It was a medical mystery for a Calgary woman who vomited more than 30 times in a day, spent months hospitalized with a feeding tube, and dropped to 98 pounds.
Then she found out the reason: a little-known but increasingly occurring condition, cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, that is showing up in some chronic, heavy pot users.
Marijuana use is often the last thing on someone’s mind as a potential cause, given that one use of weed is to alleviate nausea.
But that’s exactly what had Desiree Haight and her doctors befuddled. The 46-year-old long-term pot smoker found herself immobilized with nausea, abdominal cramps and eventually incapacitating vomiting and ended up in the emergency room on two separate occasions. In 2005, she had to be hospitalized with a feeding tube for three months, CBC News reported earlier this month.
Back then her condition was diagnosed as psychosomatic.
However, when she found herself in the emergency room again at the end of 2018, Dr. Eddy Lang was able to ask the right questions, CBC News reported: Was she taking hot showers and/or baths to relieve her symptoms, and did she use cannabis?
When Haight said yes to both questions, Eddy knew he was dealing with the syndrome. Doctors in both Canada and the U.S. are seeing more and more of this, given the increasing acceptance and legalization of recreational marijuana.
“It causes frequent visits to the emergency department,” Dr. Timothy Meyers, medical director of emergency services for Boulder Community Health, told the Longmont, Colo. Times-Call in December. “People feel terrible when it happens.”
Dr. Joseph Habboushe, a clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at NYU Langone Health in New York, noted that the problem gets compounded when sufferers take hours of hot showers, which can dehydrate them and make them sicker.
“People will start taking hours of hot showers a day, they get out of the shower, they feel terrible, they get back in,” he told BuzzFeed News. “A large percentage of these patients will become so dehydrated they start getting a type of renal failure.”
Researchers don’t thoroughly understand the mechanism that causes this nausea alleviant to inflict queasiness, but they suspect other compounds rather than THC. In addition, easier availability, stronger strains and other factors could influence the occurrence.
“It’s a very unique clinical syndrome that is characterized by a number of unique presentations,” Lang told CBC News, adding that one of them is a distinctive guttural sound not apparent in other types of vomiting.
Doctors say they run into resistance from patients who don’t want to know the certain solution: to quit using indefinitely. But for Haight it was a no-brainer.
"I have smoked more in a lifetime than most people have, so I'm good," Haight told CBC News. “I don’t feel like I’m missing out.”