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Medically Reviewed

What is Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS)?

- 9 sections

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor

medically-verified

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Marijuana is a psychoactive drug that people believe is safe to use because it is natural. However, there are some risks associated with heavy, long-term marijuana use.

Cannabis hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) is a condition that leads to severe and repetitive bouts of vomiting. While this condition is rare, it occurs in people who smoke large quantities of marijuana regularly. Individuals who have this condition experience repeated episodes of vomiting, dehydration, and abdominal pain that cause them to frequent the emergency room.

According to the National Library of Medicine, “Cannabinoid hyperemesis is a syndrome seen in some chronic cannabis users. It is characterized by cyclic nausea and vomiting, as well as a pattern of compulsive hot water bathing for symptom relief.”[1]

To explain, hyperemesis is a term that means severe vomiting, making it a fitting name for CHS syndrome. Individuals who frequently abuse marijuana should be aware of the symptoms of this condition, how it is caused, and how to treat it.

What are the Causes of Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome?

Marijuana affects the body in many ways, making it extremely difficult to pinpoint exactly what causes hyperemesis syndrome.

However, researchers do know that the active substance found in weed known as THC binds to the user’s digestive tract. Because of this, THC can affect the digestive tract in the following ways:[2]

  • Changing the time it takes to empty the stomach
  • Effects on the esophageal sphincter
  • Changing the way molecules in the digestive tract respond, leading to symptoms of CHS

While THC affects neurotransmitters in the brain to decrease vomiting and nausea, it has the opposite effects on the digestive tract. Also, repeated use of marijuana may cause those brain receptors to stop decreasing nausea and vomiting and begin to inhibit those symptoms, instead. This is what is believed to cause CHS to develop.

Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome develops more commonly in adults who have been using marijuana frequently on a long-term basis. Typically, these individuals have been smoking weed since their adolescence.

According to research, “Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome is a new diagnosis, accounting for up to 6% of patients presenting to emergency departments with recurrent vomiting.”[3]

The Symptoms of Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome

There are three different stages of cannabis hyperemesis syndrome; the prodromal phase, the hyperemetic phase, and the recovery phase. People with this syndrome experience severe bouts of nausea that leads to prolonged symptoms of vomiting and abdominal pain.

Prodromal Phase

The prodromal phase is associated with symptoms of early morning nausea and abdominal pain. This may cause individuals to develop a fear of vomiting, because of how severe the bouts of throwing up become in the following phases.

Many people begin to use more marijuana during this phase in an attempt to soothe their nausea. Unfortunately, this only furthers their symptoms and makes the bouts of vomiting more likely to occur. This phase could last anywhere from months to years.

Hyperemetic Phase

During this phase, the vomiting becomes intense and overwhelming. Oftentimes this leads to dehydration and extreme abdominal pain. This is the phase where people tend to begin seeking medical care for their vomiting, as many people are unaware of this condition.

The symptoms of this phase include:

  • Ongoing nausea
  • Repeated episodes of vomiting
  • Pain in the belly
  • Decreased food intake
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration

Recovery Phase

The recovery phase occurs when individuals stop using marijuana. This phase will last as long as the individual does not begin smoking marijuana again. Unfortunately, it is common for this condition to return, as CHS is a newly discovered syndrome that many people are unaware of.

Risks Associated With Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome

Because CHS causes prolonged episodes of vomiting, one of the biggest risks is dehydration. Additionally, individuals may develop esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus) due to repeated vomiting.

Even further, the vomiting could lead to a depletion of electrolytes in the blood. If these effects are left untreated, they can cause:

  • Muscle spasms or weakness
  • Seizures
  • Kidney failure
  • Heart rhythm abnormalities
  • Shock
  • Brain swelling (cerebral edema)

How is CHS Treated?

If in a clinical setting, individuals who are experiencing severe vomiting will receive treatment for those symptoms immediately.

During the hyperemesis phase, patients are provided with the following medical treatments:[4]

  • IV fluids for dehydration
  • Anti vomiting medication
  • Pain medication for abdominal pain
  • Proton-pump inhibitors that treat inflammation of the stomach
  • Frequent hot showers to lessen symptoms
  • Medications to lessen anxiety due to a fear of vomiting (benzodiazepines)
  • Cessation of marijuana consumption

The only way to successfully get rid of cannabis hyperemesis syndrome is to stop smoking weed.[5] Continuing to use marijuana will only further this condition and make the symptoms worse over time. Typically, ending the consumption of marijuana eases the symptoms of CHS within 2 days.

Preventing Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome

The only way to prevent this condition from occurring is to completely stop using marijuana. While THC products can help lessen nausea and vomiting in some individuals, people with CHS will only experience worsened bouts of vomiting.

Individuals with CHS who quit marijuana will experience the following benefits:

  • Remission of CHS symptoms
  • Better lung functioning
  • Lessened anxiety about vomiting
  • The ability to eat and drink food properly
  • Decreased risk of depression
  • Better lung functioning
  • Lessened dehydration and replenish electrolytes in the blood
  • Improved cognitive skills
  • Better sleep

Treatment for Marijuana Abuse and Addiction

If you or a loved one suffer from marijuana addiction, quitting this substance on your own can be extremely difficult. Especially because the use of weed is normalized in today’s society. Due to this, the only surefire way to beat an addiction to cannabis is to attend a professional addiction treatment center.

Contact Carolina Recovery Center today for more information on our North Carolina substance abuse treatment programs.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4453416/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16596788/
  3. https://www.bmj.com/content/366/bmj.l4336
  4. https://journals.lww.com/americantherapeutics/fulltext/2018/06000/Emergency_Department_Treatment_of_Cannabinoid.9.aspx
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5330965/

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