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What is Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome?

Lemetria Whitehurst

by Lemetria Whitehurst

May 25, 2024 08:00 am ET Estimated Read Time: 5 Minutes
Fact checked by Emily Mullins
What is Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome?

Although cannabis is generally thought of as a healing miracle plant, for some unsuspecting consumers, there are potential downsides associated with it. One such downside is a rare but severe condition called Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS). Understanding CHS is important for both doctors and cannabis consumers so they can recognize the symptoms early and get the proper treatment. 

Researchers estimate approximately 2.75 million Americans suffer from CHS. 

So what exactly is CHS, and which cannabis users are at risk? Let’s take a look at this misunderstood yet intriguing condition and see what you can do about it if you are one of the unlucky few afflicted by this syndrome. 

What is Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome?

Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, or CHS, is a condition seen in regular cannabis users that leads to repeated cycles of severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration. The syndrome was first documented in 2004 when doctors noticed these symptoms in patients who used cannabis heavily. 

Although cannabis is often used to help with nausea, in the case of CHS, it has the opposite effect. A 2021 study suggests that while CHS is relatively rare, its occurrence is becoming more common as cannabis use increases globally. However, it’s estimated to affect only a small percentage of daily cannabis users, making it a fascinating subject for further research.

What are the Causes and Risk Factors for CHS?

The interaction of cannabinoids with the body’s innate endocannabinoid system (ECS) is at the heart of understanding what causes CHS. The ECS plays a key role in regulating various functions, including mood, appetite, and pain. 

While occasional cannabis use can influence these functions positively for some, for others, chronic use disrupts natural ECS balance. This disruption is thought to lead to CHS, though the exact mechanisms remain unclear.

Risk factors for developing CHS include long-term, heavy use of cannabis, particularly high-potency products. Genetic factors might also play a role, as not all heavy users develop CHS, suggesting that some people may be more susceptible than others. 

What are the Symptoms of CHS, and How is it Diagnosed? 

CHS presents a distinctive pattern that can be broken down into three phases. They include:

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The Prodromal Phase

During the prodromal phase, early morning nausea and abdominal discomfort begin and can last for months or even years. During this time, individuals might still maintain normal eating patterns.

The Hyperemetic Phase

This phase is marked by intense and persistent abdominal pain, vomiting, and a desire to take hot showers or baths, which uniquely tend to provide symptom relief. 

The Recovery Phase

This end phase begins once cannabis use is stopped, with symptoms gradually subsiding over days to months.

Diagnosing CHS involves a careful examination to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, including cyclic vomiting syndrome, gastrointestinal disorders, or food poisoning. A thorough medical history that includes blood work and sometimes imaging studies is required to exclude other causes of vomiting.

Treatment and Management

For those experiencing symptoms of CHS, anecdotal evidence suggests immediate relief often comes from hot showers or baths, which can temporarily alleviate symptoms for reasons not fully understood. Medical treatments may include intravenous fluids to combat dehydration from vomiting, anti-nausea medications, and, in some cases, pain relievers. 

Nevertheless, the most effective long-term solution for those afflicted is to abstain from cannabis use. Abstinence leads to a gradual resolution of symptoms, marking the beginning of the recovery phase. The real challenge, however, lies in reducing cannabis consumption, especially for individuals who rely on it for medical reasons.

Education about the risks of chronic use and the potential for CHS is also crucial, as it empowers users to make informed decisions about their health.

The Broader Context

As access to cannabis grows, so does the potential for increased risks of CHS in the population. Despite its medicinal properties, the rising prevalence of CHS highlights the complexity of cannabis in relation to public health. This shift highlights the need for more research to close the existing gaps in our scientific understanding of CHS and other cannabis-related disorders. The dialogue surrounding cannabis use is evolving, requiring a balancing act that weighs its potential benefits against the risks of overuse.

Key Takeaways

The key to managing and preventing CHS is awareness of its symptoms. In addition, moderation is key. The condition reveals the complex nature of cannabis, which, despite its medicinal benefits for many, carries risks that require careful consideration and further study for others. As cannabis becomes more integrated into legal and social frameworks, the need for in-depth research and education on its effects, including CHS, becomes increasingly important. With legalization spreading, there’s hope that more studies will shed light on the complexities and underlying predisposition risks associated with CHS will be explored.

Note: The content on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be professional medical advice. Do not attempt to self-diagnose or prescribe treatment based on the information provided. Always consult a physician before making any decision on the treatment of a medical condition.

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