Medical condition linked to using marijuana

By Christine Simmonds | Nov 11, 2019
Photo by: Christine Simmonds Big City Lights, a strain of marijuana, in the flower room at Scrimshaw in Rockland, Nov.6.

Maine — Concern is growing about a medical condition associated with heavy marijuana usage that causes intense vomiting and in some rare cases, death.

It is called Cannibanoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, and doctors are diagnosing it more in patients, as marijuana use becomes more common across the country. At least four deaths have been attributed to symptoms related to CHS, according to articles from USA Today and the Journal of Forensic Sciences.

Some people struggle to believe that CHS is a real illness. This is due to the known effects of marijuana on nausea and vomiting. Medical marijuana is prescribed to cancer patients to aid with their queasiness, for example.

Jake McClure, co-founder of Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine and owner of the medical marijuana dispensary Sensi Sensei in Jefferson, thought CHS was a scare tactic when he first heard of it. After all, marijuana has no lethal dosage, unlike some controlled substances.

After meeting patients suffering from the syndrome, McClure changed his mind. One individual, who McClure would not name due to patient confidentiality, appeared so ill that McClure was concerned the man was near death. “He looked like a cancer patient,” McClure said.

Hyperemesis is the medical term for continuous vomiting, and is usually used to describe a condition in pregnancy known as hyperemesis gravidarum.

This condition was first identified in the early 2000s. Dr. Betsy Lawrence, a doctor at Pen Bay Medical Center, stated that over the last two to three years the Emergency Room has seen this condition more often, and a diagnosis of CHS has become more common.

Dr. Tucker Webb, a doctor who practices Emergency Medicine at South Shore Hospital in South Weymouth, Mass., said that when he was a resident in 2010-2013, CHS was never even discussed.

However, in the past five to seven years Dr. Webb has started to see it more, and it has become more recognizable.

Symptoms of CHS include intense bouts of nonstop nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, often accompanied by a compulsion to take frequent hot showers or baths to relieve symptoms. These symptoms can last anywhere from 24 hours to two weeks. Dr. Lawrence said the repetitive retching in these patients can sometimes be so severe it leads to bleeding of the esophagus.

So far, doctors do not know what causes CHS, only that it is linked to heavy marijuana usage. It is most likely the result of a variety of different systems interacting, according to Dr. Webb.

Marijuana strains have become more potent over the years due to increased knowledge about the plants and experimentation on the part of growers. More options are available, including more ways to ingest it. Marijuana today is cultivated to have higher concentrations of THC-A, and this interacts with different systems in the body, sometimes resulting in CHS.

The illness can lead to expensive medical testing to rule out other problems such as gallstones and anemia, or something that can be fixed surgically. Often people experiencing symptoms will take multiple trips to the Emergency Room for treatment and rehydration. Treatment in the ER consists of low doses of anti-psychotic medications and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. Usually the combination of medications used is Haldol, Toradol and Benedryl.

McClure did say he has one patient with PTSD and CHS who found that a form of “dabs” (a marijuana concentrate) by the name of “Chi-doobie shatter” does not trigger his symptoms.

The only current “cure” for CHS in recreational marijuana users is abstinence from smoking. Dr. Lawrence stated that people experiencing CHS, who are using marijuana for medical purposes, can cut back or use it in a different form.

The limited research available suggests that many people diagnosed with this syndrome who have started smoking again experienced a renewal of their symptoms.

Dr. Webb suggested patients diagnosed with CHS, who had a medical need to take marijuana, should find ways to decrease the amount of THC they intake.

Nick Westervelt, owner and operator of Scrimshaw, a medical marijuana dispensary in Rockland, has not seen any patients with CHS. However, were he to have a patient come to him with the condition and a medical need to continue to take marijuana, Westervelt said he would help that patient find a more doseable method of taking their medicine, such as edibles or tinctures. In this way the patient can continue with the medicine he or she needs while decreasing the amount of THC that is introduced to the body’s systems.

Robert Long of the Maine Center for Disease Control stated that the organization currently does not have a lot of information on the illness, as it is not something that has been reported regularly in Maine. This would change if the federal government said they wanted cases of CHS to be tracked, but they have not so far.

Comments (10)
Posted by: Valerie Wass | Nov 13, 2019 11:50

This is ridiculous!!!!!!!



Posted by: Dale Hayward | Nov 12, 2019 19:27

This is one subject I can not chime in on because I have never found an occasion to use it, grow it, sell it, or even understand it. So, let the world make it widely available, tax it all you can, and let everyone smoke it, drink it, sniff it, to their heart's content for they will be the only ones to know its value or danger fully. The worst I did as a kid was smoke corn silk in a bamboo pipe and after one drag picking myself up off the ground and throwing up. Gosh, what fun. Never tried it again. I learned my lesson that it was just not for me.

 

 



Posted by: Dale Hayward | Nov 12, 2019 19:25

This is one subject I can not chime in on because I have never found an occasion to use it, grow it, sell it, or even understand it. So, let the world be widely available, tax it all you can, and let everyone smoke it, drink it, sniff it, to their heart's contend for they will be the only ones to know its value or danger fully. The worst I did as a kid was smoke cord silk in a bamboo pipe and after one drag picking myself up off the ground and throwing up. Josh, what fun. Never tried it again. I learned my lesson that it was just not for me.

 



Posted by: Diane Zollo | Nov 12, 2019 19:19

This article is explaining a disease caused by marijuana, not condemning the use of marijuana. This disease is like an allergic reaction to THC. Moderation doesn't help it.



Posted by: Valerie Wass | Nov 12, 2019 17:27

ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!!!!!!!  I know many people who have smoked pot for years and years.  Someone always has to stir the pot if they think it is going in the wrong direction!!!!!  Take the spoon away!



Posted by: Carolyn K. May | Nov 12, 2019 11:41

As my son pointed out to me you can make yourself sick if you drink too much water, you can make yourself obese if you eat too much food,  and as Steve Carroll pointed out alcholism is an often fatal result of too much alcohol. Overuse of anything can be harmful. Moderation!!!!

 

 

 



Posted by: johanna stadler | Nov 12, 2019 10:43

Of course people nneed to be aware, the marijuana available now is much more potent.  However, I do wonder what the intentions are behind such an article.  Seems like it is shake up the views of medical marijuana.  Wish someone would come and interview me.... since I started using medical marijuana I have been able to return to work, going on five years now.... Need to be a few more positive articles about how this helps rather than the constant diet of how many stores are opening to destroy the quaint ambiance of rockland.  We, as a state, should be making money off of this business  rather than trying to regulate it out of existence.

 



Posted by: Barry Douglas Morse | Nov 12, 2019 09:55

"So far, doctors do not know what causes CHS, only that it is linked to heavy marijuana usage. It is most likely the result of a variety of different systems interacting, according to Dr. Webb."

 

I wonder if the emesis is a symptom of addiction withdrawal? That would also help explain why hot showers or baths might help: THC is fat-soluble and is stored in fat cells. Hot showers or baths could cause the release of stored THC from fat cells into the bloodstream, causing transient relief of symptoms.  I've read that low-dose antipsychotic plus anti-inflammatory medications, combined with cessation of THC use, are effective in relieving  CHS symptoms. Again, that sounds like treating withdrawal symptoms while overcoming addiction.

 

Imagine using prescribed medication (THC) to battle pain and nausea and ending up with a monkey on your back that causes pain and nausea before it kills you.



Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Nov 12, 2019 08:38

I have also heard that frequent drinking can also lead to alcoholism. Yet we have developed this culture over hundreds of years.  Alcohol as with marijuana....moderation my dear moderation.



Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Nov 12, 2019 06:33

Are we going to start showing "Reefer Madness" again?  There are medical conditions caused by drinking too much milk or wearing our socks too long. Marijuana legalization is here.



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