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‘Uncontrolled vomiting’ striking marijuana users in legalized states, according to study

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While many marijuana users report a positive mood change after lighting up, many chronic users, including teenagers, are experiencing an unwanted side effect driving them to the emergency room with severe intestinal pain and uncontrollable vomiting.

The condition, called cannabis hyperemesis syndrome or CHS, is on the rise particularly in the 18 states that have legalized pot adults for recreational use according to a recent study.

“They are writhing, holding their stomach, complaining of really bad abdominal pain and nausea,” described pediatric emergency medicine specialist and toxicologist Dr. George Sam Wang from Children’s Hospital Colorado in an interview with CNN.

“They vomit and then just continue to vomit whatever they have in their stomach, which can go on for hours,” Wang said. “They often say they took a scalding hot shower before they came to the ER but it didn’t help.”

“That’s when we know we may have a case of cannabis hyperemesis syndrome, or CHS,” Wang explained.

The syndrome appears to have first been described in 2004 by Australian researchers who studied 19 habitual users that complained of similar abdominal issues. The researchers concluded that “chronic cannabis abuse was the cause of the cyclical vomiting illness,” and many of the patients “displayed an abnormal washing behaviour (sic)” such as the hot showers cited by Wang.

In a study published on Friday, Wang concluded that there has been “a substantial increase in vomiting-related [emergency department] visits in Colorado after the legalization of recreational cannabis.”

“In Colorado, there was an overall 29% increase in vomiting-related health care encounters since the opening of recreational cannabis markets,” Wang wrote. “The increase was greatest in counties where there was no prior medical cannabis market, although data were insufficient to directly evaluate cannabis-involved cyclical vomiting episodes.”

However, not everyone is convinced that this is a real problem with many users taking to social media with claims that the study was outright propaganda.

***WARNING: Language***

Others thought it would be best to test the theory.


Of the more than 800,000 patients included in the study who experienced symptoms associated with CHS, 39 percent were aged 25 years or under.

“For some of our kids, this is their fifth ER visit in the past two months, with symptoms that they can’t control,” Wang said.

“This is not a rare problem,” Wang clarified. “‘When an adolescent comes in with cyclical abdominal pain and vomiting, my colleagues know to ask about cannabis use. It’s a pretty common practice to see this and diagnose and treat it.'”

“Patients often say, ‘You know, it’s always in the evening when I get this nausea, vomiting,'” Wang said. “So they tell me, ‘I go take a hot shower, and it gets better, then it happens again the next night.’

“It’s pretty universal for these patients to say they need a really, really hot shower, or a really hot bath, to improve their symptoms, he explained. He was unable to explain the reason people sought out hot showers and said, “That’s not entirely clear.”

He did offer a theory on the reason marijuana has been used to reduce nausea and vomiting but can also cause the same issue in some individuals that use it.

“It’s been well documented that the amount of THS that now comes in cannabis is increasing substantially,” Wang explained. “In the ’90s the average was like 4% or 5%. Now in Colorado, it’s anywhere from 15% to 20%.”

Ashley Hill

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