Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) is a poorly understood disorder that appears to be induced by heavy cannabis use. Hyperemesis refers to a medical condition that involves severe and prolonged vomiting.
According to limited research, subjects with a history of prolonged and excessive marijuana consumption were most likely to experience CHS, but it usually only occurs after several years of use. Most people who report CHS report ingesting marijuana every day and as much as 3-5 times during an episode.
Although relatively uncommon, states and municipalities that have decriminalized or legalized marijuana (e.g., Colorado) for medical or recreational use have reported an uptick in CHS cases due to heavy and prolonged use of the drug.
Stages and Symptoms
There are three identified stages of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome. The first is the prodromal phase, in which persons experience general morning sickness and stomach pain or discomfort. Because these symptoms are relatively mild and can occur after years of cannabis use, many individuals continue to ingest marijuana and even increase use based on the false belief that the drug will settle their stomach issues.
Next comes the hyperemetic stage, which is the acute phase of CHS. Here, the effects of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome are amplified, and sufferers experience persistent nausea and retch and vomit for hours at a time. The discomfort in the abdomen has given way to unrelenting pain, and the intensity of symptoms leads to the individuals struggling with dehydration and weight loss.
A unique side effect of this CHS stage is that individuals are sometimes compelled to take hot baths or showers frequently. Researchers have noted that nausea and vomiting related to CHS appear to be somewhat relieved by hot temperatures. Moreover, it could be the brain’s ability to regulate the body’s temperature is interrupted by hyperemesis and that exposure to heat is soothing, albeit quite temporary.
Another highly unpleasant effects of CHS is commonly referred to as “scromiting“—a combination of screaming and vomiting. When this occurs, regurgitation and stomach issues associated with CHS have become incredibly painful, and the person suffering ends up screaming as they vomit in response.
The third stage of CHS is recovery. Unfortunately, there is only one surefire remedy for cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, and that is abstinence. Still, this can takes weeks or months to achieve. However long the recovery period, individuals will no longer experience nausea, their appetite will return to normal, and they regain lost body weight.
Treatment for CHS
In addition to abstinence, persons who have experienced severe vomiting may need a hospital stay. During this time, the following may be administered/prescribed:
- IV (intravenous) fluid replacement for dehydration
- Medications to relieve nausea, vomiting, and pain
- Proton-pump inhibitors, to treat stomach inflammation
- Frequent hot showers
In a small sample of individuals with CHS, rubbing capsaicin cream on the stomach area helped decrease pain and nausea. Chemicals in the cream appear to have a similar effect as a hot shower.
What Causes Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome?
CHS is believed to be quite rare and relatively unsteadied, and as such, there is no consensus on why cannabis could eventually induce such severe symptoms. Some experts posts that the same mechanism that relieves nausea in some individuals by activating certain parts of the central nervous system (CNS) might induce other gastrointestinal reactions.
These may include gastric acid secretion suppression, the slowing of gastric emptying, and general inflammation, and may depend on various individual factors in addition to heavy cannabis use.
Although this idea is not clinically confirmed by any means, it may suggest that marijuana’s active chemical THC can cause an anti-nausea effect in the CNS but, conversely, can increase gastrointestinal issues over the long-term based on irritation induced to the stomach.
Make No Mistake: CHS Can Have Serious Effects
If left untreated via abstinence, CHS can lead to severe dehydration, weight loss, and, eventually, liver failure. Fortunately, few individuals reach this point. The severity and pain of stomach issues and vomiting is such that individuals usually discontinue marijuana and, as a result, symptoms are relieved sometime thereafter. Many of the most severe effects subside in 48 hours or so, but milder symptoms may persist for much longer.
Getting Treatment for Addiction
Marijuana dependence, although rarer and less severe than addiction to many other substances, can and does occur. Persons who abuse marijuana frequently may incur adverse consequences, such as those related to school, work, family, finances, and the law.
Just Believe Recovery Center is a specialized treatment facility that offers intensive programs designed to address all aspects of an individual’s substance use issues and mental health. Our programs include a wide variety of beneficial services and activities that promote emotional wellness, including psychotherapy, counseling, 12-step programs, substance abuse education, art and music therapy, aftercare planning, and more.