Fraser Horton
Fraser Horton
Last Updated on January 10, 2022

Marijuana is believed to be the safest recreational drug, if used responsibly, of course, that also has medical benefits due to which it’s used as a treatment for certain conditions. In recent years, there has been an increase in cannabis legalization for both recreational and medical use, especially in the US.

That being said, long-term and short-term recreational use of marijuana can affect different parts of our brain and even affect our attention, memory, and learning. Some users even claim that consuming this drug in high doses has led to them passing out and feeling sick. 

So, if this is the first time you’ve experienced effects such as the ones mentioned above, or you’re just curious about the effects of cannabis, read on to find out whether weed can make you sick.

How Cannabis Affects the Body and Brain

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a unique system in the human body made up of cannabinoid receptors. After consuming decarbed weed, the main cannabinoids, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), bind to these cannabinoid receptors and produce sedative, psychoactive, and relaxing feelings in users. 

When people use weed in larger doses than what they can handle, unwanted side effects may ensue. Those may be the munchies, bloodshot eyes, sore throat, and others which aren’t that serious, although in recent years there have been more and more cases which have many other side effects that sometimes take users to the emergency room, and feeling sick is one of them.

What Is Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS)?

This condition has become quite common among long-term cannabis users who use marijuana on a daily basis. The symptoms of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome include severe vomiting episodes and researchers are trying to figure out the reasons why this happens.

Since cannabis binds to the cannabis receptors, and these receptors affect the gastrointestinal tract, researchers believe that some receptors become more active as a result of the increased marijuana use, so patients start developing symptoms. 

The term hyperemesis means a medical condition of prolonged vomiting in marijuana users. Apart from vomiting, CHS causes nausea and extreme stomach pain. While there isn’t a 100% confirmed reason why these symptoms happen, researchers are working to find the answers to this question through numerous medical studies. (Sorensen et al, 2017)

What Are the Phases and Symptoms of CHS?

The symptoms of CHS are often defined by the phase of the syndrome, and the most common ones include:

  • Abdominal discomfort or pain;
  • Dehydration;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Morning sickness;
  • Nausea;
  • Retching and/or vomiting;
  • Weight-loss.

Patients suffering from CHS caused by heavy marijuana use, go through 3 initial phases on their road to recovery:

  • Prodromal phase;
  • Hyperemetic phase;
  • Recovery phase.

Prodromal Phase

During the first phase, symptoms include nausea and abdominal pain and some marijuana users consume more weed in order to stop nausea. This phase can go on for years without people realizing they have the condition since the early stages of CHS are hard to diagnose.

Hyperemetic Phase

The second phase is the acute phase where the symptoms are more intense and include:

  • Abdominal pain;
  • Dehydration;
  • Episodes of repeated vomiting;
  • Nausea;
  • Weight loss as a result of decreased food intake.

Patients can experience nausea and vomit for a few hours, which results in discomfort in the abdomen. To alleviate the symptoms, a lot of patients take hot showers which help regulate the hypothalamus, an area in the brain that regulates the body’s temperature and vomiting impulses. Some even turn to opioids to help with the symptoms, however, quitting weed is the only thing that can help in the long term.

Recovery Phase

Recovery can only happen if a patient reduces the amount of weed they consume, or quits cannabis consumption altogether. A lot of long-term users may experience cannabis withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit, which usually pass within a few weeks.

CHS Diagnosis and Treatment

To find out whether a cannabis user has CHS, a consultation with their healthcare provider is essential, who’ll most likely request the following tests:

  • Blood test;
  • Drug screen;
  • Head and abdominal CT scan;
  • Pregnancy test;
  • Other common tests.

CHS is sometimes confused with cyclical vomiting disorder since both conditions have similar symptoms, so seeing a specialist to diagnose you would be the best option. Apart from quitting weed consumption, the treatment for CHS includes:

  • Intravenous fluid replacement;
  • Hot water showers;
  • Medicine to reduce the vomiting;
  • Rubbing capsaicin cream to reduce pain and nausea.

Depending on the tolerance levels of the user and how much it takes for their body to detox from weed, the symptoms can stop after a few days. However, if marijuana users continue to use the drug in high quantities, it may lead to:

  • Dehydration;
  • Electrolyte imbalances;
  • Gastrointestinal problems;
  • Kidney failure;
  • Brain swelling (in rare cases);
  • Muscle weakness;
  • Seizures.

Preventing Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome

As a result of the fast-paced lives that people live nowadays, many are not aware they experience CHS symptoms which is why most get to the third phase before finding out. CHS sufferers should be glad to know that the syndrome can be prevented by limiting the amount of cannabis use or quitting marijuana completely. It’s advised that chronic cannabis users who have developed serious symptoms stop using weed in order for their bodies to defeat the syndrome.

Final Thoughts on Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome

The cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome has only been researched for a couple of years, so there is more data to go through and figure out whether it’s definitely linked to heavy cannabis use. Moreover, as a result of the increasing legalization laws and the availability of cannabis products such as joints, blunts, topicals, edibles, vape, tinctures, and others, recreational and medical marijuana use have increased.

If left untreated and undiagnosed, CHS can lead to a lot of health problems in the future, especially for marijuana users who are suffering from another illness. For those of you who’ve been experiencing some of the symptoms mentioned in this article and you do consume high amounts of weed, talking to your healthcare provider about a treatment plan is essential.

Additional Sources                                 

Sorensen, C. J., DeSanto, K., Borgelt, L., Phillips, K. T., & Monte, A. A. (2017). Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome: Diagnosis, Pathophysiology, and Treatment-a Systematic Review. Journal of medical toxicology : official journal of the American College of Medical Toxicology, 13(1), 71–87. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13181-016-0595-z

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