Why Smoking Marijuana Makes Your Mouth Dry

Anxiety relief, easing of chronic pain, and help with nausea are said to be among the most significant benefits of smoking marijuana. For recreational cannabis users, it's a great way to unwind, and for those who seek it out for medicinal purposes, it's an important tool for increasing quality of life. But marijuana use is not devoid of other, more uncomfortable, side effects too — like a dry mouth.

More popularly known as cotton mouth among weed enthusiasts (and Xerostomia in medical circles), it refers to how your saliva dries up and leaves your mouth feeling parched and dry when you smoke marijuana. In fact, it's not just smoking the stuff that causes cotton mouth. You can get it from vaping weed and consuming edibles too. And yes, medicinal marijuana can do the same thing. Apart from cannabis consumption, a dry mouth can arise from certain medications, radiotherapy, and medical conditions like diabetes and immune system disorders like Sjögren's syndrome as well (via NHS Inform).

When you smoke cannabis, the THC or tetrahydrocannabinol in the stuff attaches itself to the receptors in your saliva glands, which in turn results in a disruption in signaling between these receptors and the submandibular glands (via Corson Dentistry). The submandibular glands are responsible for producing saliva in your mouth. When communication is obstructed, less saliva is produced, and this is what leads to a dry mouth when smoking weed. As it turns out, cotton mouth can also lead to other oral complications. Learn more about them here.

Dry mouth from smoking cannabis can lead to periodontal disease

Saliva serves a purpose when it comes to our overall dental health. For starters, saliva keeps your mouth comfortably moist, per WebMD. It also plays a role in how you digest your food: the enzymes in it help break down food, and the moisture it creates helps food go down easily. Saliva also prevents bad breath, and the proteins and minerals in saliva protect your mouth against gum disease. 

Cotton mouth caused by cannabis smoking can hamper all of these useful benefits of saliva, which essentially means that you're more at risk of developing oral health issues (especially if you are a regular marijuana user). You become more susceptible to cavities, bad breath, and periodontal and gum disease. As a more immediate side effect, you may have already noticed that having a dry mouth might make it difficult for you to talk, as well as taste, chew, and swallow food.  

Having cotton mouth is certainly not pleasant. Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent it when smoking cannabis, like hydrating sufficiently, chewing on unsweetened gum, and using things like moisturizing mouth sprays. However, dry mouth and resulting gum diseases are not all that smoking marijuana does to your oral health. There's more, like when the tannins in cannabis lead to teeth staining, per Delta Dental. The yellowing or browning teeth you're starting to see after regular cannabis use? Yep, that's a result of the weed.

The other oral side effects of smoking marijuana

There is also scientific evidence that regular cannabis use can alter your oral microbiome. The oral microbiome refers to both the harmful and beneficial bacteria that reside in your mouth. According to a 2021 study published in eBioMedicine that screened the saliva of regular marijuana users, the longer the time period of cannabis consumption, the higher the rate of Actinomyces meyeri bacterium in saliva, a microbiome related to immune system disorders (via Medical University of South Carolina). 

Even with medical marijuana, if you're smoking the stuff, you're putting yourself at risk of not only periodontal and gum disease but also oral cancer, according to cosmetic dentist Dr. Stephen Coates (via YouTube). Contrary to what you might think, cannabis smoke has the same carcinogens as regular cigarette smoke. However, more research is needed to establish a more definite link between marijuana use and cancer risk, per the Canadian Cancer Society

Unfortunately, even the fact that marijuana makes people so hungry can indirectly impact your oral health. "The more hungry you are, the more likely you are to snack on carbohydrates and soda and other cavity-causing foods," according to dental hygienist Whitney DiFoggio (via Teeth Talk Girl). Make sure you have some healthy snacks lying around the next time you smoke. Learning about the negative side effects of smoking on your mouth may understandably make you consider stopping. Weigh the cons against the pros and make informed decisions that will improve your overall health.