Marijuana has long been used medicinally as an anti-nausea tool, most notably for cancer patients going through chemotherapy treatments and AIDS sufferers looking for relief.
But a puzzling, counterintuitive syndrome is making headlines that suggests chronic cannabis consumers are becoming violently ill. Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, according to researchers in Colorado, can trigger stomach pain and nausea in a small number of patients. For reasons that are still unclear, the symptoms can only be eased by hot baths or long hot showers.
The syndrome, according to Dr. Kennon Heard, co-author of the study and an emergency room physician at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, Colorado, emergency room visits diagnoses for CHS in two Colorado hospitals nearly doubled from 2009 to 2014. A doubling of incidents sounds alarming, but it is important to note that the cases grew from 41 to 87. There are roughly 20 million cannabis consumers in the U.S. Also worth mentioning is that there have been zero fatalities from the syndrome.
Researchers have not discovered why this is happening, but the theory is that THC over-stimulates the autonomic nervous system, which controls digestion. Many patients say the symptoms include a feeling akin to morning sickness associated with pregnancy.
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According to the study, 71 percent of those suffering from the syndrome are women and the average age is 31.
CHS was first reported in 2oo4 in Australia; the number of victims of the syndrome is unknown.
Scientists are unable to decipher at this point why many patients receive relief from nausea and others fall victim to CHS. And the good news is that CHS is rare and is the cure is simple: Stop consuming of cannabis.
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“Cannabis has a long history as an antiemetic agent,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director of the NORML. He suggests that a malfunction of the patient’s internal system could be responsible for the reported CHS cases.
The National Institutes of Health appears to agree with Armentano’s assessment:
With the large prevalence of marijuana use in the world, why does it appear that so few patients develop CHS? Certain individuals may have a genetic polymorphisms in the cytochrome P450 enzymes responsible for the metabolism of the cannabinoids. This could result in excessive levels of pro-emetic cannabinoids or emetogenic metabolites. Such genetic variations have yet to be studied in patients diagnosed with CHS and represent an area for future research.
“There is sound evidence from animal experiments and well-designed clinical trials involving humans that cannabis and cannabinoids are effective for the relief of nausea/vomiting and certain types of pain, as well as for the stimulation of appetite.”
“The antiemetic properties of cannabis have been studied in humans more widely than any other indication. Nausea and vomiting following chemotherapy was felt to be one of the best supported therapeutic uses of cannabis and cannabinoids by the British Medical Association in their review of 23 studies, and was also supported by the American Institute of Medicine. This indication for cannabis has become common knowledge among patients, was the subject of a popular book, and has received some endorsement amongst American oncologists in a survey study.”
“The overwhelming preponderance of the evidence in this record establishes that marijuana has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States for nausea and vomiting resulting from chemotherapy treatments in some cancer patients. To conclude otherwise, on this record, would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious.”