By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
March 31, 2023
Promoters of marijuana often tout the drug’s effectiveness at treating nausea, and in fact nearly four decades ago, the Food and Drug Administration approved a synthetic version of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to help treat that symptom in chemotherapy patients. But more recently, with the steep rise in marijuana use across the country, has come a growing number of cases of Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS), a form of excessive vomiting that is landing more and more chronic pot-users in the emergency room.
“It felt like Edward Scissorhands was trying to grab my intestines and pull them out,” Bo Gribbon, now 22, told NBC News, describing his experience with CHS at age 17, during which he threw up multiple times every hour.
Another CHS patient, identified only as Erica, told the news site Salon that she nearly died.
“I could not stop vomiting or shaking. I was getting to the point where I couldn’t walk because I was so weak. I lost 30 pounds in three weeks,” she reported. Eventually realizing that it was her frequent use of marijuana that was triggering the condition, she went on to start a Facebook group for people struggling with CHS, a group that now has more than 20,000 members.
Doctors don’t yet understand how cannabis use can trigger intense vomiting episodes or even “scromiting,” in which a patient screams uncontrollably while vomiting, but they know it’s happening more frequently, especially in states like Colorado, where recreational marijuana has been legal for more than a decade.
The emergency room at Parkview Medical Center in Pueblo reported five scromiting cases in 2009. By 2018, that number had skyrocketed to 120. A separate study of two other ERs showed reports of CHS nearly doubled shortly after pot was legalized.
Even so, CHS is still considered a rare condition. But Cannabis entrepreneur Alice Moon, herself a victim of CHS, believes otherwise.
“I don’t believe that CHS is rare. I just think it’s not documented,” Moon told Salon. “There’s no actual tracking going on. We don’t know how many people truly have this condition in America.”
Moon had worked in the marijuana industry for years when she began having vomiting episodes every few months, including one that lasted two solid weeks. It still took nearly two years before doctors figured out she had CHS.
The syndrome usually affects people who have been using large amounts of cannabis for an extended period, and it involves three stages. The first symptoms may include anxiety, sweating, skin flushing and nausea, often in the morning. The second stage includes abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Sufferers often feel compelled to bathe or shower in hot water, which provides some with temporary relief. Finally, once they stop cannabis exposure, they begin to recover, which is stage three. But doctors say this stage can last weeks or even months.
Meanwhile, typical anti-nausea medication doesn’t seem to help CHS, leading doctors to prescribe benzodiazepines such as Xanax or even antipsychotic drugs that are used to treat schizophrenia.
“Now that cannabis is the most widely used illicit substance in the United States and, particularly since today’s marijuana is so much more potent than it used to be, the increase in this illness is not surprising,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “What is surprising is that some folks still believe pot can be considered medicine.”
He admitted that many medications have side effects, but pointed out that those with FDA approval include warnings so that doctors and patients can weigh the risks and benefits.
“Even researchers who have been studying CHS don’t yet understand how it’s triggered,” he said. “Why would we want to promote something as medicine when it can have such a bizarre and debilitating effect?”