If Weed Makes You Extremely Nauseated, You’re Not Alone
In the fall of 2016, I became an egg donor. Following my hormonal treatments and egg retrieval, I began to experience unusual bouts of nausea. I didn’t think much of it at first, assuming it was an interim experience attributed to the hormonal changes my body was undergoing. I also found that cannabis, which I’d typically used to treat insomnia, provided temporary relief from the sick feeling in my stomach.
But as time went on, the rounds of nausea became prolonged and more severe. The smell and sight of food repelled me. I couldn’t bring myself to eat, sometimes for days on end, and I started to lose a lot of weight. I scheduled an appointment with a gastroenterologist to see if we could figure out what was going on.
I had noticed that the more I used cannabis to treat my nausea, the more sick I felt during the hours I wasn’t smoking. It seemed counterintuitive that cannabis might be playing a role in my sickness since it’s often recommended to alleviate nausea, but I felt compelled to tell the doctor I’d been smoking on a regular basis.
To my surprise, he told me that U.S. states that had legalized the medical or recreational use of cannabis, leading to an increase in cannabis usage, had also seen a significant rise in a condition known as cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS). I was consistently experiencing prolonged nausea throughout the day—a common symptom of CHS. Because I smoked cannabis on a regular basis, the doctor believed my condition was, in fact, linked to cannabis use. My various test results came back normal, indicating he was likely right.
CHS is a puzzling condition occurring in long-term cannabis users. Common symptoms include extreme nausea, intractable vomiting, and abdominal pain. Many patients report finding relief by taking hot showers. It’s an unusual illness given that medical cannabis is often used to treat the nausea of cancer patients, for example. But it turns out that while cannabis is frequently effective against nausea and vomiting, it can also trigger it.
The symptoms of CHS sometimes take years to surface. The first course of action for cannabis users suffering from severe nausea and/or uncontrollable vomiting should be to cease cannabis use and see if symptoms subside within 2-3 days. I was advised to do this, and within two days, I was completely back to normal.
The cause of CHS is unknown. Because cannabis has complex chemical properties, it makes it difficult to pinpoint what leads to this seemingly paradoxical syndrome. Some research is focused on the body’s receptors which are affected by cannabis use. Heavy, frequent use is thought to deregulate receptors, causing the symptoms of CHS. Cannabis use, however, has been common for centuries in countries like India, and symptoms of CHS have only begun to be reported in the last couple of decades. In addition, there are no reports of CHS by chronic users in some regions, such as South Asia, at least not to the extent we see in the United States. This has led some doctors to be skeptical of the idea that cannabis itself is the problem, theorizing that additives may be the issue instead. In the case of Asia, however, lack of reports may also be due to the fact that weed remains strictly illegal in many of its largest countries, even as it gains acceptance in the West.
In my case, my fertility specialist believed CHS was directly linked to changes in my receptors caused by the hormones I was taking. I was scheduled to undergo a second round of egg donation, and he thought it was possible my receptors would revert back to normal afterward. Sure enough, following the second procedure, I no longer experienced the symptoms of CHS when using cannabis.
Cannabis use is increasing across the country as states not only legalize its recreational use, but also as it becomes increasingly seen as an effective alternative treatment to many commonly used pharmaceuticals, including opioids. Regardless of its cause, doctors expect to see a rise in cases of CHS coinciding with its increased use. Hospitals across the country have already seen more and more cases of CHS in states where weed has been legalized.
Cannabis was illegal in my state, so I was hesitant to tell the doctor I’d been using it. And, because of my unique situation, it would have been easy to blame my symptoms on recent hormone treatments, especially since cannabis provided temporary relief. But if I hadn’t been transparent, I would have continued to be sick. Be honest with your doctor if you use cannabis regularly and begin to exhibit these symptoms. Also be aware that many doctors may not yet be aware of CHS, and you may need to be the one to bring this possibility to their attention. It likely won’t remain under the radar for long, however. As cannabis continues to become more acceptable and accessible across the United States, we’ll need to work toward developing a better understanding of what causes CHS and how to prevent it.
Doctors are seeing an increasing number of cases of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, which has symptoms cannabis is, ironically, often prescribed to treat.
Is Marijuana Making You Sick?
Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome is an emerging illness affecting heavy users of marijuana.
J. Martin Stone
Feb 19 · 5 min read
Have you been a heavy user of marijuana for a few years? Do you have episodes of nausea, vomiting and belly pain every few weeks or months? You might have Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome.
Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, or CHS, was first recognized in Australia in 2004. It affects chronic, heavy users of marijuana. (A heavy user is defined as someone who uses marijuana more than 20 days a month.)
The symptoms of CHS are episodes of abdominal pain and vomiting. In the beginning the symptoms are mild. Perhaps just a little nausea in the morning. This first stage may go on for months, or years.
Things gradually get worse. T h e next stage of the syndrome is severe vomiting, as much as five times an hour. There is also abdominal pain. Each attack lasts for 24 to 48 hours. These episodes recur every few weeks or months.
The only thing that relieves a CHS attack is a very hot shower. It is a fast acting remedy, but only works while the person is in the hot water. A CHS sufferer may shower for hours at a time to keep the symptoms at bay.
The repeated episodes of vomiting caused by CHS can lead to weight loss, dehydration, kidney damage, and in rare cases, even death. To date, there have been two known cases of death from complications related to CHS.
A factor in CHS deaths is ignorance.
It is well known that marijuana is often prescribed to relieve nausea and vomiting. When a user of marijuana begins to experience the symptoms of CHS, they may increase their use of marijuana in the mistaken belief that the extra weed will relieve their vomiting.
That is exactly the wrong thing to do. CHS is not a one time event. It will cause repeating cycles of abdominal pain and vomiting until marijuana is discontinued.
If the marijuana use is resumed, the CHS will also return. Apparently, once CHS begins, the user has to quit weed permanently.
Many users have been smoking weed for decades and have a severe addiction. They don’t want to believe the marijuana is causing their problem. They continue to use, and continue to suffer the misery of CHS.
It is like some people diagnosed with lung cancer, but continue to smoke cigarettes. They don’t want to kick the addiction. They like it too much.
The choice is to live with the misery of CHS, or stop the weed. I don’t know anyone who would want to have to live with repeated bouts of vomiting, so the choice would be easy for most of us. But a person addicted to marijuana will usually have to go through a certain amount of suffering before they are convinced.
It is not publicized much, but trying to break a marijuana addiction can cause withdrawal symptoms. Get professional help, if necessary.
Diagnosis of CHS
An increasing number of people are going to hospital emergency rooms with CHS, but it is still not well known among all healthcare providers. The symptoms of abdominal pain and vomiting are similar to many gastrointestinal illnesses. Sufferers can go for years before getting a correct diagnosis.
The key warning sign of CHS is that hot showers give relief. A knowledgeable doctor will use the following information to make a diagnosis of CHS:
- Long term marijuana use,
- A cyclic pattern of vomiting and abdominal pain,
- Symptoms relieved by a hot shower.
It is likely that many people have never heard of CHS, and do not realize that it is their marijuana use causing their stomach problems. Even healthcare professionals can have difficulty with the diagnosis. CHS is often misdiagnosed as some other gastric problem.
It frequently takes years, and many visits to emergency rooms and doctors to get a correct diagnosis of CHS. So, it is important that marijuana users protect themselves by knowing the symptoms of CHS, and telling their healthcare provider about their marijuana use.
Why is marijuana suddenly causing CHS?
CHS is a relatively new syndrome, and rather unknown until recently. Not much research has been done on what causes it. The only thing known for certain is that it is linked to heavy marijuana use.
But why now, after thousands of years of marijuana use, is CHS suddenly appearing? There are theories, but large, randomized scientific studies have not been done to learn the facts about CHS.
There is some speculation that legalization of marijuana has resulted in higher grades of marijuana being available. It is much stronger than the marijuana that was used a couple decades ago. There is a theory that use of this high grade weed causes a higher than normal buildup of cannabinoids in the body.
Recovery from CHS
The good news is that cessation of marijuana seems to end the severe symptoms of CHS.
Hospitalization may be required to replace fluids lost due to vomiting. It can take much longer for a person to regain the weight lost due to CHS. Full recovery may take several months.
It is not yet known if there is any long term damage from CHS because the syndrome hasn’t been around long enough.
Should marijuana use be curtailed due to the danger of CHS?
I quit using marijuana many years ago because I felt that smoking weed was sapping my energy and ambition. My quitting had nothing to do with CHS. It was more about my inability to be responsible. All aspects of my life were going to hell because I was high all the time.
But when marijuana is used in moderation, I think it is relatively harmless. Driving a car or using power tools while stoned is a bad idea, but I don’t think occasional use is necessarily bad.
Personally, I think marijuana is similar to alcohol in some respects: An occasional drink, or joint, is harmless. But drinking a lot of booze everyday, or smoking a lot of reefer everyday, will become a problem.
I favor the legalization of cannabis
The only ones that are currently benefiting from illegal sales of marijuana are criminal gangs. Having it sold legally would provide a way for sellers to make an honest living, as well as provide the government with tax revenue.
But marijuana has to be used responsibly. Legalization has to come with regulation to avoid things like driving under the influence, use by minors, public intoxication… In other words, marijuana needs to be regulated the same as alcohol.
Legalization might also spur additional research into CHS. No one currently knows what substance in cannabis is causing it. If it was known, maybe a safer marijuana could be developed. But due to marijuana being illegal in most of the USA, research into CHS is largely overlooked by the medical establishment.
In the meantime, be aware of the possible danger of CHS. If you are diagnosed with CHS, or suspect you have it, there is good news: Quitting marijuana will cure you.
The bad news is that once afflicted with CHS, you must avoid cannabis forever. Get your high with something else, and have a good life.
Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome is an emerging illness affecting long term users of marijuana. It causes repeating cycles of nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.