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ER docs seeing rise in patients with marijuana syndrome that causes severe vomiting, abdominal pain

Marijuana legalization in 30 states and the District of Columbia has led to a condition that physicians are seeing in emergency rooms across the country. Patients suffer extreme nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Emergency room physicians across the country are diagnosing more and more patients with a condition that's caused by frequent marijuana use, KDKA-TV reported.

The condition, which affects the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system, is known as Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome and its symptoms can be severe. Patients suffer extreme nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

Doctors don't know the specific cause of CHS but they do know that it affects chronic marijuana users. Increased cannabis use from legalization of the drug has coincided with the prevalence of the condition, according to the National Institutes of Health.

What is CHS?

CHS is characterized by cyclic episodes of gastrointestinal symptoms.

“Painful cramping, vomiting occurring. It can happen every few weeks, every few months, last a few days and be incredibly uncomfortable,” Dr. Michael Lynch of the Pittsburgh Poison Control Center told KDKA.

Severe vomiting can lead to dehydration, which often lands patients in the ER for fluids.

Patients also report that taking hot showers eases their symptoms temporarily.

“Frequently asking or wanting to go take hot showers because they’ve learned that will at least temporarily help them to feel better,” Lynch said.

Does it affect medical or recreational marijuana users?

It's not known whether or not the syndrome is caused by certain forms of the drug, but many patients develop symptoms after years of daily marijuana use.

“We need time and obviously, study. And that’s going to be really important,” Lynch said.

There are hundreds of compounds in marijuana so research is needed to determine if the syndrome is caused by the chemicals in medicinal or recreational cannabis.

Is there a cure for the condition?

The only known cure is to stop using marijuana altogether.

“The only way, if you’re someone who suffers from this, that you can ease and stop the suffering is to discontinue use,” Lynch told KDKA.

Even after a person stops using the drug, it can take some time for symptoms to go away because marijuana is stored in fat cells.

“Marijuana is stored in fat all throughout our body. We know, even from testing, we can find it for weeks or more after someone’s last used it,” Lynch said.

The condition can be confused with Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome and other illnesses so Lynch said it's important for patients to be honest with physicians about their medical history in order to receive a more timely diagnosis.

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