Our understanding of cottonmouth has changed over the years. Once upon a time, it was thought dry mouth, or “the pasties”, was caused by just the smoke irritating nasal, mouth and throat membranes. Now that cannabis is being studied more closely and there are more ways to take it in, we’re learning simple smoke inhalation wasn’t really the cause. Thanks, science!

Sure, smoking anything can irritate oral membranes, but edibles and vapes also cause cottonmouth so it’s not the method, but the effect of cannabinoid receptors and cannabis interacting with our nervous system. Research on the phenomenon only began in the early 2000s, but we’re now able to understand why it happens and what you can do about it. By the way, scientists call cottonmouth “xerostomia.”

Cannabinoids, the active compounds in cannabis, interact with the human endocannabinoid system in specific ways. Our endocannabinoid system is connected to the brain, and when cannabinoids interact, all sorts of things can happen. You already know some of these (the high), but other bodily processes can be impacted — like producing saliva. Why? Because cannabinoid receptors are found on the submandibular glands, which live at the bottom of your mouth and produce about 70% of our saliva.

In a 2006 study, it was found that by giving a cannabinoid called anandamide to rats, the compound would attach to receptors and tell the body to produce fewer compounds needed to produce saliva. After all, the body communicates through chemical signals. In this case, one of the many cannabinoids in cannabis tells the body “don’t make as much spit!” Rude, perhaps, but that’s how the body works.

The very reason cannabis is shown to have numerous medical benefits is the same reason why your mouth dries up. It would be overkill to try and block anandamide with pills, but there are things you can do to help with cottonmouth.

• Water or light herbal teas can help. Water is of course best, but it’ll just hydrate you from the inside-out. Herbal tea (not darker teas that contain tannins which could further dry your mouth out, like coffee) can also help if the thought of just chugging water sounds unpleasant.

• Chewing gum or sour candy. The trick is to kickstart those saliva glands despite what the anandamide is telling your body, right? A stick of gum can help, or anything like a lollipop. Sour candies that use “sour sugar” will also spur your saliva glands better than purely sugar-based sweets.

• Cough medicine. Yeah, taking a bit of this may seem weird, but consider oral demulcents, aka cough drops, which coat the mucus membranes with a moist film that will resist cotton mouth.

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