saliva production. You could even opt for a lollipop or a hard candy with a sour flavor which additionally increases saliva production.

And since a side effect of cannabis use is also having the munchies, avoid salty foods and snacks, as well as tobacco to overcome your cottonmouth situation faster, and instead opt for healthy and hydrating foods that promote saliva secretion.

In the end, going outside is also a great option since it will provide you with a change of scenery, but also a more humid environment that will get you back to your old self in no time.

Final Thoughts on Smoking Weed and Cottonmouth

Every cannabis smoker needs to deal with the side effects of cannabis sooner or later. And if you want to smoke weed, while also minimizing the side effects of cottonmouth, hydration is always key. Drinking water will not only be good for preventing cottonmouth, but it’s also very good for your health. Dry mouth can be a nasty piece of work and reduce the enjoyment factor in your cannabis experience, so make sure you always have some gum (or hard candy) to overcome dry mouth when it happens.

Saliva keeps our oral health on track by protecting our mouth and teeth from bacteria and viruses, while also lubricating the mouth to increase our flavor buds. So, keeping saliva levels normal is essential to preventing tooth decay, cavities, and other conditions which may eventually lead to tooth loss. To prevent these side effects, keep your oral health on a high level and use our tips to prevent xerostomia.

A passionate advocate for the benefits of cannabis. Fraser Horton, who has a background in botany and a strong love of nature, has spent years researching how cannabis affects the body and mind. He established Leaf Nation in 2020, where he has devoted himself to educating people about the legalisation of marijuana and its safe and responsible use. Fraser is committed to highlighting cannabis’ potential for improving wellness and working to dispel the stigma associated with its use.


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