The Ugly Side of Marijuana Use: Here’s What’s Sending Users to ERs

A man smokes a "joint" during a demonstration to call for the legalization of marijuana

A man smokes a “joint” during a demonstration to call for the legalization of marijuana | Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

One key argument for the legalization of marijuana is that it’s significantly less dangerous than other substances. When compared to alcohol and tobacco, for example, cannabis is far safer for human consumption. There are documented health benefits and even cancer-fighting compounds contained within it. That hasn’t deterred the DEA and others from continuing to demonize it, however.

Even though marijuana is considered mostly safe at this point (there’s still plenty of research to be done), there are risks associated with its use. Children and teens shouldn’t be using it, for one, as it has been tied to development issues. There’s also the chance that you could make a bad decision while under the influence, like driving or jumping off of a roof.

With increasing levels of cannabis use across the country as states legalize one by one, new problems are starting to emerge. Recently, there has been a rash of hospital and emergency room visits by cannabis users suffering from some sort of mystery illness. While it’s relatively minor when compared to complications from other drugs, the sickness resulting from cannabis use is something few of us are aware of.

It’s called Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, and it’s caused by chronic use of the chronic.

Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome

Marijuana plant, too much of which can lead to illness

Marijuana plant, too much of which can lead to illness | iStock.com

Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome is still somewhat of a mystery. A report from the National Institutes of Health said that, “Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome is characterized by chronic cannabis use, cyclic episodes of nausea and vomiting, and frequent hot bathing.” It also said that it “occurs by an unknown mechanism.”

Essentially, the illness causes you to continuously throw up. Seeking relief from the feelings of nausea and the constant puking, people take hot baths or showers which evidently help manage the symptoms. And the craziest part is that we still don’t really know why or how it happens.

“Knowledge of the epidemiology, pathophysiology, and natural course of Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome is limited and requires further investigation,” the NIH report said.

While we aren’t completely sure what’s going on, experts think they have an idea. The syndrome tends to appear in people who have been using cannabis for a very long time. According to the NIH study, the average duration of use before symptoms set in was around 16 years, with usage rates between three and five times per day. So, you’ll need to have been using marijuana for roughly a decade and a half, on average, before you have anything to worry about.

As for what’s actually happening to your body?

Leading theories point to a change in our cannabinoid receptors. These changes may lead to our body actually treating cannabis as toxic, which in turn causes vomiting in an attempt to clear your system.

Marijuana and your health

Containers of cannabis

Containers of cannabis | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Funny enough, this creates a sort of cycle in which people suffering from the syndrome are actively hurting themselves. Marijuana is often used to treat nausea. So, if you’re feeling nauseous, you’ll want to look to marijuana for relief. But marijuana itself is actually the root cause — so by using it, you’re digging yourself deeper.

Omri Braver, a physician who has treated several patients with the syndrome at the Soroka Medical Center and Faculty of Health Sciences in Israel, told Fusion the only way to stop the symptoms is to give up marijuana use.

“Patients with CHS must stop their exposure to cannabinoids to alleviate the symptoms,” he said. And that means forever.

If you’ve managed to use enough cannabis to actually make your body turn against it, it may be a sign that it’s time to cut back. People can develop dangerous or abusive relationships to just about anything. We obviously see it with numerous types of drugs, be it painkillers or alcohol. It’s something we see with food, even. And you can most certainly develop an abusive relationship with marijuana or even a sort of psychological dependence.

Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome isn’t something most people are going to have to worry about. If you’re a recreational cannabis user, odds are this is something you won’t experience. But chronic use can lead to some problems. Though cannabis is still far less dangerous than other drugs, we’re finding that like with all things, moderation is key.

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