Cannabis seems to be entering a new age. After having been legalized in 2012 for medical use, a few states have begun legalizing it for recreational use as well. However, in troubling news for heavy smokers of marijuana, a rare illness is being diagnosed more frequently as of late – cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome.
The symptoms are violent vomiting and overwhelming abdominal pain that can put one out of commission for days at a time. Nausea and dry heaving are also reported by sufferers. The condition is difficult to diagnose, as there are no blood tests that can detect it. Doctors must use expensive diagnostic tests, like CT scans, to identify the cause of their patients’ ailment. That is, if they don’t confuse it for other, slightly more common diseases with similar manifestations, like Acute Intermittent Porphyria or cyclic vomiting syndrome.
In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome only seems to affect people who smoke marijuana in large quantities – many times a day, for extended periods of time. This is particularly troubling, especially for people who depend on marijuana for relief from medical issues, from severe depression and anxiety, to chronic pain stemming from any number of sources. Oddly enough, this syndrome seems to contradict one of marijuana’s best known positive effects – reducing nausea for persons being treated for cancer.
Even the causes of this illness are mysterious. The “cannabinoid receptors” in the brain only respond to cannabinoids, a class of chemicals which are also produced naturally in the body, and are involved in the normal functioning of the nervous system. Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome seems to be a problem concerning these receptors, which ends up affecting nerves in the abdominal region, but research on the phenomenon is still scarce.
So far, there is little relief from this insidious syndrome, as doctors have only discovered the ailment very recently. The first recorded case was described as such in 2004, in Australia. The only way to efficiently address the illness in the long term is to stop using cannabis. Another, more short-term solution, seems to be taking hot showers or baths. It is unclear why, but stimulating the heat receptors in the skin in this way has a soothing effect. This also helps diagnose the syndrome more quickly, although not definitively. Some antipsychotic medication has been employed by doctors to relieve symptoms, as well as analgesic cream for the muscle aches caused by cramping.
Overall, even though the exact causes of the illness are not entirely clear, even a reduction in cannabis use can improve the symptoms. Truly dedicated pot-heads may need to curb their enthusiasm. As for medical marijuana users suffering from this syndrome, hopefully a complete explanation, and relief, will emerge soon.