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What Is Cotton Mouth? What Causes It & How To Avoid It

An unfortunate side effect of smoking buds is often dry mouth, aka Cotton Mouth. This annoying condition isn't serious, but it can parch you to the point of harshing your mellow. What causes cotton mouth? How can you prevent it? Let's find out.
December 16, 2022
Est. Reading: 7 minutes
Table of Contents

When it comes to dry mouth brought on by weed, we’ve all been there. That bone-dry, parched throat… A tongue that grates against the roof of your mouth like sandpaper… The pasty lips smacking incessantly in a vain attempt to coax moisture out of them… These are all signs that you’re suffering from dry mouth from weed. Weed cotton mouth is another term bandied about, and it’s a problem that has plagued many stoners over the years.

Dry mouth can take many forms and it affects everyone differently. Sometimes dry mouth from weed will depend on the strain itself - some cultivars are known to cause cotton mouth symptoms - or it can vary based on the cannabis consumption method. Smoking weed seems to cause the most consistent/serious cotton mouth symptoms, but even an edible or cannabis oil can lead to parched lips and dry throats.

Is there any way to learn how to avoid cotton mouth? How can you get rid of cotton mouth when you’re already high? There are many ways to prevent cotton mouth from weed that don’t impact how you enjoy your buds. Here are some tips & tricks to help you to avoid cotton mouth from rendering you speechless next time you’re toking with friends.

WHAT IS COTTON MOUTH?

Before we figure out how to prevent cotton might from weed, we need to understand what causes dry mouth in the first place. Some stoner lore has created the myth that dry mouth only happens when you smoke weed that is high in THC. Others have suggested that only indicas cause cotton mouth whereas sativas create more of a scratchy throat from time-to-time. For decades, these folktales have dominated the cannabis landscape, leading many stoners to simply put up with the symptoms of cotton mouth because the root causes were never truly defined.

The truth is, it’s not the genetics or the growing techniques that determine if a strain will give you cotton mouth: it’s what’s inside that matters. Cannabinoids, terpenes and a plant’s other phytocompounds can influence your body’s normal functions and lead to new effects - many good, some bad. Keep in mind, a plant’s genetics, what it’s fed and how it’s grown will certainly have an impact on cannabinoids, so keep that in mind.

Before a study concluded in 2006, we didn’t know what caused cotton mouth from weed. Some suggested it had something to do with cannabis also gives us the munchies - influencing our stomachs, our mouths and reddening our eyes. The old myths about how to prevent cotton mouth by using a water bong or bubbler pipe didn’t prove true, however, so we went back to the drawing board once again.

It wasn’t until 2006 when a study was published that we finally were able to put our sticky fingers on the causes of dry mouth from weed. THC - tetrahydrocannabinol - seems to be the main culprit that blocks our saliva production from normal levels and leads to cotton mouth symptoms. How and why does THC do this? Here’s the simplified version:

THC shares similarities with anandamide, a neurotransmitter that promotes certain effects in your brain and body.

Besides influencing how happy you might feel, anandamide is well-known for its impacts on your submandibular glands - aka your saliva production factories.

THC essentially binds to your submandibular glands just like anandamide can, but instead of promoting salivation it inhibits your saliva production.

This accounts for a lot of what causes dry mouth from weed, and provides an answer to the question “what is cotton mouth?”. THC might be the main agent driving change in our salivary glands, but it’s not the only reason why you experience dry mouth symptoms from cannabis. If you truly want to know how to avoid cotton mouth, or you want to get rid of cotton mouth when you’re high, then you need to understand this list of other contributory factors to cotton mouth:

Hydration - you need to stay hydrated all-day, every day, regardless if you’re getting high or not

Nutrition - a poor diet and excess of unhealthy snacks or treats (high sugar, high salt) won’t help your oral health

Alcohol - too much alcohol or mixing booze with buds will certainly lead to dry mouth conditions

Caffeine - coffee and tea have been known to dry you out a bit, so try not to overdue it with your perk-me-ups

Medications - a lot of medications or supplements have ‘dry mouth’ listed as a symptom, so try to avoid taking cannabis close to medications

Genetics - sometimes you can’t fight your constant cotton mouth because it’s just a symptom of your genes

Now we understand what is cotton mouth, it’s time to focus on developing a plan to prevent cotton mouth before it ever occurs. Knowing how to get rid of cotton mouth when you’re already high is a lot harder to manage than taking the proactive approach instead. Let’s turn our attention to our guide to avoid cotton mouth from weed.

HOW TO PREVENT COTTON MOUTH

The simple and most effective way to prevent cotton mouth from weed is to be careful how much THC you’re consuming, whether that’s smoking, edibles, oils or even topicals. Dry mouth from weed is most common in smoking or vaping - obviously - but it can occur as a symptom from being high on edibles, oils or topicals too. If dry mouth, sore or scratchy throats and parched lips are a real problem for you, it’s easy to shop for low-THC strains that likely have much less impact on your saliva production.

If lowering your THC intake isn’t an option, or if THC is the main reason you consume cannabis for medical reasons, then here are some tips & tricks for coping with the effects of cotton mouth from weed:

CBD: Can Boost Drool

On the opposite side of the cannabinoid spectrum from THC you’ll almost always find CBD. Cannabidiol has very different effects on your brain & body compared to Tetrahydrocannabinol: where THC gets you high, CBD brings you down; when THC amps up your emotions, CBD chills you out; if THC causes you to experience symptoms of dry mouth, CBD can help you to un-parch your lips.

It’s not that CBD boosts your saliva production, but it can counteract those pesky THC neurotransmitters from inhibiting your submandibular glands. Cannabidiol is relaxing, soothing, focusing and empowering in many unique ways to THC. We don’t advise limiting your THC intake because although THC can cause some mind altering effects, it’s still a really important cannabinoid for your health & wellbeing. So, invest your dollars in full-spectrum or combination products that offer the maximum cannabinoids & terpenes to get the most out of your cannabis.

I Want Candy

Sometimes all you need to get rid of cotton mouth when you’re high is a lozenge, lollipop, hard candy or chewing gum. Working your mouth, tongue and throat is one of the primary ways of stimulating your saliva glands. When they’re seemingly blocked by THC or suffering from symptoms of dehydration, sucking on hard candies, lozenges or a lollipop can act like a workout for your submandibular glands.

Chewing gum, mints, caramels, toffee, suckers, heck even those sunflower “spitz” are popular anti-dry mouth agents. Not only will these kinds of snacks help to promote saliva production, you can benefit from taking your mind off how high you might be with these sorts of treats.

Drink. More. Water.

What is cotton mouth if not the culmination of dehydration, poor diet, and the introduction of a decent dose of THC. A lot of people are lacking in the hydration department, in particular, without even being aware of how it might be affecting their health. We all know about the ‘8 glasses of water a day’ being the standard for maintaining a healthy body, but your diet, fitness and genetics will also play a part in whether you’re hydrated or dehydrated.

Some people require less fluids because their diet includes a lot of fruits & vegetables which offer a lot of nutrients on top of their own H2O contents. How much cannabis you smoke or vape is another consideration, so it’s not just what you drink and how much, it matters everything that goes into your body on a daily basis. So, if you’re planning on getting high or consuming cannabis for a particular reason, drink lots of water before, during and after to help prevent cotton mouth.

Manage Your Munch

It’s no wonder we experience dry mouth from weed! The foods we shovel into our giddy gullets when we’re high just so happen to be the salty/sugary snacks and treats that aren’t good for normal oral health. Snacks that are high in salt and sugary treats are the absolute worst things for dehydrating your body. Imagine for every bag of doritos, every late night milkshake or all those times you bake cookies + fries for a weed-induced munchies session… we’re sure there are too many to count.

Every time we put these kinds of unhealthy snacks & treats in our bodies, we’re contributing to poor oral health & functionality. This certainly includes saliva production. So, as hard as it is to resist the call from chips, cookies, candies, ice cream, chocolates and popcorn… if you can manage a balance of healthy/unhealthy snacks at the very least, you’ll notice a major reduction in dry mouth from weed.

Humidify & Moisturize

Humidifiers are great for soothing sore throats or nasty coughs during cold & flu season, but they’re also very handy for counteracting cotton mouth or dryness symptoms from smoking weed. Everybody has those essential oils humidifiers these days, so whenever you’re toking up have one plugged in and pumping out some of your favorite scents. Increasing the moisture in the air is a simple but very effective way to reduce the symptoms of dry mouth, dry skin, dry eyes and more.

You can also shower, have a bath, or take a cold plunge if you’re feeling up to it. However you moisturize your body externally will definitely have a positive impact on your internal moisture levels. A pro tip from some truly groovy ganja gurus: invest in essential oils to humidify that have complimentary terpenoid profiles - aka limonene.

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