Vomiting from Cannabis? Exploring Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome

Posted 4 years ago by Ian Shutts

Medical marijuana advocates praise cannabis for its effectiveness in reducing nausea and inflammation in medical marijuana patients. But could the very plant prescribed for nausea actually be causing nausea instead of helping it?

Many people, including cancer patients, use cannabis for its anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory properties, and it’s highly lauded as an appetite stimulant when it’s needed for medical patients.

While no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose, some medical circles are warning about a medical condition that can occur with frequent and chronic cannabis use: cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (also known as cannabis hyperemesis syndrome, or CHS).

How It All Began
Some people who were frequent cannabis users were finding that they were experiencing large fits of nausea and other negative symptoms of what they could only attribute to their high cannabis use. It would be decades before anyone could put a name to it, or understand why cannabis users were experiencing nausea.

Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, or CHS, didn’t come onto the purview of the medical community until 2004 when an Australian study looked at the correlation between Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome and long-term cannabis use. The study concluded that cannabis use was connected and a causation of cyclical vomiting. It was also observed that in most cases under study, subjects experienced abnormal levels of bathing, with the belief that hot water would alleviate their symptoms.

CHS begins with morning sickness and chronic nausea that may start years or months before any chronic vomiting occurs. Once the condition worsens, it’s characterized by persistent vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain dehydration, and a compulsion to habitually bathe to relieve symptoms. Users only find recovery from CHS when ceasing cannabis use.

A study conducted in Pennsylvania looked at the onset of the medical condition and said that on average, it took about 16 years to manifest itself in chronic marijuana smokers.

Further studies looking at CHS believe that when this happens there has been an interruption in the interaction between cannabis and the endocannabinoid system.

There has been a great concern that there has been a rise in CHS with the rise in popularity of dabbing as a method
to inhale smoke. None of the previous studies examined the effects of dabbing on the body, so this wll need to be looked at through further research.

Does this study mean that heavy cannabis users should halt their cannabis consumption? Not quite.

Skeptics Aren’t So Sure

Some believe that this study emerged on the heels of liberalized laws in Australia that saw an increase in cannabis consumption. They see this study as an attempt to put fear into people to abstain from chronic cannabis use.

In 2006, the original study that correlated cannabis use to nausea and vomiting was highly criticized for its approach to the research and the conclusions. These critics found it highly unlikely that the medical community would wait until the time of liberalized legalization laws to observe a correlation between illness and chronic pot smoking.

One skeptic put forth the very believable notion that perhaps it’s not cannabis causing people to experience frequent vomiting, but rather any chemicals used in the soil, growing or preservation processes.

The buzz around CHS is naturally frustrating to medical marijuana practitioners who praise marijuana for its anti-nausea properties. It seems quite paradoxical when research comes out supporting that the one thing to cure nausea could very well be the thing that’s causing it.

Should We Put Down the Joints?

The body of literature about CHS is more widely focused on pointing out the flaws of the studies under which a correlation between nausea and cannabis use was made. Simply, there is not enough of a research body to substantiate whether CHS is a concerning medical issue in public health, or whether it is a symptom of something else (i.e. chemicals) or only fear-mongering rhetoric.

It’s worth pointing out that when studied, those experiencing CHS found a complete reduction of symptoms when they completely abstained from cannabis. When they resumed their regular cannabis consumption, the subjects experienced chronic vomiting. This empirical evidence is enough to consider that perhaps cannabis doesn’t agree with everyone, and some may be predisposed to have a poor reaction to cannabis over time.

The claims and existing body of research on CHS are important to pay attention to, so to warrant more research. Although it’s not new, the legal status of marijuana has caused the body of research to lag behind other areas of medicine. It’s important when studying cannabis to note the positive, and negative benefits of the plant so to be able to adequately inform patients of their choices.