Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome is an emerging illness affecting heavy users of marijuana.
Photo by Kimzy Nanney on Unsplash
Have you been a heavy user of marijuana for a few years? Do you have episodes of nausea, vomiting and belly pain every few weeks or months? You might have Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome.
Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, or CHS, was first recognized in Australia in 2004. It affects chronic, heavy users of marijuana. (A heavy user is defined as someone who uses marijuana more than 20 days a month.)
The symptoms of CHS are episodes of abdominal pain and vomiting. In the beginning the symptoms are mild. Perhaps just a little nausea in the morning. This first stage may go on for months, or years.
Things gradually get worse. The next stage of the syndrome is severe vomiting, as much as five times an hour. There is also abdominal pain. Each attack lasts for 24 to 48 hours. These episodes recur every few weeks or months.
The only thing that relieves a CHS attack is a very hot shower. It is a fast acting remedy, but only works while the person is in the hot water. A CHS sufferer may shower for hours at a time to keep the symptoms at bay.
The repeated episodes of vomiting caused by CHS can lead to weight loss, dehydration, kidney damage, and in rare cases, even death. To date, there have been two known cases of death from complications related to CHS.
A factor in CHS deaths is ignorance.
It is well known that marijuana is often prescribed to relieve nausea and vomiting. When a user of marijuana begins to experience the symptoms of CHS, they may increase their use of marijuana in the mistaken belief that the extra weed will relieve their vomiting.
That is exactly the wrong thing to do. CHS is not a one time event. It will cause repeating cycles of abdominal pain and vomiting until marijuana is discontinued.
If the marijuana use is resumed, the CHS will also return. Apparently, once CHS begins, the user has to quit weed permanently.
Many users have been smoking weed for decades and have a severe addiction. They don?t want to believe the marijuana is causing their problem. They continue to use, and continue to suffer the misery of CHS.
It is like some people diagnosed with lung cancer, but continue to smoke cigarettes. They don?t want to kick the addiction. They like it too much.
The choice is to live with the misery of CHS, or stop the weed. I don?t know anyone who would want to have to live with repeated bouts of vomiting, so the choice would be easy for most of us. But a person addicted to marijuana will usually have to go through a certain amount of suffering before they are convinced.
It is not publicized much, but trying to break a marijuana addiction can cause withdrawal symptoms. Get professional help, if necessary.
Diagnosis of CHS
An increasing number of people are going to hospital emergency rooms with CHS, but it is still not well known among all healthcare providers. The symptoms of abdominal pain and vomiting are similar to many gastrointestinal illnesses. Sufferers can go for years before getting a correct diagnosis.
The key warning sign of CHS is that hot showers give relief. A knowledgeable doctor will use the following information to make a diagnosis of CHS:
- Long term marijuana use,
- A cyclic pattern of vomiting and abdominal pain,
- Symptoms relieved by a hot shower.
One study found that up to 6% of people visiting hospital emergency rooms for recurrent vomiting have CHS.
It is likely that many people have never heard of CHS, and do not realize that it is their marijuana use causing their stomach problems. Even healthcare professionals can have difficulty with the diagnosis. CHS is often misdiagnosed as some other gastric problem.
It frequently takes years, and many visits to emergency rooms and doctors to get a correct diagnosis of CHS. So, it is important that marijuana users protect themselves by knowing the symptoms of CHS, and telling their healthcare provider about their marijuana use.
Why is marijuana suddenly causing CHS?
CHS is a relatively new syndrome, and rather unknown until recently. Not much research has been done on what causes it. The only thing known for certain is that it is linked to heavy marijuana use.
But why now, after thousands of years of marijuana use, is CHS suddenly appearing? There are theories, but large, randomized scientific studies have not been done to learn the facts about CHS.
There is some speculation that legalization of marijuana has resulted in higher grades of marijuana being available. It is much stronger than the marijuana that was used a couple decades ago. There is a theory that use of this high grade weed causes a higher than normal buildup of cannabinoids in the body.
It would be ironic if the legalization of marijuana ends up being the cause of some people having to quit using it.
Recovery from CHS
The good news is that cessation of marijuana seems to end the severe symptoms of CHS.
Hospitalization may be required to replace fluids lost due to vomiting. It can take much longer for a person to regain the weight lost due to CHS. Full recovery may take several months.
It is not yet known if there is any long term damage from CHS because the syndrome hasn?t been around long enough.
Should marijuana use be curtailed due to the danger of CHS?
I quit using marijuana many years ago because I felt that smoking weed was sapping my energy and ambition. My quitting had nothing to do with CHS. It was more about my inability to be responsible. All aspects of my life were going to hell because I was high all the time.
But when marijuana is used in moderation, I think it is relatively harmless. Driving a car or using power tools while stoned is a bad idea, but I don?t think occasional use is necessarily bad.
Personally, I think marijuana is similar to alcohol in some respects: An occasional drink, or joint, is harmless. But drinking a lot of booze everyday, or smoking a lot of reefer everyday, will become a problem.
I favor the legalization of cannabis
The only ones that are currently benefiting from illegal sales of marijuana are criminal gangs. Having it sold legally would provide a way for sellers to make an honest living, as well as provide the government with tax revenue.
But marijuana has to be used responsibly. Legalization has to come with regulation to avoid things like driving under the influence, use by minors, public intoxication? In other words, marijuana needs to be regulated the same as alcohol.
Legalization might also spur additional research into CHS. No one currently knows what substance in cannabis is causing it. If it was known, maybe a safer marijuana could be developed. But due to marijuana being illegal in most of the USA, research into CHS is largely overlooked by the medical establishment.
In the meantime, be aware of the possible danger of CHS. If you are diagnosed with CHS, or suspect you have it, there is good news: Quitting marijuana will cure you.
The bad news is that once afflicted with CHS, you must avoid cannabis forever. Get your high with something else, and have a good life.