Though some states have legalized it, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) continues to classify cannabis products as Schedule I controlled substances.Placing them in a class of drugs with supposedly no medical uses and with the potential for significant abuse. Nonetheless, numerous research studies indicate that cannabis products do have some medicinal uses, and certainly, the prevailing attitude by many has shifted to the notion that marijuana is no more harmful than legal substances like tobacco and alcohol. Whether or not marijuana is used for recreational purposes or for medicinal reasons, the use of the drug produces various side effects.
The experience of having the “munchies” after using cannabis products is widespread. Even though some people don’t have this experience, it appears that the vast majority of individuals who use cannabis products do report increased feelings of hunger at some time. The specific mechanism of how cannabis results in increased hunger in individuals is not fully recognized; however, some of what is known has been described in several recent research studies that have looked at the appetite-stimulating effects of cannabis products in people and in animal models, particularly in rodents.
According to numerous sources, such as a much-cited research article published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, there are several possible mechanisms associated with an increase of hunger and marijuana use.
- Cannabinoids, which are the active ingredients in marijuana, affect an individual’s brain in numerous ways. The most well-known of these is delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for the psychoactive effects of marijuana (the “high” associated with cannabis). However, there are more than 80 recognized cannabinoids in marijuana products that all have different effects. The cannabinoids in marijuana are very similar in their structure to neurotransmitters that attach to receptor sites in the brain, known as endogenous cannabinoid receptor sites.
- When there is a decrease in energy stores (fat cells and glucose levels in the blood) in the body, the gastrointestinal tract triggers the release of the hormone ghrelin. This hormone stimulates the hypothalamus to increase feelings of hunger, which also stimulates the ventral tegmental area of the brain and increases the release of dopamine. THC is known to stimulate the release of ghrelin.
- An increase in energy stores triggers the release of leptin, which counteracts feelings of hunger. Leptin also inhibits the neurotransmitter anandamide. Anandamide is known to stimulate hunger and attaches to endogenous cannabinoid receptor sites (specifically a receptor known as the CBC1 receptor). When THC binds to these anandamide receptors in the brain, there is a decrease in leptin, which results in an increase in feelings of hunger.
- THC also binds to receptors in the olfactory bulb in the brain that are noted to increase odor detection and food intake in mice (and probably have the same function in humans). This leads to an increased ability to smell, and this increased ability to smell makes food taste better (particularly when food is chewed, as it forces air through the nasal passages and increases both the sensations of smell and taste). When food tastes better, people tend to eat more of it.
- THC also increases the palatability of sugary foods when it binds to the CB1 receptor site. Thus, individuals are more likely to gorge on sweeter tasting foods when they use marijuana.
- When stimulated, the CB1 receptor site also produces increases in dopamine in an area called the nucleus accumbens. This area of the brain is part of the reward pathway that produces feelings of euphoria when certain behaviors are repeated. Thus, when the CB1 receptor site is activated by THC, it increases hunger and the reinforcement sensation associated with eating.
- These overall effects are so strong that they simulate the feeling that an individual is actually starving and results in individuals often gorging on food.
So, is getting cotton mouth bad for your health? Well, it’s not anything that’ll land you in the hospital, but it can still cause some notable issues. To start, dry mouth can be pretty uncomfortable over an extended period, which can dampen your mood and throw off your focus.
It can also lead to a dried out throat, which can make swallowing very difficult without the assistance of water. Along with that, if you let it go on long enough, your teeth will start to weaken as they get more and more dry, becoming more sensitive in the process.
The Science Behind Cotton Mouth From Weed Smoking
Humans have enjoyed marijuana since ancient times, so “cotton mouth” isn’t exactly something new. But it was only recently, in 2006, that this peculiar effect of weed has been the subject of scientific research, which is now helping us to understand it more.
- The Endocannabinoid System, Saliva & Cannabinoids
Cotton mouth may seem like it is dryness from smoke (and some do indeed think it is), but this is not the whole story; there is a lot more to it. The real cause for cotton mouth has to do with how cannabinoids, the active compounds in cannabis, interact with the human endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system consists of cannabinoid receptors that are located throughout the entire human body, including the brain. Cannabinoids in marijuana can activate these receptors, where they cause all sorts of reactions and processes. This is how the high from marijuana comes about, but the interaction with these cannabinoid receptors can affect many more bodily processes, with saliva production one of them.
The saliva production in our mouths is controlled by a part of our autonomic nervous system known as the rest and digest system. The brain sends nerve impulses towards the salivary glands to stimulate saliva production, and this happens without us needing to do anything for it. Our subconscious brain can also influence this process. For example, when the mere thought of some tasty food causes the brain to send more impulses to the saliva glands, making our mouths water.
With cannabinoids receptors being present in all parts of our body, it wasn’t too surprising when researchers found them, also in the submandibular glands, the saliva glands under the mouth which are responsible for producing most saliva. The researchers also found that anandamide, which is similar in structure to THC, causes decreased saliva secretion.