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Mysterious Illness Linked To Marijuana Use Spikes In States That Legalized Weed

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An illness associated with marijuana use is on the rise in states that legalized weed.

Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome

The condition is known as cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, or CHS. It is characterized by recurrent vomiting, nausea, and crampy abdominal pain, which are mysteriously relieved by taking hot shower or bath. It is caused by heavy and long-term use of different forms of marijuana.

A study by Kennon Heard, an emergency room physician at the University of Colorado Hospital, and colleagues has shown that since 2009, after medical marijuana became widely available, diagnoses for CHS in the emergency rooms of two hospitals in Colorado nearly doubled. The state green-lighted the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012.

"We observed that the prevalence of cyclic vomiting presentations nearly doubled after the liberalization of medical marijuana in Colorado," Heard and colleagues wrote in their 2015 study. "This increase was accompanied by an increase of self-report of marijuana usage and serves as a crucial first step in establishing a formal diagnosis of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome."

Emergency rooms in other states that legalized cannabis also reported frequent cases of CHS such as in University of Washington Medical Center and Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Heard said that the illness is something unexpected before the legalization of weed but now emerge more frequently. CHS patients who are based in Colorado though are relatively luckier than those outside of the state.

Difficulty In Giving Correct Diagnosis To CHS Sufferers

When patients outside of Colorado or other states that legalized weed end up in an emergency room, doctors often miss giving the correct diagnosis. This is because they do not know about CHS and because patients tend to be cautious about admitting the use of a substance that is considered illegal.

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law and can only be used for recreational purposes in Washington state, Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska albeit medical marijuana is legal for use in half of the states in the U.S.

CHS Treatment

CHS can have dangerous consequences. It can result in dehydration and kidney failure but there's a way to resolve it: by stopping the use of drugs.

In the case of CHS sufferer Lance Crowder, who tried different forms of marijuana for seven months, the condition resolved within days after he stopped drug use. Crowder had been suffering from severe abdominal pain and vomiting for more than two years.

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