What is CHS?

Understanding the Cannabinoid System

The legalisation of cannabis at the state and federal level in many parts of the world has led to a rise in its consumption, both recreationally and medicinally. Cannabis and its related products such as edibles, oils, and tinctures are now easily accessible to citizens, and legal for them to use.

When ingested, consumers are known to reap numerous benefits from the chemical compounds present in the plant. Aside from the popular psychoactive THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the cannabis plant contains over 100 naturally occurring chemical compounds known as cannabinoids. These cannabinoids are responsible for the effects of the cannabis plant on humans. When these cannabinoids bind to receptors in the human brain they alter bodily and mental functions such as appetite and mood.



CHS (Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome)

Formerly an unknown illness, Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome has become more common over the last decades. This rise can be attributed to the legalisation and increase in use of marijuana by individuals worldwide.

Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome – also known as CHS – is a condition that leads to critical and recurrent bouts of vomiting. This condition, formerly uncommon, is only known to be present in long-term marijuana users who consume marijuana products on a daily basis.

Aside from the effects that cannabis products can have on the human brain, the digestive system contains molecules that can actively bind to cannabinoids when ingested. This binding can lead to severe alterations in the digestive system, such as changing the amount of time food stays in the digestive tract, which alters the appetite of the consumer.

Cannabinoids can also affect the oesophageal sphincter. The oesophageal sphincter is a tight band of muscle which lets food into the stomach from the throat. This muscle opens and closes to allow this happen. When altered by frequent cannabis consumption, the sphincter can weaken, producing onset symptoms of CHS.

A marijuana user. Theoretically speaking, heavy cannabis users are more susceptible to developing CHS than occasional cannabis users. Source



What Causes CHS?

Cannabis is a complex plant made up of equally complex chemical compounds. Only a handful of cannabinoids have been fully understood until very recently.

The effects of cannabis would normally be the opposite of the symptoms of CHS – most people associate cannabis consumption with a reduction in nausea and an increase of appetite. The heavy and repeated use of cannabis, however, alters the reaction of certain receptors to their related chemical compounds.

CHS makes cannabinoids work in a paradoxical way when ingested, and this can be linked to the frequent use and often abuse of the cannabis plant. When cannabis consumption is a new phenomenon to the body, the brain respond to cannabinoids differently from when cannabinoids are commonly at a high level in an individual’s system.

While this observation has been duly noted in some marijuana users, some do not record any symptoms at all despite the same high levels of consumption.



Symptoms of CHS

The symptoms of Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome can be divided into three different stages. Frequent and uncontrolled bouts of vomiting are the trademark symptom of CHS. However, health care operators have divided the disease into three phases marked by separate symptoms. These stages are:


Prodromal Phase –
This is an onset stage. This stage is marked by early morning nausea, abdominal pain and an irrational fear of vomiting, although the fear of vomiting is not present in every individual. In this stage, eating habits and other lifestyle functions are still basically normal. Since many marijuana users are aware that marijuana can aid abate nausea, many consume more than usual in an effort to treat their symptoms. This often has adverse effects.

This stage can last anywhere from months to years.


Hyperemesis Phase –
Here, the symptoms are much stronger. These symptoms include:

  • Constant Nausea
  • Uncontrolled Episodes of Vomiting
  • Stomach Cramps (Gastrointestinal Discomfort)
  • Weight Loss (Due to decreased food intake)
  • Dehydration (Due to fluid loss)
  • Frequent Hot Showers/Baths

During this stage, the individual suffers from frequent and uncontrollable bouts of vomiting coupled with nausea. Many individuals are forced to seek medical help at this stage as they cannot control their symptoms without additional help.

Many individuals experience temporary relief when hot baths or showers are taken. This is due to the fact that heat activates a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. This part of the brain regulates body temperature as well as nausea.


Recovery Phase –
This phase occurs after individuals halt all forms of cannabis consumption. After consumption is cut, bodily functions begin to return to normal. This return to normalcy could take anywhere from weeks to months.



How can CHS be treated?

The only way to permanently treat CHS is to quit consuming marijuana in any form. To aid the quitting process, many individuals opt to attend rehabilitation centres or seek cognitive therapy.

In some cases, individuals are able to return to cannabis consumption but in very low dosages. In many cases, however, individuals are never able to consume cannabis again. They develop a permanent intolerance for cannabis.  

Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome is an awful but avoidable condition. This condition is a wakeup call for heavy marijuana users that there can be negative consequences to overconsumption, and that moderation is always important. Everyday items such as water, salt, sugar and even coffee have to be used in moderation else they upset bodily functions. Though beneficial in many applications, the same moderations should apply to the use of marijuana.


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