Why Does Smoking Cannabis Make Me Thirsty? Dry Mouth Effect

Author
Medically reviewed by Michael Matthews, M.D.
16 March 2023
Hmm is it me or swallowing just levelled up to expert mode?
16 March 2023
36 min read
Why Does Smoking Cannabis Make Me Thirsty? Dry Mouth Effect

Contents:
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  • 1. What is cottonmouth and what causes it?
  • 2. Why does weed make us thirsty?
  • 3. How to cope with the dry mouth effects
  • 3. a. Drink water, duh!
  • 3. b. Have some chewing gum or candy
  • 3. c. Have a drop of cough medicine
  • 3. d. Be patient and relax!
  • 3. e. Choose your strains wisely
  • 4. Funny cottonmouth pranks
  • 4. a. The crackers challenge
  • 4. b. The peanut butter betrayal
  • 5. Other 'less than desirable' side effects of cannabis consumption
  • 5. a. Glassy red eyes
  • 5. b. 'the weed shakes'
  • 6. The bottom line

Have you ever tried to take a bite after smoking some weed only to realize that swallowing became one of the most challenging tasks you had to do? Or even worse, you're on a date, you've both shared a nice and romantic joint together but now it's the moment to kiss and both tongues feel as rough as a cat's tongue. We bet you know what we're talking about. As you sense the dryness inside your whole mouth, you desperately seek for water to come and rescue you from the nightmare you've put yourself in. And just then, lesson learned, no more smoking weed without having any water at hand.

 

Find out what causes a dry mouth after smoking cannabis.

Find out what causes a dry mouth after smoking cannabis.
 

Hardline cannabis advocates often stray from science in their love for the herb and claim that the plant produces no side effects whatsoever. This simply isn’t true. In fact, getting high is a side effect (albeit a desirable one) experienced by people that use cannabis. People often make this claim because, compared to other substances, cannabis has a very user-friendly profile of side effects, and cottonmouth is one of them. Although harmless, this side effect can produce a level of discomfort for some users; it becomes especially annoying when you’re in the middle of a passionate philosophical conversation trying to get your stoned point across!

But fear not! Cottonmouth shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the occasional joint. If you find yourself particularly affected by it, there are various steps you can take to put things right. There are some basic, well-known effects that take place after cannabis consumption, including the typical giggling, puffy red eyes, and dry mouth feeling. Let's find out what causes this thirst and cottonmouth feeling.

1. What Is Cottonmouth and What Causes It? 

The term cottonmouth or the pasties is the slang that people use to refer to the mouth dryness caused by marijuana consumption. So what causes this dryness? While people would most likely believe that cottonmouth is caused due to smoking, this isn't precisely the case. Mouth dryness and thirst after cannabis consumption is mainly attributed to one of the most famous cannabinoids in the weed family, tetrahydrocannabinol, THC. By interacting with the endocannabinoid system, the cannabinoids produce the different effects provided by the plant, such as feeling high, boosting the appetite, some amazing health benefits, and, of course, the famous mouth dryness1. There is a decrease in salivation when the cannabinoids reach two types of neurotransmitters known as methacholine and norepinephrine.

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These receptors produce changes in the signaling of cells, on a molecular level, which leads to this lowered saliva production, hence, the dry mouth. Like all processes in the body, saliva production occurs in a balanced fashion. Too little would cause our mouths to dry out all of the time, making eating a difficult challenge. Too much saliva production would make us drool all of the time—an unsightly occurrence during an important business meeting! 

To ensure we produce the right amount of saliva at the right time, the body has engineered a clever way to keep production in balance. The ECS helps to maintain homeostasis (biological balance) across the body, from the brain and immune system to the skin and bones. This far-reaching system also plays a role when it comes to saliva production. The ECS produces and uses cannabis-like signaling molecules known as endocannabinoids to communicate between cells. The endocannabinoid anandamide plays a particularly important role in the mouth by binding to CB1 receptors.

When it attaches to these sites, it catalyzes a reduction in other signaling molecules that leads to a reduction in saliva. Many researchers view THC as an external version of anandamide because it binds to similar receptors in the body, including CB1. However, when we smoke or eat weed, we ingest large amounts of THC in comparison to the amount of anandamide produced in the body. This results in huge volumes of THC bindings to CB1 receptors in the mouth, creating unusually dry and saliva-deprived conditions for a period of time. The production of saliva takes place mostly in the submandibular glands under the mouth, and cannabinoids like THC and CBD bind to these receptors found in the salivary glands. The process is simple. When the cannabinoid enters our body and reaches these receptors, it attaches itself to them, which in turn causes the glands to ignore the messages sent by the nervous system. As a result, saliva production is paused by the nervous system, which leads to the sandpaper feeling in your mouth. 

2. Why Does Weed Make Us Thirsty?

Well, it all just makes sense. When we feel our mouth is dry, don't we simply understand that our body is screaming for water? However, this doesn't necessarily mean that cannabis is the cause of your dehydration. When you're feeling thirsty after having smoked some cannabis, although it indeed causes the dry mouth effect, this isn't actually the reason for your thirst. 

Dehydration is a phenomenon that takes place when the human body is losing or using more fluid than what it's intaking, which as a result leads the body to not have enough water or fluid to perform its basic tasks, for instance, flushing out toxins through urine or helping you lower your temperature by sweating. 

 

Although weed produces the common cottonmouth, it isn't the cause for dehydration.

Although weed produces the common cottonmouth, it isn't the cause for dehydration.
 

What all this translates to is: if you're feeling thirsty after smoking weed, the odds are that you were already dehydrated before you had consumed it, it's just that the discomfort produced by the dryness in your mouth made you realize that you needed to take some water.

Keep in mind that thirst is a bad sign that you're dehydrated, when you're already feeling thirsty it means you have actually reached a high level of dehydration. You should try to drink water all through the day to avoid reaching this point of thirst and dehydration. Some signs of dehydration also include: 

  • Dark-colored pee;
  • Feeling lazy;
  • Dizziness; 
  • And confusion.

A couple of the signs mentioned before are also normal for a cannabis high, so make sure you're not mistaking your dehydration for a weed high by drinking some water, just in case. Cautious better than sorry. 

3. How to Cope With The Dry Mouth Effects

So, if you find yourself struggling and getting annoyed with the dry dessert inside your mouth then it's time to go through some of the remedies that can alleviate the discomfort. 

 

It's all fun and games until you can't swallow. Find out how to relieve cottonmouth.

It's all fun and games until you can't swallow. Find out how to relieve a cottonmouth.
 

Every stoner has to struggle with this annoying feeling at least a couple of times in a lifetime. Sometimes it's a soft dryness, but others it really feels like a matter of life and death, exaggerating, of course. And while some stoners could act tough and bear with it, if there are indeed some remedies then why shouldn't you turn to them?

Drink Water, Duh!

Well, it takes no Einstein to figure out that if you're feeling the horrible cottonmouth sensation, drinking some water is simply all you need to do. If you don't have water at hand, maybe have a few sips of tap water, if possible, maybe in the bathroom or kitchen. Don't have water? (Seriously?) If you're surrounded by any type of drinks, but water, then do have a sip of beer or wine, or whatever that looks liquid and hydrating. 

Have Some Chewing Gum or Candy

One of the best ways to get your saliva production going is chewing. However, eating cookies or a piece of cake isn't precisely what we mean, given that it will most likely turn into a very tough challenge. Something more like chewing gum is what we mean, besides, it'll give you that extra nice flavor, wink-wink to all of those who like the stoner dating type. 

Extra Tip

Opt for sour flavors for an even wetter mouth, since they tend to produce way more saliva than other sweeter flavors. 

Another great alternative to kickstart that shy saliva is eating some candies or a lollipop perhaps. Lollipops and candies will have you almost drooling, which is great if you were struggling with a dry mouth. Sucking on hard candies has a similar effect to chewing, boosting your saliva production. 

Have a Drop of Cough Medicine

Now we wouldn't really recommend this option, but if you consider desperate times call for desperate measures then we won't stop you, buddy. If you feel like neither water, candies, chewing gum, or lollipops are doing the job, and you're really freaking out about it, then try turning to cough medicine for help. These over the counter medicines are responsible for relieving the irritation in the mucous membranes of the mouth, forming a protective film that will work as a moisturizer for your cottonmouth. 

Be Patient and Relax! 

No one has ever died from consuming marijuana, and even less from a dry mouth. So if you're so unlucky that you find yourself out of resources for dealing with your mouth dryness, then folk, you'll just have to wait.

Choose Your Strains Wisely

Cannabis contains hundreds of phytochemicals, many of which don’t work in isolation. Researchers are currently exploring how cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, and aromatic molecules known as terpenes, might work together to produce more pronounced experiences or to offset each other’s potential side effects. Known as the entourage effect, this chemical synergy has many cannabis users favouring full-spectrum products and extracts above isolated chemicals. Early evidence suggests that strains containing equal levels of THC and CBD might help to reduce dry mouth. But why? 

Well, THC produces its psychoactive effect by binding to a component of the endocannabinoid system known as the CB1 receptor. When activated, this site also plays a role in reducing saliva production and driving cottonmouth. In contrast, CBD works as a negative allosteric modulator of the CB1 receptor. Instead of activating the site, CBD changes the way other molecules, such as THC, interact with it. 

 

Chill and wait for your dry mouth to pass!

Chill and wait for your dry mouth to pass!
 

Through this mechanism, CBD can help to curb the effects of THC; it helps to tame the cannabis high and works in tandem to produce a more balanced and less overwhelming effect. This same mechanism might also help to reduce the severity of cottonmouth, although it won’t eliminate it completely. If you struggle with cottonmouth frequently, try a strain with a 1:1 ratio of THC:CBD and see if you notice any improvements. You'll likely forget about the dryness in a matter of minutes, so try getting distracted, chat a little with your friends, occupy yourself with some other activity, and before you know it you'll have forgotten. Anyway, do have some water once you get the chance, in general, drink. more. water. 

4. Funny Cottonmouth Pranks

If you're a little devilish, there are a few pranks you can make on your dear stoner friends involving cottonmouth.

The Crackers Challenge

The first one is challenging them to eat 3 crackers in a row as fast as they can by saying something like "did you know it's scientifically proven you can't actually do so? Oh, you don't believe me, try it!" Not that anyone, aham, my brother, has ever done that to me. 

The Peanut Butter Betrayal

Another cool one is giving someone a spoon of peanut butter instead of the crackers. Peanut butter is such a traitor, it's so tempting that they won't be able to say no, and since it's already quite hard to swallow itself, imagine with a dry mouth. Your friend will not be happy. 

 

Trick a friend into eating peanut butter when they have a dry mouth!

Trick a friend into eating peanut butter when they have a dry mouth!
 

Just make sure that the person you're pranking is not one of those people who get super pissed off at these kinds of things, or actually yes, because when the person gets madly angry it's just funnier for the rest of us.

5. Other 'Less Than Desirable' Side Effects of Cannabis Consumption

Cottonmouth isn't the only slightly pesky side effect of smoking the good-good. Just like most things in this life, there are a couple of irritating offshoots that come along with toking up (or any other form of weed consumption. Most are annoyances at worst, but let's quickly run through them and have a chat about how you can keep them to a minimum.

Glassy Red Eyes

This is easily the most common side effect of getting high, and the most frequently used to portray in media that a character is stoned. This makes sense, as it is almost impossible to skip (without the use of some eyedrops). While you might think that it's simply some irritation from the smoke, it actually comes down to two main causes -  the increase in tear production that THC can cause and the vasodilation effect. While you might think that it's simply some irritation from the smoke, it actually comes down to two main causes -  the increase in tear production that THC can cause and the vasodilation effect. Vasodilation is the fancy word that describes when blood vessels widen, and it's caused by the cannabinoids naturally widening your blood vessels, which is most obvious in the whites of your eyes.

 

This increase in blood flow isn't anything to worry about healthwise, but if you're trying to be an undercover stoner it can make life a little difficult. Will certain strains make your eyes redder than others?  Yes, and no. Strains with super high THC content obviously contain more cannabinoids, so they can cause this effect to kick in a little heavier, and faster. But it does really come down to your own physiology. We all have that one friend who can smoke as much as he (or she) likes, but never has that glazed-over, red-eyed look. And if you're a long-time cannabis enthusiast, you probably know someone who will look stoned after the very first puff.

Certain people just have the predisposition to show their level of intoxication more than others. And there is really no way to skip these effects. But there is a solution... Certain eye drops, like 'Clear Eyes', work by restricting the blood vessels in your eyes, which can minimize the redness. But keep in mind, you will still look a little off, as the glassy glaze will still be there. But that redness? Totally gone.

'The Weed Shakes'

The weed shakes sound kinda serious, right? Well, don't you worry, as they are totally normal and not something to worry about health-wise.  In fact, getting a little worked up over encountering a bout of the weed shakes can actually exacerbate the whole ordeal. There are a couple of main reasons why you might feel a little shaky after a smoke sesh:

Low Blood Pressure

Vasodilation doesn't just affect the eyes. Nope, it's a whole-body effect, and it can actually lead to a slight drop in blood pressure. This can, in turn, make you feel a little dizzy and shaky, especially if you've been smoking high-THC strains.

Dehydration

As mentioned earlier, cannabis can make you a little dried up. It turns out that dehydration can also lead to mild bouts of trembling, especially if your levels of electrolytes are also low.

Over Stimulation

Toking up can increase your heart rate and cause some mild anxiety. This, in combination with all the other effects, can lead to a very slight trembling sensation, even if you don't feel anxious.

You Might Just be Cold

This is an especially common side effect of outdoor smoking sessions. As THC can cause vasodilation, it increases the flow of warm blood close to the surface of your skin. So if you're out in cold weather, it's very likely that you will start to feel a little chilly more quickly than if you were totally sober. Kind of the opposite of having a 'whisky jacket' on.

How to Reduce the Weed Shakes?

First up, relax. The most common cause is being a little jacked up, so try some relaxation exercises. Breathing slowly and calmly can make a huge difference to your anxiety levels, so get comfy in a nice seat, put on some peaceful music (check out a lo-fi jazz mix or something of the sort), and try to control your breathing. A good exercise is to try and breathe in for around 7 seconds, pause for two, and then release for 5. Also, grab a nice tall glass of water, and slowly start to take some small sips. If you're feeling cold, the water can be subbed out for some green tea, but stay away from coffee as the caffeine may have the opposite effect. Spots drinks are also a good choice, but again, not one containing any stimulants like caffeine or taurine.

Keep an eye on your sugar levels. Eating something with a little bit of sugar in it can help, and what we suggest is some delicious fruit. The low GI index means that the sugar is released slowly, so you won't get a sugar crash. Finally, if you're feeling a little chilly, warm up! Grab a blanket, get all cozy, and just try to relax my friends.

6. The Bottom Line

As we exhaustively repeat, cannabis has never killed anyone, so don't really worry if you're dealing with a dry mouth after you've smoked one, it's part of the process of being high. It's like enjoying alcohol comes along with the hungover feeling the next day, only less of a bummer, you'll just notice it for a second and most likely forget some minutes afterward. Don't forget to learn from your experiences and bring a bottle of water along with you the next time you get together for a smoke with your friends. 

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EXTERNAL REFERENCES

  1. "Inhibition of salivary secretion by activation of cannabinoid receptors" Juan Pablo Prestifilippo, Javier Fernández Solari, Carolina de la Cal, María Iribarne, Angela M. Suburo, Valeria Rettori, Samuel M. McCann, and Juan Carlos Elverdin.