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What You Should Know About Rare Cannabis Use Disorders

Turns out, you can have too much of a good thing. Cannabis, like almost everything else, (we’re looking at you, triple shot latte), can occasionally lead to unpleasant results when overused. Today, we dive into some cannabis-related conditions and let you know about symptoms, warning signs, and what to do if you’re concerned.

Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS)

Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, also known as CHS, is a condition that leads to repeated and severe bouts of vomiting that are related to the long-term, overuse of cannabis. You may be thinking—“That’s odd, isn’t cannabis prescribed to treat nausea and vomiting?” You’re not wrong. The effect is considered paradoxical and may have to do with the way cannabis interacts with the brain and body. Although studies have been limited—many researchers believe that the illness is caused by cannabis’s interaction with the digestive system plus a reduced sensitivity to its effects on the brain over time. Researchers also suspect that CHS is linked to abuse or overuse of cannabis over lengthy periods of time, such as multiple times a day over several years.

For some background, cannabis was made famous by THC, the compound responsible for the plant’s psychoactive effects. However, the plant is a complex organism with over 100 cannabinoids that all have different effects on the body. At least three of these compounds are known to influence the parts of the brain and body that regulate vomiting, including THC, cannabidiol (CBD), and cannabigerol (CBG).

These cannabinoids interact with the body’s own endocannabinoid system, which is comprised of a complex web of neurotransmitters. These chemical messengers are active throughout the whole body, but especially busy in the brain and gut. 

Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome has only been recognized since 2004, coinciding with an uptick in consumption across the nation. As such, research has been limited. However, it’s believed that cannabis might have a contradictory impact that’s to blame. Cannabis usually mutes the brain systems that cause nausea, but in the digestive system, it makes nausea and vomiting more likely by slowing down the digestive process.

Some CHS researchers suspect that in early use, before people have become tolerant, cannabis has a stronger effect on the brain than it does on digestion, thereby minimizing nausea. However, as people build tolerances, the brain may lose some of its sensitivity to cannabis. But, the digestive system apparently never becomes acclimated, making the digestive effects more and more prevalent over time.

Symptoms of Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS)

There are typically two phases to this illness —basically an early stage and a full-blown stage.

In the early stages of CHS, symptoms usually include nausea, especially in the morning, and abdominal pain. Usually, people keep eating during this phase, and because cannabis is known to calm nausea, many increase their use at this point.

When CHS becomes full-blown symptoms include:

  • Chronic nausea
  • Repeated, intense, and debilitating episodes of vomiting
  • Abdominal pain, which is often spread out but mild
  • Weight loss due to eating less

What’s worse, over time, compilations can include dehydration and low electrolyte levels, which can lead to a raft of very serious health issues.

Many people with CHS find comfort in taking hot baths or showers. Interestingly, the benefits of baths and showers could be due to a separate cannabis effect—the changes to the body’s own ability to regulate its temperature. This often results in users getting cold, also known as THC Induced Hypothermia. Research suggests that THC can cause the body to stop producing heat and lower body temperature by up to 2 percent. It’s thought that hot water helps with CHS symptoms by correcting this imbalance.

Recovery from CHS

Thankfully, symptoms of CHS can disappear in as little as 48 hours if cannabis use is stopped completely. Although unconfirmed, some anecdotal evidence suggests that changing strains or consumption methods may also help, as some have posed that various chemicals used in cannabis production may amplify symptoms. It’s best to get advice from your doctor, but a detox period followed by reduced levels of consumption may also help. People who suspect they are suffering from CHS should seek out immediate health care, as severe dehydration and other possible complications can have deadly consequences.