Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome: Excessive Marijuana Smoking Leads To Rare CHS Disease

John Houck

Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, or CHS disease, is a relatively unknown and rare illness that is caused by heavy marijuana smoking. The condition has been affecting marijuana smokers for years and virtually no one knows about it.

Symptoms of CHS disease include severe nausea, violent vomiting, and abdominal pain. As cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome is often misdiagnosed, sufferers make frequent trips to the hospital before someone figures out the cause.

"These folks are really suffering. They can get pretty sick," said Dr. Eric Lavona with Denver Health Medical Center, per a report from the Missoulian. "They vomit like crazy and make frequent emergency department visits because they just can't stop vomiting."

On average, people who suffer from CHS disease make seven trips to the emergency room and hospitalized three or more times. With more states legalizing recreational weed, emergency rooms are likely to see an increase in the syndrome.

Unfortunately, many sufferers do not know about cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome and increase their weed smoking in an unsuccessful attempt to alleviate their nausea. However, this reaction never works and can even make symptoms worse. Some doctors in states where medical cannabis is legal have erroneously recommended more marijuana as a treatment for symptoms.

According to Dr. Lavona, cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome is a "very common problem" in Colorado.

"We see it all the time in several patients a week in our emergency department, and all the emergency departments around Denver. It takes time for the medical community to learn about it and recognize it. But once you're familiar with the disease, you're not likely to misdiagnose it."

A study published last year found emergency room visits for CHS disease doubled at two Colorado hospitals since 2009. The state legalized recreational weed in 2012.

"It is certainly something that, before legalization, we almost never saw," noted Dr. Kennon Heard, co-author of the study, as reported by MSN. "Now we are seeing it quite frequently."

Emergency rooms in other states where cannabis is legal are also reporting cases of CHS disease. Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., as well as Harborview and University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, are routinely seeing more patients affected by cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome.

In states where smoking weed is illegal, a correct diagnosis of CHS disease is highly unlikely. This is because most doctors are unaware of the condition and many sufferers do not want to admit using an illicit drug.

The symptoms of CHS disease is very similar to another condition known as cyclic vomiting syndrome. Most doctors initially blame cyclic vomiting syndrome for patients' symptoms, but it is not caused by cannabis smoking.

While cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome seems to be caused by excessive marijuana smoking, the illness does not appear right away. A 2011 study of CHS disease found symptoms did not start until at least three years of smoking weed, and it takes nearly 10 years before they are severe. Experts define excessive use as three to five times a day for several years.

Once the symptoms appear, many affected by CHS disease find relief by taking a hot shower. However, the respite is short-lived and the pain quickly reappears once the shower is over.

Over time, cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome leads to dehydration and kidney failure. However, treatment of the condition is actually quite simple if properly diagnosed. CHS disease will cure itself by stopping marijuana use.

Cases of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome were first reported in Australia more than a decade ago. As the illness is being recognized more and more in the U.S. with legalization slowly taking hold, both patients and doctors need to be more aware of its symptoms. While many consider cannabis safe to use even over the long term, anyone suffering from CHS disease symptoms should get to a doctor right away and immediately cease marijuana smoking.

[Featured Image by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]