Teenager Dies From Rare Condition Caused By Heavy, Long-Term Marijuana Use

Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome is becoming more common since pot has been legalized in several states.

user smoking marijuana from a pipe
Heath Alseike / Flickr (CC BY 2.0 Cropped, resized.)

Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome is becoming more common since pot has been legalized in several states.

An Indiana teenager has died after developing cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, a rare condition that sometimes pops up in long-term, heavy marijuana users, USA Today reports. The condition is becoming more common since multiple states have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use.

Brian Smith, Jr. began smoking weed at age 13, at least in part to deal with his depression, and partly to fit in with his neighborhood friends who smoked pot whenever they could. His mother, Regina Denney, wasn’t happy about it, but she told herself that there were worse things that he could be doing.

Within a couple of years, Brian had become a daily, heavy marijuana user. Again, Denney figured it could have been worse, especially since by this time Brian had a job, while his friends had moved on to meth and heroin.

Then the vomiting and stomach pain started.

The young man was in agonizing stomach pain, and the only relief came via scalding hot baths or showers. When he wasn’t cringing in agony from the abdominal pain, he was vomiting, constantly. Nothing helped.

Still, Brian kept smoking pot.

In October 2018, after a bout of severe vomiting left him fatally dehydrated, Brian died. He was 17. The coroner’s report said that cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) was at least partially responsible for the young man’s death.

marijuana buds and joints
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Regina admits that she and Brian read about CHS while Brian was sick but discounted it.

“Brian did not believe that was what it was because of everything we had ever been told about marijuana. … It didn’t make any sense,” she said.

An Underdiagnosed Entity

Until a few years ago, few if any in the medical profession had even heard of CHS. In fact, Joseph Habboushe, a clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at NYU, says that emergency room physicians are aware that it’s likely more common than the academic research on the topic would suggest.

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“Emergency room doctors on the front-line lines, we know that it’s a totally underdiagnosed entity,” he said.

What’s more, the condition is on the rise. The reasons for this aren’t 100 percent clear, but the rise in CHS cases has clearly coincided with an increase in the number of states where marijuana is legal, whether for recreational or medicinal use. What’s more, the pot that users are smoking today is considerably more potent than it was a generation ago, as reported previously by The Inquisitr.

Back in Indiana, Regina Denny is trying to keep her son’s memory alive by raising awareness of CHS.

Dr. Jie Chen, writing in MDedge, says that marijuana users who start experiencing abdominal pain and vomiting should immediately stop smoking pot. With any luck, the symptoms will go away within about 12 hours, but in some users, it may take as much as three weeks.