Relaxed Marijuana Laws in Two U.S. States Linked to Vomiting Syndrome

December 1, 2017 4:14 am Last Updated: December 1, 2017 5:49 am

Ever since the U.S. states of California and Colorado relaxed their marijuana laws, some emergency physicians are seeing more vomiting episodes brought on by so-called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome.

Doctors in both states spoke with NPR about what they say is a growing problem which affects some heavy marijuana users who smoke the drug multiple times a day.

“Five years ago, this wasn’t something that [doctors] had on their radar,” said Dr. Kennon Heard, an emergency physician at the University of Colorado in Aurora, reported NPR. “We’re at least making the diagnosis more now.”

Outside of the observations of medical practitioners, NPR said there is no hard data on how common the illness is.

But Heard co-authored a study with four other doctors that showed a possible tie between a noticeable surge of the condition and Colorado’s relaxed marijuana laws.

“The prevalence of cyclic vomiting presentations nearly doubled after the liberalization of medical marijuana,” the study said in its conclusion.

Colorado allowed recreational marijuana use in 2014.

Marijuana merchandise up for sale. (Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images)

Dr. Aimee Moulin, an emergency room physician at UC-Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, told NPR that she observed a rise in cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome cases since California permitted recreational marijuana use a year ago. Moulin said believes she will see more cases after commercial sales are allowed next year, beginning Jan. 1, 2018.

Part of the challenge doctors have in treating people with this condition is that they can do little to relieve the symptoms. Anti-nausea medications are largely of no use and nothing is yet available to preclude the start of a vomiting episode. Patients may require intravenous hydration and hospital stays until symptoms abate, reports NPR.

“That’s really frustrating as an emergency physician,” said Moulin. “I really like to make people feel better.”

One tell-tale sign that a person has the condition is that they find some relief by having a hot shower or bath.

But the only known cure for the condition is refraining from using marijuana. Given the attachment chronic users have to the drug, medical practitioners say it is hard to convince often skeptical users to kick the habit.

“A lot of times, people just don’t believe you,” says Dr. John Coburn, an emergency physician at Kaiser Permanente in south Sacramento. “I can’t really tell you why. I mean, why do people ride motorcycles without helmets on?”

Heavy marijuana users are at risk of developing a little-understood condition that involves episodes of vomiting. (Jason Connolly/AFP/Getty Images)

NPR said that the exact cause of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome remains unknown but toxicologists say chemical compounds in marijuana could impair the proper operation of the body’s cannabinoid receptors that assist in regulating the nervous system.

Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome has only been recently recognized by the medical community. It was first documented in Australia 13 years ago.

In the U.S., there are 29 states and Washington D.C. that have legalized or decriminalized the drug in some way, be it for medical or recreational usage. Out of those states, marijuana is allowed for recreational purposes in seven and in D.C.

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From NTD.tv