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Mysterious Condition Drives Spike In Marijuana-Related ER Visits: What Is Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome?

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Since Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012, the number the ER visits linked to cannabis use has increased in one of the state's largest hospitals. Many of these patients exhibit a condition called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome.

Colorado Sees Spike In Marijuana-Related ER Visits

Andrew Monte, of the University Of Colorado School Of Medicine, and colleagues analyzed nearly 10,000 emergency room visits at the University of Colorado Health's Anschutz campus from 2012 to 2016.

They found that 2,567 of these visits were related to marijuana and 238 were related to edible marijuana.

The researchers found that 31 percent of these cannabis-related ER visits were stomach related, making stomach issues the top cause of all ER visits for marijuana.

Monte and colleagues also found that the single most common adverse event and primary driver of hospital admissions is cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS).

"Visits attributable to inhaled cannabis were more likely to be for cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (18.0% vs. 8.4%)," the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in Annals of Internal Medicine on March 26.

What Is Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome?

CHS is a poorly understood condition and is even thought to be rare, but researchers say it may not be as uncommon as previously thought. Monte said that they see the condition every week in the ER.

"To see that this was a leading reason for people coming to the ER, that was pretty striking," Monte said of their findings. "We have to do a better job of educating users on the fact that this phenomenon exists," he added.

CHS is believed to be caused by chronic cannabis use. It was first reported in medical literature in 2004. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. More than 90 percent of marijuana users who experience the symptoms also have the compulsion to bathe in hot water.

CHS occurs episodically or cyclically. This means that the symptoms occur, then resolve and then come back again. Experts recommend sufferers to stop using marijuana to prevent the symptoms from coming back.

Admitting to the healthcare provider about marijuana use may also help speed up diagnosis because the symptoms may be mistaken for other conditions.

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