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Cotton mouth: Everything You Need to Know

Cotton mouth, or dry mouth, is a common side effect of cannabis use. The condition occurs when certain chemical compounds contained in marijuana bind with cannabinoid receptors in a process that lowers the production and flow of saliva in the oral cavity.

In this guide, we go into detail regarding what causes cotton mouth after cannabis use and explain some common causes and symptoms. We also explore how to avoid and get rid of dry mouth to help you improve overall oral hygiene.

What is cotton mouth?

cotton mouth, also known as xerostomia, is a condition where the mouth becomes unusually dry due to a decrease in the production of saliva. It can be instigated by a number of factors, including the use of cannabis, radiation therapy, and autoimmune diseases.

cotton mouth can be uncomfortable and lead to chewing, speaking, or swallowing difficulties. The condition can also cause tooth decay, gum disease, mouth infections, and other oral health problems.

We must first explain the function of saliva in the mouth to help you understand why cotton mouth is a threat to oral hygiene. Saliva has an active role in maintaining oral health and facilitating the digestion of food through the following functions:

  • Moistening the mouth and throat: This makes speaking and swallowing food easier.
  • Preventing tooth decay: Saliva restricts bacterial growth, neutralizes acids, and removes food particles.
  • Breaking down food: Saliva contains enzymes that assist in the breaking down of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, beginning the digestion process.

Therefore, cotton mouth can harm an individual’s oral health by restricting saliva production.

In the following section, we explain the leading causes of cotton mouth, including the effect of cannabis on the salivary glands.

Cotton mouth Causes

While most people believe that cotton mouth occurs due to the cannabis-smoke-induced drying of the oral cavity. 

Xerostomia directly occurs when cannabinoids interact with the human endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The ECS is a complex network of enzymes, receptors, and endocannabinoids that regulate different psychological processes and maintain balance within the body. 

Naturally, the cannabinoid receptors in human brains and bodies are activated when individuals ingest cannabis. Once these receptors bind with cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), they can reduce the level of saliva production and other psychoactive and non-psychoactive effects. Saliva is produced by the salivary glands.

However, this does not mean that cannabis is the only cause of cotton mouth. There are some other associated triggers, such as:

  • The use of certain medications: Xerostomia can be caused by the use of prescription and non-prescription drugs. Some of these medicines are commonly used to treat allergies, diarrhea, anxiety, depression, epilepsy, hypertension, and asthma. Muscle relaxants and sedatives can, too, cause dry mouth as a side effect.
  • Certain medical treatments: Cancer radiation and chemotherapy treatments can damage the salivary glands, which disrupts the production of saliva.
  • Diseases and infections: Medical conditions such as Sjogren’s syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, mumps, anemia, and cystic fibrosis can instigate dry mouth as a side effect.
  • Nerve damage: Physical injuries to the head and neck nerves are another cause of cotton mouth.
  • Dehydration: Finally, one can develop a cotton mouth when they have a condition that leads to dehydration. Such conditions include fever, burns, excessive sweating, and vomiting.

Cotton mouth Symptoms

As we have stated, xerostomia is characterized by the reduction of saliva in the mouth. Therefore, people with the condition often have a dry sticky feeling in their mouths.

Although the symptoms vary from person to person, we present the main signs and indicators that you may be experiencing xerostomia.

  • Dry mouth: This is the dry and uncomfortable sensation people experience in their mouth and throat after cannabis use. A dry mouth is a direct result of the reduced flow of saliva due to the binding of cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) with cannabinoid receptors.
  • Thick or stringy saliva: Once there is reduced saliva flow in the throat and mouth, saliva may become thicker or stringier than usual. This condition makes it difficult to speak or swallow.
  • Sore throat: A dry throat is sensitive and can be easily irritated. This complicates the swallowing and speaking processes and affects a person’s ability to sleep at night.
  • Bad breath: Dry mouth reduces the ability of the mouth to remove particles and clean itself, which can directly result in bad breath.
  • Dry and cracked lips: Due to reduced amounts of saliva in the mouth, cannabis users may experience dry, cracked lips, which is uncomfortable. A dry and grooved tongue is an associated side effect.
  • Changed sense of taste: Saliva has enzymes that break down food and create flavors in the mouth. However, once xerostomia sets in, the enzymes are ineffective, which might cause a changed sense of taste.
  • Problems wearing dentures: A dry mouth makes it difficult to wear dentures, especially if they are ill-fitting. This causes discomfort and can lead to sores and infections.

Although these are the most common symptoms of cotton mouth, their occurrence and severity will vary from person to person. Therefore, it is crucial to be sure before one concludes that a particular symptom is caused by cannabis use since there are many other causes of cotton mouth.

How to Get Rid of cotton mouth

The onset of research on the causes and effects of cotton mouth, especially among cannabis users, has allowed scientists to come up with better ways of dealing with the condition.

There are several methods that people can use to get rid of cotton mouth and improve the oral health of their mouth. We cover some below:

  • Drinking water: Staying hydrated is the go-to option for most people who want to get rid of xerostomia. However, hydration might not offer instant relief from a dry mouth. It is also vital to avoid sugary drinks or acidic beverages, since they can worsen the symptoms.
  • Going for lower potency THC: Cannabis users can also start using products containing lower potency strains of THC. This would directly minimize the therapeutic benefits of cannabis, such as when delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol binds with cannabinoid receptors.  
  • Applying mouthwash: Some mouthwash or moisturizing mouth spray products have been specifically designed to enhance saliva circulation in the mouth. Mouthwash also helps remove foul odors from the mouth, prevent tooth decay, and strengthen the teeth.
  • Chewing gum: Gum chewing speeds up saliva production, which directly combats dry mouth.
  • Avoiding alcohol and tobacco: Alcohol and tobacco users can either reduce overall consumption of these products or drink more water to stimulate saliva production.

Cannabis users can also combat xerostomia by drinking more herbal tea with honey and lemon and minimizing their caffeine intake.

How to Avoid cotton mouth

The following are some methods that cannabis users can leverage to avoid xerostomia:

  • Regularly visiting the dentist: The American Dental Association recommends regular visits to the dentist to aid in the early detection of mouth conditions. Dentists are best equipped to identify oral health problems that you might have developed and prescribe certain treatment medications. We have also noted the importance of ensuring that cannabis use has caused a particular dry mouth symptom, since there are many other causes of xerostomia.
  • Chewing sugar-free gum: Chewing stimulates saliva flow in a person’s mouth and throat. We recommend going for sugar-free gums or candies, since acidic or sugary products can worsen the symptoms of cotton mouth.
  • Using fluoride-enriched toothpaste: Brushing one’s teeth two times a day with fluoride toothpaste is another method of preventing cotton mouth. Fluoride protects users against cavities, strengthens the enamel, and minimizes the adverse effects of acid on the teeth.
  • Using mouthwash designed for dry mouth: Applying relevant mouthwash and breath sprays enhances saliva circulation in the mouth. However, we do not recommend the use of alcohol-based mouthwash products since they increase the amount of acid in the mouth, thus reducing the effectiveness of saliva.
  • Drinking more water: Again, staying hydrated is crucial.
  • Increasing the use of herbal teas: Herbal teas enable cannabis users to stay hydrated, promote saliva production, and provide a soothing effect on different body parts, including the mouth.

Cotton mouth from Edibles

Because cannabis-containing gummies, brownies, candies, chocolate, gummies, and other related foods contain THC, they can cause xerostomia.

As with other cannabis products, edibles can directly cause cotton mouth following the interaction of THC and the cannabinoid receptors found in the human brain and body.

The binding of THC and the cannabinoid receptors reduces saliva production by the salivary glands, leading to cannabis-induced xerostomia. 


In this guide, we have explained how and why marijuana users can experience cotton mouth after using marijuana products. Xerostomia occurs when cannabinoids interact with cannabinoid receptors, affecting the level of saliva production and flow in the mouth and throat. It does not occur due to the cannabis-smoke-induced drying of the oral cavity. 

If you are in Florida or any other state, you can learn more about your cannabis-induced cotton mouth by heading to MMJ Health today. We have a team of expert medical doctors who help you understand your condition better.
You can visit any of the nine MMJ Health locations or call us at (561) 631-7994 to speak to a medical marijuana doctor.