If you use cannabis regularly and have ever vomited after getting high, you may have experienced cannabis hyperemesis syndrome. Sometimes mistaken for cyclical vomiting syndrome (which isn’t caused by cannabis use), cannabis hyperemesis is a rare condition found in chronic pot smokers and defined by cyclical vomiting, nausea, and compulsively taking hot showers.
Cannabis hyperemesis can be difficult to identify and is often blamed on various other factors that would make one queasy, such as food poisoning, anxiety, stress, or excessive heat exposure. For those who have been able to determine that they’re suffering from cannabis hyperemesis, abstinence from weed is the only true way to relieve symptoms.
During the acute “hyperemetic” phase of the syndrome, patients are prone not only to vomiting and nausea, but also to gastrointestinal pain, dehydration, weight loss, and compulsive bathing. Early phases of the syndrome are characterized by more mild symptoms, like morning nausea, abdominal pain, and an urge to throw up.
There’s still little information out there about cannabis hyperemesis syndrome. Mentions of cannabis hyperemesis syndrome are so rare in scientific literature because the condition has only recently been identified, and moreover it’s often mistaken for something else.
The first documentation specifically on the syndrome was in 2004, when researchers found that all the patients who suffered from cyclical bouts of vomiting were also chronic cannabis users. When seven out of ten study subjects abstained from weed, their symptoms resolved, while the three who continued to keep using cannabis also continued to experience the same symptoms.
According to a 2011 study, most patients who are diagnosed with cannabis hyperemesis syndrome tend to be “young adults with a long history of cannabis use.” In most cases, symptom onset is delayed several years after the patient settles into a chronic weed habit. According to the study’s authors, cannabis hyperemesis patients often use marijuana daily, at least three to five times per day, if not more.
For many people who use cannabis, the plant actually alleviates nausea — and hence can make it more difficult to realize when it’s actually responsible for nausea. In most cases in which cannabis relieves nausea, the cannabinoids, or chemical compounds, activate certain parts of the central nervous system. In the case of cannabis hyperemesis, when THC activates CB1 receptors, a patient may experience pain, inflammation, and other dysfunction in the gastrointestinal system.
The bottom line is there still isn’t enough research to substantiate the root of the the syndrome. “I have an additional theory which is that cannabis grown with chemicals is affecting people in various ways,” says one doctor from Seattle’s Green Leaf Health Care Center. “This may be one of them. I’ve traveled through India and Asia extensively and know heavy long-term users without ever having issues regarding hyperemesis. Perhaps long term use and concentrated levels could produce these issues in certain susceptible individuals, however I feel like it’s more of a chemical issue.”