Updated on January 5, 2020.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Medical marijuana can cause side effects like dry mouth. When you weigh this symptom against pharmaceutical side effects like liver damage or depression, you probably prefer the cottonmouth feeling. That doesn’t mean you don’t feel discomfort when you have it, though. Plus, if you don’t practice good oral health, dry mouth can result in dental problems. Fortunately, by knowing the reasons behind marijuana cottonmouth and how to manage it, you can stay happy and healthy.
The Science Behind Marijuana and Cottonmouth
If you smoke your cannabis medicine, you might think that dry mouth comes from the smoke — but you can get dry mouth no matter what kind of medication you use. Why? Cannabis-related dry mouth happens as a result of the interactions marijuana has with our bodies.
When you use medical marijuana, it activates receptors in your endocannabinoid system. These cannabinoid receptors activate when the natural cannabinoids made in our bodies attach to them. The cannabinoids we get from the marijuana plant act the same way as our body’s cannabinoids. That’s how we get benefits from cannabis medicine. But, these chemical reactions also cause the side effects we associate with medical marijuana.
The submandibular glands we have in our mouths produce saliva and create enzymes that break down starches. They also have cannabinoid receptors, making them responsive to marijuana’s effects. When cannabinoids activate your submandibular glands’ receptors, they create less saliva and fewer enzymes. Without enough of these substances, your mouth gets dry.
Dry Mouth and Oral Health
Cottonmouth primarily causes mild discomfort, but it also impacts your oral health. Dry mouth, formally known as xerostomia, increases your risk of dental health issues. It can cause excess plaque, problems swallowing and bad breath. You need to worry the most about the resulting plaque buildup. Plaque makes you more susceptible to gum disease and cavities. Fortunately, you have plenty of methods at your disposal to combat dry mouth.
Which Types of Cannabis Medicine Have the Least Mouth-Drying Effects?
If you don’t mind trying a different kind of medical marijuana product, you can lessen the severity of cottonmouth by making a simple switch. Medications that don’t come in contact with your mouth cause the least prominent cottonmouth symptoms. Topicals, pills and patches don’t reach your mouth’s cannabinoid receptors right away — while you take pills by mouth, the medicine in them travels to your stomach and bloodstream. The medication in these products will eventually circulate to your submandibular glands, but not the entire dose.
Meanwhile, you may want to avoid other cannabis medications that do touch your mouth. Cannabis cigarettes don’t have the mouth-drying tannins and toxins found in tobacco cigarettes, but you breathe in hot, dry air when you smoke. Vapor, edibles and tinctures contact your mouth, putting the dose near your submandibular glands. They don’t dry out your mouth as much as smoking, but they do cause more cottonmouth than topicals and pills. Don’t worry if you have to use one of these medicines to get relief. You can use some simple strategies to reduce or prevent dry mouth.
Drinking Fluids to Manage Marijuana-Related Thirst and Dry Mouth
Staying hydrated not only reduces your cottonmouth symptoms, but it also promotes optimal health. We recommend water, which has no calories, sugar or mouth-drying ingredients, but we understand that not everyone can easily switch to drinking water only. If you choose an alternative healthy beverage, avoid these drinks:
Caffeinated drinks: The caffeine in coffee, tea and soda makes your mouth even drier. Tea also contains the mouth-drying substance, tannin.
Alcohol: Not only alcoholic beverages create cottonmouth — mouthwashes with alcohol do, too.
Of course, everything health-related is all about moderation. A cup of coffee won’t always ruin your efforts against cottonmouth. Avoiding mouth-drying beverages just lowers your chances of getting cottonmouth. Try making small changes instead of big ones — they have a higher likelihood of becoming habits.
Other Strategies for Relieving Cottonmouth
More ways to get rid of dry mouth include:
Breathing through your nose instead of your mouth: If you have allergies or a sinus condition, you might breathe through your mouth out of habit. Unfortunately, decongestants and antihistamine medications can dry your mouth out even more. Patients who have difficulty breathing through their noses can try running a humidifier or using nasal strips at night.
Chewing sugar-free gum or lozenges: Candies, drops and gum that contain xylitol encourage your mouth to make more saliva. You can also use a xylitol rinse to promote saliva production.
Brushing your teeth with toothpaste for dry mouth: You can find toothpaste formulated to reduce cottonmouth. It comes in over-the-counter and prescription varieties.
Avoiding tobacco: Tobacco not only dries out your mouth, but it also increases your risk of oral cancer. Try to reduce or eliminate your tobacco use. We understand that in many cases, quitting tobacco is easier said than done, too. Use different quitting strategies until you find something that works, and don’t give up.
Talking With Your Dentist
For more ideas for combating marijuana-related dry mouth, talk to your dentist. If you feel comfortable bringing it up, you can mention that you use cannabis medicine, but you can also just tell them about your dry mouth symptoms. Your dentist might recommend extra checkups and cleanings if you have severe symptoms. They can also help you find oral health products that reduce cottonmouth.
Find a Marijuana-Friendly Physician in Your Area
Cannabis-trained doctors understand how to help patients like you manage their side effects. They can offer advice without stigma or bias. These medical professionals can also work together with you to create a treatment plan that reduces dry mouth symptoms. The doctors in our physician database all have our seal of approval, which means they offer legitimate services. Schedule an appointment through our website today. You don’t have to leave MarijuanaDoctors.com to book a visit with a trusted doctor.