Marijuana can be a godsend for those suffering from nausea during chemotherapy. But in some healthy people, it might have the opposite effect. Smoking pot can trigger a rare condition called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome that can cause you to violently vomit for days, as NPRreports. The symptoms, which include bouts of vomiting and abdominal pain that lasts for days, are so intense that they can leave sufferers thinking that they’re dying.
Case in point: Chalfonte LeNee Queen, 48, who has experienced the condition for nearly two decades, told NPR that she was sure she “must have some sort of cancer or something they can’t detect.”
The medical community has only recently recognized cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome as an actual condition. In fact, the first link between marijuana and vomiting surfaced in published medical literature just 20 years ago, when researchers detailed an unusual case of cyclical vomiting in a 22-year-old man who used marijuana frequently. Still, they didn’t point to marijuana as the cause, attributing the vomiting to his anxiety instead.
In 2004, researchers coined the phrase “cannabinoid hyperemesis” in a published paper. That’s when Australian researchers made the first definitive link after analyzing a small sample size of 19 chronic, long-term pot users who suffered from violent episodes of vomiting and stomach pain.
The syndrome occurs in a very small subset of people who have used pot heavily, usually for at least several years prior. Most people who suffer from the condition use marijuana daily—often three to five times per day, according to a review of the condition by Temple University researchers published in Current Drug Abuse Reviews.
Marijuana Health Report:
It seems to hit in three phases: In the prodromal stage, which can last for months or years, they experience early-morning nausea, a fear of vomiting, and abdominal discomfort. Then comes the actual puking stage, where they throw up violently and persistently—often without warning—up to five times per hour. This lasts for 24 to 48 hours. Then there’s the recovery phase, where the puking and pain stops and they can begin to eat normally again.
Bizarrely, people with cannabinoid hyperemesis all report the same symptom: the overwhelming, compulsive urge to take hot baths or showers, which they feel helps reduce nausea. In fact, this behavior was noted in 9 out of 10 of the long-term sufferers in the Australian study—with them “often waking at night to perform it.”
While cannabinoid hyperemesis is an accepted diagnosis, doctors still don’t know exactly what’s causing it. In most people, marijuana use stimulates certain cannabinoid receptors in the brain, which can ease nausea and vomiting. But there are also cannabinoid receptors in your gut, too, and these may override brain cannabinoid stimulation in some heavy, chronic pot users, researchers from the Richmond University Medical Center say.
It’s also possible that in some users, chronic pot use can mess with your autonomic nervous system—which governs gut functions—and your limbic system, which controls your body temperature. That may be why taking hot baths or showers seems to help: It corrects the imbalance in your body’s temperature regulation.
There’s still a lot that doctors don’t know about the condition, mainly because it’s so rare. But there’s evidence to suggest its prevalence might be rising, especially as pot is becoming legal in more places. In fact, the number of patients who hit the ER for vomiting cycles in Colorado nearly doubled after marijuana was legalized, a 2015 study found.
There’s no real treatment for it either—anti-nausea drugs have been ineffective, doctors say. The only way to stop the cycle? Quit smoking pot entirely.
Source: Men’s Health