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What Is CHS Syndrome?

Reading Time: 4 min 28 sec

Cannabis is known for its anti-nausea properties, but what if cannabis could also be the cause of nausea? Some researchers think that cannabis use can cause periods of nausea and vomiting, which they've named Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS).

Only recently have researchers come to recognize CHS, but it's still only minimally understood. Many people are skeptical that the condition even exists at all.

So what is CHS, what are the symptoms, and is it even real? Continue reading below to find out everything you need to know about Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome.

CHS Defined

CHS is a condition that causes a person to have repeated bouts of intense nausea and vomiting. CHS is rare and usually occurs in people using cannabis every day or nearly every day for several years.

CHS Syndrome

What Are the Symptoms of CHS?

Researchers think that the signs and symptoms of CHS happen in three separate phases.

The first phase is called the prodromal phase, and a person may experience:

  • Early morning nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Some Vomiting

The first phase can last months or years before moving to the next one. During this phase, people are able to eat normally and may use cannabis to try and relieve the nausea symptoms.

When they smoke cannabis, they may be relieving their nausea in the short term, but causing more nausea in the long term.

The second phase is called the hyperemetic phase. The symptoms of the hyperemetic phase include:

  • Ongoing nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Repeatedly vomiting
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss
  • Dehydration

The hyperemetic phase is where intense and overwhelming vomiting can occur. This phase is when most patients will end up going to the hospital.

The second phase only ends if a person completely stops consuming cannabis. After that, the recovery phase begins.

During the recovery phase, the symptoms of CHS will go away over the course of days to months. If a person starts consuming cannabis again, the symptoms of CHS may return.

Is There a Way to Alleviate Symptoms of CHS?

The only way to help symptoms of CHS is to:

  • Take hot baths or showers
  • Consume capsaicin (chili peppers)
  • Take pain medication

Is CHS Dangerous?

The only dangers of CHS are dehydration or lack of nutrition from vomiting. Dehydration can lead to weakness, seizures, and possibly kidney failure.

However, it's extremely rare for anyone to experience these complications from CHS.

CHS Syndrome

What Causes CHS?

As we mentioned previously, CHS is poorly understood, and there are only a handful of studies about it. One of the first was made back in 2004 in Australia that looked at a small number of long-term cannabis users who all experienced intense nausea and vomiting.

There were 10 participants in total, and the researchers noticed a few similarities:

  • They all smoked cannabis daily and had done so for many years.
  • They all had intense bouts of vomiting and nausea that would start and stop.

The researchers asked them to stop smoking cannabis and see what happens. Seven of them quit smoking cannabis, and their illness disappeared.

Three of them didn't quit smoking cannabis and continued having nausea and vomiting problems. A few of those who had stopped smoking weed started again but became ill once more after some time.

Many other studies since then have described similar situations. However, scientists still aren't sure exactly how it happens.

Researchers in 2011 hypothesized that CHS might have something to do with the way cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is involved with many functions all around the body, including the digestive process.

As many studies have shown, THC may be able to cause anti-nausea effects in the brain. When THC binds to ECS receptors in the brain, it reduces feelings of nausea.

However, THC can also bind to receptors in the digestive system. When that happens, it can cause:

  • Lower esophageal sphincter relaxation
  • Changes in intestinal motility
  • Delays in gastric emptying

Basically, THC can make food stay in the stomach for longer and slightly change the rate of digestion. This change in digestion could lead to nausea.

There seem to be dual processes in which THC relieves nausea in the brain but causes it in the stomach. However, these are only theories, and researchers still don't know exactly why CHS happens.

Is CHS Real?

Many cannabis advocates are skeptical that CHS actually exists. In 2006, after the first study was published about CHS, critics noted a few things.

First, they found it strange that CHS was not more widespread despite millions of consumers worldwide. Second, the critics argued that the researchers didn't perform an actual clinical experiment as the sample size was low and there was no placebo.

Furthermore, many cannabis advocates feel as though CHS is a jab at cannabis legalization. Many articles about CHS state that it happens from cannabis abuse.

That sounds a lot like prohibition language suggesting that people only use cannabis for fun and disregard the medical aspects of MMJ.

Still, there's a lot of evidence to point to the fact that CHS is indeed real. The problem is that the condition is complex, rare, and there's a societal divide between medical professionals and cannabis users.

CHS Syndrome

A Solution to CHS?

Researchers like Jeff LaPoint are trying to get to the bottom of the illness and connect with cannabis users at the same time. He wants to make sure that doctors and cannabis users are both aware of CHS.

LaPoint thinks that the illness may be because the ECS is being bombarded with too many cannabinoids too often. That overstimulation of the ECS can cause an imbalance that leads to CHS.

However, LaPoint has also noticed that no one has reported CHS from strictly ingesting edible cannabis. As LaPoint stated, "most people don’t eat multiple edibles in a space of a few hours, while people often smoke marijuana at least a couple times a day."

That means that cannabis edibles could be an effective way to keep CHS from happening if one needs to consume cannabis daily.

Hopefully, in the future, CHS will be better understood. For now, it's best to use edibles or smoke in moderation because sometimes there is too much of a good thing.

Here is how to make edibles if you're interested in giving them a try.

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