Brian Smith suffered from cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) and died aged 17
Doctors have reported an increase in cases of a rare but deadly disease linked to heavy marijuana use, which causes intense vomiting, dehydration and abdominal pain.
Daily marijuana smokers are at risk of developing cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS), which researchers say may become more common as marijuana becomes more legal. It can be used for recreational purposes in 22 US states.
Brian Smith, 17, died in Indiana in October 2018 following dehydration due to CHS.
Smith is one of four known CHS-related deaths – the others are a 27-year-old woman, a 27-year-old man and a 31-year-old man.
However, there are many cases of people with the disease being hospitalized for weeks.
A Boston woman who considered herself an “Olympic smoker” spent more than two weeks in hospital.
ER doctor Sam Torbati said CHS is a “relatively unique condition that we see in patients who use relatively large amounts of marijuana – at least 20 times a month.”
“Patients who suffer from this disease have recurrent episodes of vomiting and abdominal pain.
“They are terribly symptomatic and can get very sick.”
CHS is a rare disease that results from chronic and prolonged cannabis use. CHS symptoms include extreme vomiting, nausea, dehydration, stomach pain, and death in rare cases.
In the brain, marijuana often helps prevent nausea and vomiting. However, in the digestive tract, marijuana has the opposite effect and makes nausea and vomiting more likely to occur.
Some doctors believe CHS is caused by an overstimulation of the endocannabinoid system, a network of receptors in the body that respond to compounds in cannabis.
Dr. Torbati said he has seen an increase in CHS cases at Cedars-Sinai Hospital.
Marijuana can be used recreationally in 22 US states
Some doctors believe that CHS is caused by an overstimulation of the endocannabinoid system, which is a network of receptors in the body that respond to compounds in cannabis.
But diagnosing the disease is difficult.
Dr Torbati said: ‘There is no test we can do. There is no blood test. It does not show up on a CAT scanner. I can’t really show you a picture to say, this is what CHS looks like.
Mr Smith, who died in 2018 of CHS, first went to hospital with his mother, Regina Denney, to complain of severe vomiting and abdominal pain and, at the time, had lost around 30 pounds in a single month.
His mother, Regina Denney, said ABC News: ‘The first time I noticed vomiting was on April 7th. He was vomiting so much that he said his face and hands were tingling.’
She said: “Doctors took Brian ahead of me. I walked in and he had IVs in both arms; he was on oxygen. They said the muscle twitch was an anxiety attack caused by the vomiting.
“They said he was dehydrated. His kidneys failed.
Mr Smith agreed to give up marijuana for 45 days, but when the symptoms didn’t stop, he got upset and started smoking again.
His death came as a shock to his mother six months after his diagnosis.
“He said, ‘Mom, I can’t breathe. I knocked it over and my son was gone,’ Ms Denney said RTV6.
Erica Hagler has started a Facebook support group for those recovering to share their symptoms
Ms Denney said: ‘I had to deal with this because weed doesn’t kill you. But it did.
She added: ‘I don’t want another family going through what we have.‘
A Canadian study found that CHS-related emergency room visits increased 13-fold in seven years between 2014 and 2021.
Commercial sales have exploded in Canada, as has the choice of cannabis products on the market.
Dr Torbati said more research was essential.
CHS sufferers report severe burns from hot showers they take to relieve their symptoms
He said: “We have become increasingly aware of this condition as more and more people are now using marijuana products. They now have a lot more THC, which we believe is the main chemical compound responsible for this.
In America, cannabis samples seized by the DEA showed potency tripled, from 4% THC in 1995 to 12% in 2014.
The THC to CBD ratio also increased 14 to 80 times.
For years, marijuana has been used recreationally and medically to treat chronic pain and nausea, but for some it causes the opposite, which is why the disease is sometimes misdiagnosed.
Erica Hagler, 38, of Boston, said she had used so much marijuana that she considered herself an “Olympic smoker.”
She walked around her house with a bong in her hand and even woke up at night to take a puff.
Ms Hagler first fell ill in August 2018 and told ABC: ‘I ended up in hospital. I stayed there for two and a half weeks, constantly vomiting.
She said Living room: ‘I kept throwing up or shaking. I was getting to the point where I couldn’t walk because I was so weak. I lost 30 pounds in three weeks.
She said: “They tested me for everything else under the sun and they couldn’t find a diagnosis.”
Ms. Hagler did her own research and came across CHS. A doctor confirmed her diagnosis and she immediately gave up marijuana.
She said: “Once I knew it was killing me, it was immediate. But for most people, it’s not that easy.
Ms Hagler has started a Facebook support group for those recovering from CHS, creating a place to share their symptoms.
Many of the group suffer horrific scalds from hot showers, as the water relieves CHS symptoms, at least temporarily.
A poster said: “During my last episode I spent hours and hours in the hot steamy shower for about 10 days and used such hot water and stayed in it for so long that I burned my back and ended up in the ER.’
Doctors believe that when THC and CBD bind over and over again to certain receptors in the body, it can trigger severe nausea and vomiting.
It’s thought that using high heat could trigger something in the same receptors that alleviates symptoms.
CHS has no cure, but doctors say patients should give up marijuana.
Dr Torbati said: “Patients will say, well, I quit for two weeks and I haven’t gotten better, so it doesn’t have to be this condition you’re labeling me with.
“And we’re educating and saying, really, you’re going to have to stop for months.”