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An Indiana Family’s Experience with Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS)

Teen girl smoking marijuana from a joint outside  

Recently, mother Regina Denny wrote about her son’s experiences with something called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS). This is a condition many haven’t heard of, but it’s important to learn more about because of the links between marijuana and kidney failure.

Denny was initially introduced to CHS in April 2018. She says her 17-year-old son was diagnosed in an emergency room. At the time of his diagnosis, her son Brian was living with his father and had been vomiting for three days. Brian also complained of tingling and numbness of his face, and he was having difficulty speaking by the time he arrived at the hospital. His mother thought he could be having a stroke or seizure. The doctor in the emergency room said the muscle contractions were stemming from an anxiety attack, and that Brain was very dehydrated. A separate doctor asked if Brian smoked marijuana. When he said yes, she diagnosed him with cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome.

When his blood work came back from the ER, it showed his kidneys were failing, and all relevant levels were outside of the normal range. Brian was admitted, and after improving overnight he was released. Brain told his mother he would stop using marijuana until he could see a gastroenterologist.

Brian said he wasn’t a daily marijuana smoker but did it occasionally for around three years before symptoms developed. He also went on to experience symptoms after he said he stopped smoking, but the gastroenterologist he eventually saw agreed with the diagnosis of CHS.

In the fall of 2018, Brian started vomiting again and returned to the ER, where test results once again showed the shutdown of his kidneys. Brian received specialized care at a children’s hospital, and he resumed depression medication and started counseling at the advice of his doctor.

Over the coming months, Brian continued to get sick until finally, he became incredibly unwell. Brian ultimately died, and following autopsy results, his family found out his official cause of death was dehydration due to cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome.

What Is CHS?

Brian’s story is an important one because we might see marijuana as harmless, but his case points out that it can be anything but. Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome is a condition that leads to ongoing, severe vomiting. It’s a rare condition affecting long-term, daily marijuana users. Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome symptoms can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Belly pain
  • Weight loss
  • Symptoms of fluid loss

The vomiting can become extremely severe. Anytime there is a suspected link between marijuana and vomiting, it’s important to get immediate care.

The cause of CHS is believed to be linked to the way marijuana affects brain receptors. Doctors and researchers don’t know why some people develop the condition and others don’t.

How Long Does Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Last?

The length of time cannabinoid hyperemesis can last depends on the person, but there are typically repeated vomiting bouts, and the symptoms can be divided into three phases. During the initial prodromal phase, the symptoms include nausea in the morning and abdominal pain. This can go on for months or years, and some people continue to use more marijuana during this time, thinking it will help with the symptoms.

The hyperemetic phase includes continual nausea and ongoing vomiting. Symptoms of weight loss and dehydration occur during this time, and it can be overwhelming. If a person stops using marijuana there is then a recovery phase that can last for days or months. Symptoms can return if someone resumes using marijuana.

Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome treatment includes fluid replacement, the use of vomiting medications and proton-pump inhibitors, which can help with stomach inflammation. Symptoms usually start to get better after a day or so if they don’t use marijuana. For someone who continues to use marijuana, the situation can get more severe, as it did with Brian.

Getting Help with Marijuana Addiction

As Brian’s story highlights, marijuana use in teens can be dangerous or even deadly. There are programs, including rehab for teens to help them with quitting marijuana. Contact Next Generation Village to find out more about rehab for marijuana and how it can benefit your teen.

Sources:

Denny, Regina. “Through my eyes: Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS).” Medical News Today, September 19, 2019. Accessed October 23, 2019.

Cedars Sinai. “Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome.” Accessed October 23, 2019.

Galli, Jonathan A. et. al. “Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome.” Curr Drug Abuse Rev, December 2011. Accessed October 23, 2019.

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