Odd New Marijuana-Related Illness Sending People to the ER

Odd New Marijuana-Related Illness Sending People to the ER

There are few medical conditions marijuana can’t help, including nausea. But reports of a new marijuana-related illness are on the rise, characterized by cyclic episodes of nausea and vomiting. [1]

The illness, deemed cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, or CHS, is an illness acquired by people who, well, smoke a lot of weed. It is linked to heavy, prolonged cannabis use. The only remedy appears to be a hot shower, and it has become the key warning sign for physicians trying to diagnose the syndrome. In fact, many CHS patients have a compulsive need to shower. [2]

Vomiting cycles typically last about 30 minutes, but can resume if the person starts smoking marijuana again.

Physicians say people come into the emergency room sometimes 3 or 4 times before finally being correctly diagnosed, because the symptoms so closely resemble stomach bugs. [1]

Emergency rooms in Colorado have seen a steady rise in puking pot users in recent years, according to Dr. Kenneth Heard, an ER doctor in the state, who said:

“It is certainly something that, before legalization, we almost never saw. Now we are seeing it quite frequently.”

Denver physician Dr. Eric Lavona said:

“These folks are really suffering. People can get pretty sick.”

Heard and a team of doctors documented this rise in CHS cases in a 2015 paper published in Academic Emergency MedicineThey looked at 120,000 patient visits – half of which were studied in 2008 to 2009 (the “pre-liberalization” period of marijuana) and the other from 2010 to 2011. The team discovered that the number of patients exhibiting cyclical vomiting doubled in that time frame. [2]

Cases of CHS have also been reported in other states where pot has been legalized, including the District of Columbia. [1]

Doctors are getting fairly good at diagnosing CHS in states where marijuana is legal, but patients in states without legalization would be hard-pressed to get a correct diagnosis. Doctors in those states are more likely to diagnose patients with Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome, which has nearly identical symptoms.

A correct diagnosis is important, though, because CHS can cause kidney failure in extreme cases. But the good news is stopping cannabis use ends symptoms within days. [3]

Heard explained:

“Patients are given IV fluids and medication to resolve the vomiting and help with the pain. But the treatment really is to stop using marijuana, or at least cut back severely, and that’s really the only way to make it better.”

It is unknown how many people have CHS, because the syndrome was only discovered 10 years ago.

Heard said:

“The science behind it is not clear. The most likely cause is that people using marijuana frequently and in high doses have changes in the receptors in their bodies, and those receptors become dysregulated in some way, and it starts causing pain.”

It’s something to keep in mind when you’re packing that third or fourth bowl.


[1] The Daily Caller

[2] Inverse

[3] The Huffington Post