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Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome: Everything You Need to Know

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Uncontrollable vomiting. Dehydration. Long hospital stays. Recurrent bouts of sickness. All of these words have been used to describe cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS). 

If you’ve used marijuana products regularly for years, you could be at risk for it. And CHS is so dangerous that you could lose your life.

What Causes CHS?

Doctors recently discovered cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, and plenty of studies are underway to determine why it happens. A picture is becoming clear, and it could be alarming to anyone with a long history of marijuana use. 

A typical person with CHS has used marijuana for about 19 years. They visited emergency rooms more than seven times before doctors discovered why they started vomiting and couldn’t stop.

Chances are, they were surprised to discover that marijuana caused their problems. Often, they have used marijuana for so long without these problems, that it’s hard for them to believe it could be the cause.

Doctors often recommend marijuana use to help people cope with cancer-related or chronic vomiting. Cannabinoids, the active ingredients in marijuana, latch to receptors in the intestine, and they seem to ease digestive upset. 

Cannabinoids are stored in fatty cells, and the longer you use the drug, the more your body has on hand. Even between hits, you likely have drugs in your body.

Researchers think those deep stores of cannabinoids overstimulate your receptors, leading to nausea and vomiting. Again, this is something that doesn’t have with short-term marijuana use. Long-term use is necessary for it to occur.

In other words, the drug you might use to treat nausea in low doses can have the opposite effect in high doses. And unfortunately, since so many of us believe that marijuana eases nausea, people with cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome might turn to the very drug harming them in a misguided attempt to get relief. This can lead to a long cycle of use and sickness.

3 CHS Phases & Symptoms

Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome is a chronic, repeating condition. People with it move through three phases over and over, as long as they keep using marijuana. 

1. Prodromal Phase

You awaken with nausea, and you spend all day worrying that you’ll throw up. Your stomach hurts or cramps. You keep eating normally, and you rarely vomit. But you feel like something will happen soon. 

During this stage, which can last for months or years, you increase your marijuana use because you feel sick. You think the drug will help you feel better, but in reality, you’re making your CHS much worse. 

2. Hyperemetic Phase

You endure overwhelming, intense bouts of nausea. You throw up or retch up to five times per hour, and nothing in your home medicine cabinet seems to make things better. You can find relief by spending time in a very hot shower, but the vomiting starts again as soon as you step out. 

You lose weight during this stage. Nausea suppresses your appetite, and anything you do eat comes right back up again. It is virtually impossible to get anything done during this phase because you feel so sick.

This phase lasts for about two days. 

3. Recovery Phase

Vomiting starts, and you feel like yourself once more. You start eating normal meals, and you gain weight. 

How Serious Is CHS?

Severe, overwhelming vomiting is incredibly dangerous. 

People with CHS can develop the following issues:

  • Brain swelling 
  • Heart problems 
  • Kidney failure
  • Muscle spasms 
  • Seizures 

Your body needs fluids to circulate messages, support organ health, and more. Vomiting removes those fluids, and the hot showers you take compound the damage. People with cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome can spend up to six hours every day in a hot shower to stop the vomiting. 

Acute dehydration can cause organ failure and death. You can also sustain life-threatening injuries if you hit your head during a seizure. 

How Is Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome Treated?

Cannabis use causes cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome. Drug cessation is an important part of your treatment plan, and your doctor will suggest that you stop using marijuana now. 

Few prescription medications can ease CHS vomiting. But doctors may experiment with drug protocols to find a combination that works for you. The goal is to lessen symptoms even if the medications don’t completely eradicate them.

If your vomiting is so severe that you’re dehydrated and harming your throat, your doctor might suggest the following:

  • Fluids: An IV can push liquids into your body while bypassing your digestive system altogether. Getting fluids in this manner can help you to quickly feel much better.
  • Electrolytes: Salts added to your IV fluids can help your body’s electrical system function normally. Again, this can quickly improve how you feel.
  • Nasogastric tubes: A thin tube snakes into your nose and down your throat. Doctors can push liquid nutrition through this tube to help you gain back weight. 

Doctors treat severe cases of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome in hospitals. You’ll stay inside the facility until you stop vomiting and can eat food without a tube. 

Four in five people who have CHS recover when they stop taking marijuana products. If you keep using drugs, you will continue to have problems with this syndrome for the rest of your life.

If you know marijuana is causing your symptoms but are unable to quit, it’s a sign you need help. A comprehensive treatment program can help to stabilize your body physically and support you as you quit marijuana use. You’ll be able to embrace a better future where you are free of the debilitating symptoms of CHS. 

Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome FAQs

Does everyone who uses marijuana get CHS?

No, CHS is relatively rare. Daily, long-term users who take in a lot of marijuana have the highest risk of developing CHS. Doctors don’t yet know if casual users can develop problems. 

How long does CHS last?

People with this syndrome will cycle in and out of poor health if they keep using marijuana. Quitting all marijuana use is the best way to stop the problem. 

Can CBD-only products cause CHS?

At least one study suggests that CBD problems can cause CHS. But more research is required. 

Can I die from CHS?

Yes. Persistent vomiting can lead to dehydration. If you’re significantly dehydrated, you can lose your life. 

Should I go to the hospital if I have CHS symptoms?

Yes. Doctors should offer you fluids and gastroprotective drugs to help you feel better. You should also stop taking marijuana right now to prevent further issues. 

Updated June 16, 2023
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