Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome: One-Third Of Heavy Marijuana Users Suffer From Intense Nausea And Vomiting

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Proponents of marijuana legalization have preached about its supposed medicinal benefits, while maintaining that it isn’t addictive, unlike other forms of drugs or intoxicants. However, recent reports have raised awareness of an increasingly common condition called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, where heavy marijuana users tend to suffer from severe vomiting or nausea.

As explained by a report from Popular Science, cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, or CHS, is a condition often associated with people who smoke marijuana at least 20 times a month, where sufferers often have to deal with “severe” nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. The syndrome is still believed by many to be rare among cannabis users, though the New York Times wrote that this perception has been changing as marijuana gets legalized in more parts of the United States and the rest of the world.

Two recent, separate studies offered some insights on the condition, including one led by New York University Langone/Bellevue Medical Center professor Joseph Habboushe, which suggests that about a third of heavy marijuana users in the U.S. might suffer from CHS. According to the study, which was published in the journal Basic and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, this translates to about 2.75 million Americans who experience its symptoms at least once a year.

Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome is still a mystery for a lot of doctors, even in today’s times where marijuana is now legal for medicinal or recreational use in various parts of the world. However, Popular Science noted that the two studies drew similar conclusions — CHS sufferers generally experience relief after taking hot showers.

“As a clinician in the emergency room, when I have a patient who has CHS, I ask them if they take a lot of hot showers, and the reaction is instantly like, ‘how did you know?!’ It’s become a useful diagnostic for CHS,” said University of Colorado Hospital physician Cecilia Sorensen, who led the second study cited by both Popular Science and the New York Times.

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While CHS sufferers can benefit from these hot showers, which supposedly result in a “nearly complete” elimination of abdominal pain and nausea, Popular Science added that there’s a caveat to this seemingly simple treatment. According to the publication, a lot of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome patients have reported that the symptoms immediately return once the hot water is out, or once they’re done showering. Sorensen noted that this is due to the mechanics of the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), which helps regulate hunger, memory, and the ability to feel pain, as endocannabinoid sensors and their receptor proteins perform these functions and more while spread across the nervous system.

“These receptors are all over our gut,” Sorensen added.

“They’re in our intestines, our colon, and they have a role in regulating gastric and intestinal motility to control the propulsion of food and fluids.”

According to the New York Times, it isn’t uncommon for cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome symptoms to persist despite medication, though there have been some occasions where capsaicin cream or the antipsychotic drug haloperidol have proven to be effective. However, the best “cure” for the condition might be the simplest one as well, as experts have observed symptoms disappearing in heavy marijuana users once they stop smoking pot and returning once these users start smoking again.