What is Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome?
Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) is a condition that leads to repeated and severe bouts of vomiting. It is pretty rare, most often occurring in daily, long-term users of marijuana.
Marijuana and other cannabinoids are typically thought to decrease nausea and vomiting—in states where it is legal, it is sometimes prescribed for this reason—but in some regular, long-term users, marijuana has the opposite effect. It can cause the condition it is prescribed to relieve.
Do you suspect you or someone you love suffers from CHS? If you’d like to talk to someone about this, call Honey Lake Clinic right now at (888) 837-6577.
What causes CHS?
Marijuana has varying effects on the body and its systems. Experts are still trying to learn exactly how it causes CHS in some people.
Marijuana has been effective at easing such symptoms as nausea and vomiting in people receiving chemotherapy. Yet, it has impacted the digestive tract in others in the opposite manner, making them more likely to experience bouts of vomiting. Researchers surmise that
with first use, signals from the brain may lead to anti-nausea effects. But with repeated use of marijuana, certain receptors in the brain may stop responding to the drug in the same way. This may be what causes CHS. It still isn’t clear why some heavy marijuana users get CHS, while others do not.
What are CHS’s symptoms?
Medical professionals divide the symptoms of CHS into three stages—prodromal, hyperemetic and recovery phases.
During the prodromal phase symptoms are usually early morning nausea and stomach discomfort. Many people simply grow accustomed to feeling sick each morning. Some use more marijuana, believing this will help alleviate their symptoms. This phase can last for months, even years.
During the hyperemetic phase, symptoms may include:
- Ongoing nausea
- Repeated episodes of vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Decreased food intake and weight loss
- Symptoms of dehydration
During this phase, vomiting becomes intense and overwhelming. Many people take a lot of hot showers during the day, as they find that doing so eases their nausea. That may be because of the effects of the hot temperature on a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. It has effects on both temperature regulation and vomiting.
People often first seek medical care during this phase. The hyperemetic phase can continue until the sufferer stops using marijuana.
This is when the recovery phrase begins. Symptoms go away. Normal eating is possible again. This phase can last days to months. Symptoms typically return if the person tries marijuana again.
How is CHS diagnosed?
Many health problems can cause repeated vomiting. To make a proper diagnosis, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, give you a physical exam, and likely will run tests to rule out other causes of the vomiting.
These tests might include:
- Blood tests for anemia and infection
- Tests for electrolytes
- Tests for pancreas and liver enzymes, to check these organs
- Pregnancy test
- Urine analysis, to test for infection or other urinary causes
- Drug screen, to test for drug-related causes of vomiting
- X-rays of the abdomen, to check for conditions like blockage
- Upper endoscopy, to view the stomach and esophagus for possible causes of vomiting
- Head CT scan, if a nervous system cause of vomiting seems likely
- Abdominal CT scan, to check for health problems that might need surgery
How is CHS treated?
If vomiting is severe, a CHS sufferer may require hospitalization for a short time. Severe, prolonged vomiting may lead to dehydration. It may also lead to electrolyte problems in your blood. If untreated, these can cause rare complications such as:
- Brain swelling (cerebral edema)
- Muscle spasms or weakness
- Kidney failure
- Heart rhythm abnormalities
In a hospital, healthcare professionals will quickly work to address any dehydration or electrolyte problems. Doing so can help prevent these more serious complications from developing.
Symptoms often ease after a day or two once marijuana use is stopped. And of course, to fully recover, you need to stop using marijuana all together.
Denial—Often the first obstacle to overcome
Many CHS sufferers are reluctant to believe that marijuana is the underlying cause of their symptoms. That may be because they have used it for many years without any problems. It’s important to understand CHS can take several years to develop. The drug may help prevent nausea in new users who don’t use it often. But people with CHS need to completely quit using it, or their symptoms will likely come back.
Quitting marijuana leads to other health benefits, like:
- Better lung function
- Improved memory and thinking skills
- Better sleep
- Decreased risk for depression and anxiety
Take your life back—
Some people benefit from drug rehabilitation programs to help them quit. Cognitive behavioral therapy or family therapy can be very helpful to that end. If you stop using marijuana, your symptoms should not come back.
If you recognize these signs in yourself or someone you love, we can help. Please call us at (888) 837-6577.
At Honey Lake Clinic, we believe faith-based treatment, encompassing your spiritual, physical and mental health, will provide you with the long-lasting tools and knowledge you need to make changes in your life and health.