We don’t have much concrete evidence (outside the anecdotal) that cannabis use comes with any of its many reported health benefits. At the same time, there isn’t much evidence surrounding the adverse effects either.
There is reportedly a rise of an unusual illness happening across the United States, and it is prevalent in spots that have legalized marijuana. It seems that droves of people are going to the emergency room for stomach problems, including “uncontrollable vomiting,” resulting from pot use.
“They are writhing, holding their stomach, complaining of really bad abdominal pain and nausea,” Dr. Sam Wang, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist and toxicologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, told CNN.
Once the nausea turns to full-blown vomiting, Wang says the diagnosis is quickly established. “They vomit and then just continue to vomit whatever they have in their stomach, which can go on for hours,” he said. “They often say they took a scalding hot shower before they came to the ER, but it didn’t help. “That’s when we know we may have a case of cannabis hyperemesis syndrome.”
There indeed exists a condition known as cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS). The symptoms range from morning nausea to stomach pain in the early stage and persistent vomiting as a patient gets worse. However, medical experts admit they aren’t exactly sure what causes CHS. They only have theories. Some claim genetics are to blame, while others believe it results from brain changes following longtime pot use. They just can’t pinpoint which is closest to the truth.
Although the condition was once considered rare, doctors agree that it can still be dangerous. It can even prove fatal in severe cases.
Joseph Habboushe, MD, MBA, assistant professor of emergency medicine at New York University School of Medicine/Bellevue, spoke to Healio Gastroenterology and Liver Disease about the condition back in 2018. He said people who experience CHS often find that hot showers DO relieve the symptoms. It’s dangerous, as “this increases their chances of dehydration and acute renal failure due to a combination of sweating in the shower and vomiting.”
Although CHS is an actual medical condition, not all doctors are willing to accept marijuana as the cause. Why? Because “the diagnosis code is new [October 2020] and cases are being lost in the total number of Nausea/Vomiting coded cases,” Dr. Adrian Elliot, head of the Emergency Department at Fairview Hospital, told The Berkshireedge. “Additionally,” he continued, “it is difficult to get to the diagnosis of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, as getting all of the history needed to make the definitive link between marijuana use and the nausea/vomiting patient complaint is difficult in the emergency department setting.” It usually takes several ER visits to solidify a diagnosis.
A school of thought suggests marijuana potency is to blame for the purported uprising in CHS cases. But the truth is, modern medicine doesn’t have any idea. There is only speculation surrounding potency, predisposition, specific products, etc. But there isn’t any data to support these claims. The best researchers can do is examine ER vomiting cases and look for a correlation.
Wang’s study, published last week in the journal JAMA Network Open, claims to have found that correlation. His teams noticed a near 30% increase in vomiting cases (800,000 total) since marijuana was made legal in Colorado. But there doesn’t appear to be any cut-and-dry proof that the cases were pot-related. As Dr. Elliot stated, it’s almost impossible to link CHS cases to cannabis consumption.
There is undoubtedly a lot we do not understand about marijuana. Let’s get that straight. We don’t have much concrete evidence (outside the anecdotal) that it comes with any of its many reported health benefits. At the same time, there isn’t much evidence surrounding the adverse effects either.
This lack of research is the federal government’s fault. For decades, the powers-that-be have made it difficult for researchers to examine the herb. President Biden said during his campaign he would change the course of cannabis — downgrading its Schedule I classification on the Controlled Substances Act — but he has yet to make good.
So, it could be years before medical professionals better understand CHS and its relationship to cannabis. In the meantime, cannabis users experiencing persistent vomiting should seek medical attention and ultimately take a break from bud. The condition improves once a person stops using cannabis.