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Mysterious marijuana illness sweeping across states with legalized marijuana

Mysterious marijuana illness sweeping across states with legalized marijuana

01-20 | CDAH Team

While marijuana legalization has been widely applauded by supporters, a mysterious illness identified as Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS), is being spotted increasingly in hospital emergency rooms (ER), especially in states where medical or recreational use of the drug is legal. Experts suggest that the illness is linked to heavy and long-term use of marijuana. Its symptoms include severe abdominal pain, incessant vomiting and uncontrollable chills. 

As per a study co-authored by Dr. Kennon Heard, a physician at the University of Colorado Hospital, Aurora, the prevalence of CHS has nearly doubled since the federal government relaxed its take on medical and recreational marijuana. Heard’s study analyzed more than 2,500 hospital visits and found that from 2008 to 2009 (pre-legalization phase), CHS was the cause of 41 visits to the ER while from 2010 to 2011 (post-legalization phase), the number of ER visits increased to 87 visits. While there has been a consistent rise in cases reported across Colorado, the report proves that it is more prevalent in states where cannabis has been legalized.

According to Dr. Eric Lavonas, chief of emergency medicine at Denver Health Medical Center, several patients a week in the emergency departments around Denver are seen complaining of symptoms similar to those of CHS. ER personnel at several other hospitals in states where recreational use of marijuana is widely used such as University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, San Francisco General Hospital, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington D.C. and Harborview Medical Center have too reported CHS cases.

What is CHS?

CHS is an illness that is characterized by nausea, recurrent vomiting and abdominal cramps that get temporarily relieved by taking hot showers. Although scientists have not been able to pinpoint what exactly triggers cyclic vomiting, they do suggest that it gets better with less drug intake. According to experts, when left unchecked, CHS can lead to dehydration and kidney problems.

Though the disease was first reported in 2004, many sellers, users and physicians still don’t know about it. CHS symptoms can be severe and can last for months. Hot showers can ease the pain but it’s likely to come back when a person consumes marijuana again. Usually, the patients are administered IV fluids and medication but complete recovery is possible only by stopping the drug use.

According to Heard, people using marijuana frequently and in high doses experience changes in their body receptors that somehow become dysfunctional and cause a lot of pain. Although marijuana is medically used to control pain and seizures, doctors advise using it in moderation to avoid suffering from overdose effects.

Road to recovery

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States with 22.2 million people, aged 12 or older using the drug in the last 30 days in 2014, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Its long-term use does bring physical, cognitive and emotional changes and cause mental illnesses such as paranoia, hallucination, depression and anxiety. CHS has now become an emerging disease, which cannot be taken lightly.

If you or someone you know is addicted to marijuana or any other substance and is seeking professional support and treatment, contact the Colorado Drug Addiction Helpline to know about leading addiction treatment centers in Colorado. These centers are equipped with the best facilities that help control withdrawal symptoms and motivate patients to think positive. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 866-218-7546 or chat online with our experts if you are looking to connect with doctors of the best drug rehabilitation treatment centers in Colorado.


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