A Mysterious Marijuana-Related Disease Is Showing Up in Hospitals Across the U.S.

Doctors aren't quite sure what causes it.

More and more marijuana smokers are coming to emergency rooms complaining of abdominal pain and vomiting — and doctors aren't exactly sure why. The Huffington Post reports that a condition, known as cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome or CHS, is appearing more often in hospitals, especially in states where marijuana is legal.

Even though doctors often prescribe marijuana to stop nausea, patients with CHS report severe nausea and vomiting. Even more strangely, the symptoms seem to fade if patients take a hot shower or bath. The condition goes away within days if patients stop smoking marijuana. According to CBS News, patients with CHS usually are heavy users of marijuana over a long period of time, and the condition can cause kidney failure if untreated.

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"It is certainly something that, before legalization, we almost never saw," said Kennon Heard, MD, PhD, associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. "Now we are seeing it quite frequently."

Doctors still aren't sure exactly what within the body causes CHS. Dr. Heard told The Denver Channel that he thinks people who smoke marijuana frequently "have changes in the receptors in their body, and those receptors become disregulated in some way, and it starts causing pain."

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The syndrome does appear to be on the rise now that several states have legalized recreational marijuana and others have legalized medical marijuana. An April 2015 study published in Academic Emergency Medicine reviewed cases of cyclic vomiting (aka severe vomiting) reported at Colorado emergency rooms. The researchers found that cyclic vomiting cases nearly doubled after medical marijuana became legal — and that patients with cyclic vomiting were more likely to have documented marijuana use after the law changed. (Of course, this part might have simply been because patients felt more free to admit they smoked marijuana once it was legal to do so.)

That said, CHS presents itself in states where marijuana is illegal, too. In those cases, doctors might not be able to identify the syndrome because patients don't want to admit they use the drug. But if doctors know about the condition, they can suggest patients stop using marijuana at least for a few days — often, the symptoms will go away.

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