"There's no such thing as overdosing on weed!" Said every marijuana-user, ever. It's true, marijuana has long been America's recreational drug of choice, touted for its harmlessness and praised for its miracle and medicinal properties. However, people who smoke too much weed are here to tell you that marijuana smoking can lead to a terrifying medical condition: Cannabinoid Hyperemisis Syndrome.
That's right, move over LSD and mushroom trips, because it turns out that good ol' weed can turn chronic users into helplessly vomiting, screaming (scromiting, if you will) lunatics. A newer phenomenon first diagnosed in 2004, the syndrome, also known as CHS, appears to be growing along with recreational cannabis legalization. CHS is a frightening condition, with little known about it, but the good news is it appears to be solved with a hot bath and, not surprisingly, laying off the weed. Not convinced yet? Read below to try and understand a bit more with these Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome facts.
As if the news marijuana isn't so harmless after all isn't scary enough, the fact that doctors have nicknamed the symptoms as "scromiting" (screaming and vomiting) should be enough to make any stoner think twice.
Cannabinoid Hyperemesis (emesis meaning "the action of vomiting"), is characterized by nausea, cyclical vomiting, abdominal pain, and uncontrollable screaming. Sufferers of CHS often take to compulsive bathing, since hot showers or baths seem to be one of the only sources of relief to sufferers. However, it is not classified as an actual anxiety disorder, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, because the bathing is a direct cause of the other symptoms. It is an extremely rare condition, and appears to only be prevalent in chronic, long-term cannabis users.
Nobody is really sure yet as to what exactly causes the syndrome, but it's thought that it has to do with the cannabinoid receptors, of which science still has a lot of learning to do. Some toxicologists suggest that marijuana's chemical compounds might be throwing off the way these receptors usually function, which could potentially affect the nervous system.
Nearly all victims of CHS agree on one thing: a hot shower or bath will usually help the symptoms (read: scromiting) subside. In fact, the disappearance of symptoms with a hot shower is one of the few surefire ways to recognize CHS for what it is. Hence, sufferers become compulsive bathers, which means that in some extreme cases, they will stay in the shower for hours at a time in order to relieve themselves of the intense sickness.
For example, in one case study, a 47-year-old patient was admitted to the hospital and reportedly stayed under a hot shower with "the exception of two 15-minute breaks for the rest of the day." So, why are the showers so relieving?
Again, hard, scientific facts aren't exactly there yet. Some scientists think that perhaps the heat distracts the brain from the pain receptors in the abdomen that are acting irregularly due to the cannabinoids, but this has yet to be proven.
This may well be one of the more unsettling questions underlying CHS, as well as one that skeptics are quick to ask. Chronic, long-term users are at risk, but what exactly does that mean? Wouldn't Snoop Dog and Willie Nelson be prime candidates? There's no debate that people have been using cannabis for decades, and many at an extended rate, but scientists are guessing that there may be a genetic predisposition for CHS.
An NPR article about the syndrome designated this as users who smoke multiple times a day for months, years, or decades, but even that seems a little vague. In a report from High Times, one of the cannabis world's leading voices on the culture, more of the same was suggested, and cited a clinical study from Philadelphia that, "duration of cannabis use before the onset of symptoms was around 16 years, and the earliest symptoms had developed in a patient was after around three years of smoking weed."
Still, this doesn't really mean anything to someone who may be worried about their cannabis use, so maybe this can put it in perspective: In one of these studies, the subject had been using cannabis for 30 years, often smoking three blunts a day, sometimes up to eight.
Or maybe they are just in denial. To be fair, the rarity and newness of the phenomenon lends itself to skepticism of the syndrome in the first place, but one would think that after suffering a fit consisting of writhing on the floor in pain and screaming out for death (as CHS sufferer Chalfonte LeNee Queen did for 17 years), you would be open to options.
Doctors are becoming frustrated with repeat patients suffering from CHS. Dr. John Coburn, a California physician, says, "A lot of times, people just don't believe you." It will take some patients multiple visits before admitting that marijuana is in fact the problem at root. As Colburn puts it, "I can't really tell you why. I mean, why do people ride motorcycles without helmets on?"
Again, to be fair, many chronic users of marijuana do so for the benefits from other life-long disorders, such as anxiety or depression. To admit or be convinced that what you thought was supportive is in fact destructive to your health is not an easy thing to accept.