why does marijuana make your mouth dry

Cotton Mouth From Weed And What To Do About It

Dry mouth, cotton mouth, the pasties – who is not familiar with this side effect from smoking marijuana? Until recently it wasn’t well understood how exactly marijuana causes a dry mouth and a sore throat. Scientists have now shed new light on cotton mouth and the causes for it. Learn about dry mouth and what you can do about it!

Cotton mouth, the not-so-pleasant feeling of a dry mouth and a sore throat when smoking cannabis has been around for as long as people are enjoying the herb and this is unarguably quite a long time. Most of us who smoke weed have likely accepted their dry mouth as just a minor inconvenience and have probably not spent too much time thinking about it. Recently, a group of scientists took a closer look at cotton mouth from smoking weed.


Humans have enjoyed marijuana since ancient times, so “cotton mouth” isn’t exactly something new. But it was only recently, in 2006, that this peculiar effect of weed has been the subject of scientific research, which is now helping us to understand it more.


Cotton mouth may seem like it is dryness from smoke (and some do indeed think it is), but this is not the whole story; there is a lot more to it. The real cause for cotton mouth has to do with how cannabinoids, the active compounds in cannabis, interact with the human endocannabinoid system.

The endocannabinoid system consists of cannabinoid receptors that are located throughout the entire human body, including the brain. Cannabinoids in marijuana can activate these receptors, where they cause all sorts of reactions and processes. This is how the high from marijuana comes about, but the interaction with these cannabinoid receptors can affect many more bodily processes, with saliva production one of them.

The saliva production in our mouths is controlled by a part of our autonomic nervous system known as the rest and digest system. The brain sends nerve impulses towards the salivary glands to stimulate saliva production, and this happens without us needing to do anything for it. Our subconscious brain can also influence this process. For example, when the mere thought of some tasty food causes the brain to send more impulses to the saliva glands, making our mouths water.

With cannabinoids receptors being present in all parts of our body, it wasn’t too surprising when researchers found them, also in the submandibular glands, the saliva glands under the mouth which are responsible for producing most saliva. The researchers also found that anandamide, which is similar in structure to THC, causes decreased saliva secretion.

Because of the similarity of anandamide and THC, it is now believed that when THC binds to the receptors in the submandibular glands, it makes them stop receiving messages from the nervous system. In other words: The THC in cannabis is likely the reason for the decrease of saliva production in the mouth.

This new understanding how smoking cannabis results in a dry mouth opens up new ways to treat the problems associated with saliva production. Not only may weed lovers one day be able to find a way to get rid of the annoying cotton mouth, but this research may also well come in handy for treating a variety of conditions where patients suffer from dry mouth for other reasons.


Most cannabis enthusiast experiences some level of dry mouth when they smoke. For most folks, it’s not a big deal when they only had a few hits, but the dry mouth sure can get pretty unpleasant during heavier sessions. Unfortunately, just drinking water as a way to get rid of it doesn’t really do anything significant to relieve it – although you definitely should drink to remain well hydrated.


Chewing stimulates saliva production, and this means that it can help with a dry mouth. A strip of chewing gum can be all that you need to help to stimulate the glands once again.

If you don’t like chewing gum, you can also look into things like beef jerky or dried fruits. Basically, any food that will need some chewing can act as an alternative.

Candy / Lollipops

In the same way as chewing can be a good way to get some saliva flowing, you can lick a lollipop, take a cough drop, or some hard candy. Sucking on the candy or a lollipop has the same effect as chewing; it will increase saliva production to help you get rid of dry mouth.

Bonus tip: Sour flavours will really get your mouth watering, so some sour-tasting candy can be better than sweet ones. If you’re brave enough, you can even start munching on a slice of lemon!

Cough Medicines (Demulcents)

In those cases where you think that chewing along or licking a lollipop doesn’t really help to get rid of a really nasty spell of dry mouth, you can look into demulcent cough drops. These oral demulcents are widely available over the counter. What they do is coat the mucous membranes with a moist film, which can prevent or help get rid of the dry cotton mouth feeling.

Herbal Teas

Along with the feeling of an unpleasantly dry mouth often also comes a feeling of a sore and irritated throat from smoking. If you look around most modern grocery stores, you should be able to find herbal teas. These are great at offering relief. Tip: Add a squeeze or two of sour lemon juice to your herbal tea for an even better effect to help with your sore and dry mouth.


Not all beverages are suitable if you want to get rid of cotton mouth. Black teas and green teas can actually dry out your mouth even more (basically anything with caffeine), so you should avoid them. Stick with herbal teas or plain water. If you get the munchies after smoking, you should also avoid salty foods and salty snacks because they will also make it worse. So keep your hands off those pretzels! The same goes for alcohol and tobacco.

What causes dry mouth from smoking cannabis? Learn about the latest research on cotton mouth and what helps if you want to get rid of it!

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.…