Coping with cottonmouth: Why cannabis dries you out and what you can do about it 


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Marijuana enthusiasts know there are common side effects that come from medicating with or enjoying cannabis, like forgetfulness, red eyes or even the dreaded "couch lock."

Perhaps the most common side effect for cannabis users is the onset of dry mouth after inhaling marijuana or ingesting edible products.

Why does "cottonmouth" happen? According to a 2006 study on rats funded by the National Institute of Health, once consumed, cannabinoids, the psychoactive and medicinal chemical compounds in the marijuana plant, assisted by the more aromatic category of compounds, terpenes, get absorbed by receptors in the mouth first. That's where your salivary glands are, and they react by drying up.

So, cottonmouth is just a sign that the marijuana is working.

According to Dustin Sulak, an osteopathic doctor frequently cited by National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the endocannabinoid system mediates the effects of cannabis, and has other roles as well, such as maintaining homeostasis in the body at a cellular level. It's also involved with appetite, pain-sensation, mood and memory. Cannabis may initially impact your mouth, but receptors throughout the body interact with the many cannabinoids introduced when you smoke or ingest cannabis. Every cannabinoid (there are over 100 varieties identified) has a specific effect on the body and, by interacting with the body's endocannabinoid system, some can produce a profound medicinal effect.

Because the endocannabinoid system plays a role in appetite regulation and saliva production, when cannabinoids like THC get introduced to the mouth, they slow the flow of saliva and produce what we call cottonmouth.

So, now you know the "why" but the next question is "and now what?"

I've found staying hydrated is the best way to cope with cottonmouth. It's remedied with water, ice chips, throat lozenges, and even special products like "Cottonmouth Bubble Gum" and "Throat Coat Herbal Tea" made from slippery elm.

Another tip: Alleviate dry mouth by sucking on hard candy, especially sour flavors and fruits, which stimulate saliva production. I've found it's best to avoid certain substances that make dry mouth worse. Liquids that contain tannins — black and green teas, or red wine, for example — have an astringent effect and cause a dry, puckery feeling in the mouth that is only made worse with marijuana. Avoid sugary drinks, salty snacks, alcohol, and tobacco, too. And don't, for God's sake, eat peanut butter.


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