What Is Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome?

August 11, 2023
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Dr. David Pompei, PharmD, MS

What is Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome?

In this article, we will answer, “what is cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome?” 

While many people know that cannabis can treat nausea, few people have heard of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS). Hyperemesis means severe vomiting. 

CHS is a disorder in which cannabis users experience cyclical episodes of nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

CHS can be quite debilitating for those who experience it and can cause serious health problems if left untreated. CHS is not just a side effect associated with marijuana use. Here’s everything you need to know about CHS.

Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome 

The first thing to know about CHS is that it's not an allergic reaction to cannabis; this is a common misconception regarding its cause. Instead, it's a condition that may develop after prolonged, frequent use of cannabinoids at high doses. CHS is characterized by several years of cannabis use preceding the onset of the illness, symptoms of CHS occurring while using cannabis, and then the symptoms resolving when one stops using cannabis.

The exact cause of CHS is unknown, but it's thought to be linked to the way cannabinoids interact with the brain and digestive system. THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, is known to stimulate the vomiting center in the brain of those suffering from CHS. 

This may explain why people with CHS often experience relief from their symptoms after vomiting. Although people who regularly use cannabis aren't likely to have the newly discovered cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, many people may have it and not report it or are misdiagnosed. With increasing cannabis legalization, the rates of hospital admissions with a primary diagnosis of vomiting - and in patients who also had cannabis use disorder - went up from 2.4 per 100,000 in 2006, to 13.3 per 100,000 in 2013. 

Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome Symptoms

CHS is not a life-threatening condition, but it can be very unpleasant and interfere with your daily activities. The most common symptom of CHS is nausea, which can be accompanied by vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, fatigue, and weight loss. People with CHS may also experience anxiety and depression. 

Some individuals with CHS find that taking hot showers helps reduce or alleviate nausea. In addition, the symptoms of cannabis hyperemesis syndrome are often relieved by taking frequent showers or baths - sometimes for hours at a time.

Cannabis hyperemesis symptoms can be classified into three phases. Slightly different symptoms characterize each stage:

Prodromal phase: Those who have used cannabis since their teenage years tend to go through this phase. It may result in nausea in the morning or stomachaches. It may also make you feel as if you are going to throw up but never actually do.

Hyperemetic phase: People in this phase often experience nausea and vomiting that lasts between 24 and 48 hours. As a result of these behaviors, you may begin bathing compulsively or refrain from eating certain foods.

Recovery phase: Cannabis use stops (even in small amounts) during recovery. Your symptoms will subside over a few days or months as you recover. They will eventually disappear entirely.

Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome Treatment and Prognosis

For most people, symptoms of CHS usually resolve within ten days once they stop using cannabis.It may, however, take some consumers several months for complete recovery. Once you've recovered, you can start eating and drinking again as normal.

If you think you may be experiencing CHS, it's essential to see a doctor so they can rule out other potential reasons for your symptoms. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for CHS, but some people find relief with anti-nausea medication and/or lifestyle changes. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary.

The syndrome is seen almost exclusively in young to middle-aged adult cannabis users, and most cases occur in males. Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome typically develops after years of regular cannabis use.

There is no specific treatment for CHS, and the syndrome is often under-recognized. The best way to prevent cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome is to stop using cannabis. However, some people may find it difficult to stop using cannabis due to dependence. In addition, CHS is a newly identified condition, and more research is needed to understand the best way to treat it.

If you're one of the unlucky people who suffer from cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, we feel for you. Unfortunately, this condition is not talked about enough, which is unfortunate because it can be quite debilitating for those who suffer from it. However, there is some good news. Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome is not life-threatening, and there are strategies and treatments available that can help make your life a little more bearable. We hope this article has been helpful, and we encourage you to download our Jointly app if you need any additional support. Download the Jointly app on the App Store or the Google Play Store to get started on your cannabis wellness journey.

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