Marijuana has been known for both its medical and recreational purposes. As many countries have been legalizing cannabis, more people are learning why cannabis is right for them. Interestingly, doctors are now seeing an influx of cannabis users experiencing strange behaviors. They are finding that there can be very real and serious complications that come with cannabis use.
While many people use cannabis products to treat nausea, ironically, one of the potential complications of prolonged cannabis use is a condition called CHS. If you experience nausea or vomiting after smoking marijuana, it is Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome or CHS.
CHS is still poorly understood. Experts are trying to understand why only a few people develop it while others don’t. Right now, the only known treatment for CHS is to become cannabis-cautious and stop using cannabis.
Though this sounds like a made-up condition to discourage teenagers from trying cannabis, CHS is very real and if not properly managed, this frequent vomiting problem can turn dangerous.
In this article, we’ll know what CHS is, and explain how to identify it. We shall also know about other gastrointestinal issues related to cannabis use.
Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome | Causes & Symptoms
Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome(CHS) is caused by cannabis use. Regular marijuana users experiencing it will have recurrent episodes of nausea, vomiting, and crampy abdominal pain.
While the episodes generally last 24-48 hours, the symptoms tend to become very severe and lead to dehydration and even weight loss. Compulsive bathing or showering in hot water to soothe nausea is another hallmark sign of CHS.
A 2019 study concluded that it potentially accounts for up to 6% of emergency room visits for recurrent vomiting. Other studies suggest that CHS is a permanent condition that can only be effectively treated by quitting cannabis. Extended use of weed and cannabis products despite CHS can lead to potentially life-threatening complications.
Talking about the factors which cause CHS, it is thought that genetics may play a role because only a small number of people who regularly use cannabis develop CHS. One theory that supports the reason for CHS is the chronic overstimulation of the body’s endocannabinoid receptors. This eventually leads your body to not be able to control nausea and vomiting.
Other common symptoms related to this syndrome are:
- abdominal discomfort
- dry heaving
- food aversions
- abdominal pain
- weight loss
How to find relief?
Researchers are continuing to examine potential treatment options for CHS. As of now, there are no standard treatment guidelines. Some people experience temporary relief from their nausea and vomiting by taking hot showers or steamy baths for hours. Here are some other treatments recommended by doctors to alleviate your symptoms along with quitting cannabis:
- Capsaicin cream. Small case studies have found that topical capsaicin may help manage symptoms.
- Antipsychotics. Some studies have shown that certain antipsychotic medications, like haloperidol or olanzapine, have provided people relief.
- Antihistamines. Mixed research suggests that Benadryl and other antihistamines may be somewhat effective.
- Pain-relieving medications. If your symptoms are accompanied by strong abdominal pain, your doctor may prescribe you pain-relieving medications or painkillers.
Narcotic pain medications like morphine should be avoided as they can worsen your condition. Although these medications are effective, there are chances that they may not work and no amount of medication can be helpful. In that scenario, you shouldn’t depend on pain and anti-nausea medicines and quickly rush to the hospital.
Who is likely to develop this syndrome?
CHS was first recognized in Australia in 2004, and initially, it was thought to rarely occur among people with heavy marijuana use (up to 3-5 times daily) for several years. However, the rising numbers and recent studies have found cases of CHS in people who have been using marijuana heavily for less than a year.
The growth in cases of CHS is still not understood. The increasing legalization of marijuana in states and lack of awareness can be a factor. In the early 1990s, marijuana had an average of 3.8% THC or tetrahydrocannabinol. As of 2019, some countries have found strains containing nearly 30% THC available in marijuana dispensaries, the average THC content being 17.1%. Hence, the increasing potency of cannabis is also an alarming aspect.
Researchers still don’t know why CHS only affects some regular marijuana users and not everyone. So, if you are a regular pot smoker but keep your habit under limitations, it’s not likely for you to develop this syndrome.
Some FAQs on why smoking pot causes you to puke
Are cyclic vomiting syndrome and CHS the same thing?
There is a thin line difference between cyclic vomiting syndrome and CHS. Cyclic vomiting syndrome can occur in patients who don’t even use marijuana. There’s no clear improvement with this syndrome. Also, patients suffering are more likely to have a personal or family history of migraines.
However, this can be treated with the use of preventative medications. On the other hand, vomiting caused by CHS is not triggered by anything else but cannabis.
Can CBD products without THC cause/worsen this condition?
Even cannabis products that don’t contain THC have the potential to cause or worsen CHS. It’s still not clear why, but it’s thought that CBD could potentially be a contributor. Until there’s more clarity about this, CBD shouldn’t be considered safe for people with CHS.
If marijuana is a treatment for nausea, how can it cause CHS?
Research is ongoing regarding the exact cause of CHS. Some say that it’s likely to occur due to the reactions of the more than 100 active compounds in marijuana. Some of these cannabinoids trigger receptors in the brain reducing nausea, while some trigger receptors within the gut and intestines promoting nausea & vomiting.
Experts believe that periods of vomiting are caused when there is a loss of balance between the anti-nausea and pro-vomiting properties of marijuana within the body. Confusion regarding this issue leads to many CHS sufferers increase their marijuana use thinking that it will reduce their nausea and vomiting, but it only makes the problem worse.
Is Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome permanent?
Once a patient has developed Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, avoiding marijuana is the only known cure. CHS can recur among patients who have had this before if they start smoking marijuana again.
What happens if CHS is left untreated?
The long-term effects of CHS are still unknown to us. However, chronic vomiting caused by CHS can lead to these potentially serious complications:
- tooth decay
- electrolyte imbalances
- esophagus inflammation (esophagitis)
Can you die from CHS?
In general, Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome leading to dehydration is still not an alarming sign, until treatment. Also, it is theoretically possible that a severe electrolyte abnormality could lead to a life-threatening abnormal heart rhythm. Apparently, chances of this happening would be very rare.
CHS and deaths related to CHS are not very common. Repeated cannabis use leads to severe nausea and vomiting, that’s it. There’s still a lot about this condition that researchers have not yet found.
But at this time, the only known way to cure CHS is to quit smoking marijuana.