Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome: Heavy Marijuana Use Linked To Rare Vomiting Illness

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Heavy marijuana use, for a small number of people, has been linked to a rare and mysterious illness which causes vomiting and stomach pain.

The mysterious illness is called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) and was discovered in 2004, according to NPR. However, cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome didn’t receive much attention until recently, when doctors began to identify more cases of the syndrome.

For 17 years, a 48-year-old woman named Chalfonte LeNee Queen, who lives in San Diego, suffered periodic episodes of violent retching and abdominal pain that would knock her off her feet for days. At times, Queen found herself writhing on the floor in pain.

“I’ve screamed out for death… I’ve cried out for my mom who’s been dead for 20 years, mentally not realizing she can’t come to me.”

Dr. Kennon Heard, a professor of emergency medicine and medical toxicology and pharmacology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, told WBUR that doctors are identifying the illness where marijuana use is more frequent.

“Essentially, patients who use marijuana very frequently for long periods of time—usually at least six months, probably most of them have been using for several years—develop sort of intractable abdominal pain and vomiting that sort of comes and goes over the course of days to weeks.”

Dr. Heard observed that at least one person a day visits his institution in Colorado and presents symptoms that he believes are a result of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome. Dr. Roneet Lev, the director of operations at Scripps Mercy Hospital, told NBC 7 News that he had seen an identical trend in his emergency room in San Diego.

The syndrome is rare. However, there has been enough patients who have visited Scripps Mercy Hospital that led the emergency room staff to create a new word for the screaming and vomiting symptoms of CHS known as “scromiting.”

Hot Showers Alleviate Symptoms Of Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome

LeNee Queen experienced “scromiting” for nearly two decades. After a misdiagnosis and years of pain, Queen was eventually diagnosed with CHS in 2016. One of the telltale signs of her condition was her frequent hot showers to alleviate her symptoms. Dr. Jordan Tishler, a Harvard-trained physician who runs a cannabis clinic in Massachusetts, told Newsweek via email resorting to hot baths or showers to relieve pain is “the only feature that definitively points to CHS.”

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Doctors are still uncertain exactly what causes the condition, but Heard believes he had some valuable insight and revealed his findings to CBS News.

“The most likely cause is people using marijuana frequently and in high doses have changes in the receptors in their body, and those receptors become dysregulated in some way, and it starts causing pain.”

The small number of people who suffer from the syndrome often aren’t too happy with the cure for CHS, which is to stop smoking marijuana.

Cameron Nicole Beard, a 19-year-old who was treated at University of Iowa hospital, for CHS symptoms, told NPR, “Who wants to be told you can’t smoke marijuana when you think marijuana can help?”

Although the symptoms are alarming, the majority of cannabis users have nothing to worry about.

“CHS is concerning for people who have it, but it is not a major public health hazard.”

Dr. Heard said that the science behind it is not clear and that doctors are just starting to recognize that CHS even exists. Dr. Kennon Heard said the cause of CHS is most likely due to people using marijuana frequently and in high doses causing changes in the receptors in their body. These receptors become dysregulated in some way and begin to cause pain.