A Canadian woman discovered that her intense bouts of vomiting and constant nausea were due to her regular marijuana use.
Last year, Desiree Haight found it so difficult to keep food down that she dropped 30 pounds, from 150 pounds down to 120.
Things came to a head in November when she wound up in the emergency room in her hometown of Calgary after she threw up 30 times in one day, reported BuzzFeed News.
At first, doctors assumed the 46-year-old either had food poisoning or a stomach virus.
But one emergency room physician said her symptoms seemed familiar and asked if she smoked marijuana and if hot showers gave her relief.
When she answered ‘yes’, that’s when he diagnosed her with a little-known condition called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) in which chronic cannabis users vomit incessantly without explanation.
Desiree Haight, 46 (left and right), from Calgary, Canada, suffered constant nausea and intense bouts of vomiting last year. She was first hospitalized in 2005 for the same symptoms, but doctors were unable to diagnose her
In 2018, Haight (pictured) found it so difficult to keep food down that she dropped 30 pounds, from 150 pounds down to 120
CHS is a recently discovered, but poorly understood, condition caused by long-term cannabis use.
The syndrome occurs in heavy marijuana users, those who smoke at least 20 times a month, who have recurrent and severe bouts of nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
The number of people affected by CHS is unclear, although its prevalence could be in the millions.
In Canada, where recreational marijuana was legalized last year, the numbers of people with the condition could rise.
The first study to report on the phenomenon was led by Mount Barker Hospital in Australia, where researchers realized patients who had repeated attacks of vomiting had one thing in common: chronic cannabis use.
Out of 10 participants, seven who stopped using cannabis saw their symptoms resolve. The three who refused to abstain saw their symptoms continue.
Several studies have since confirmed the original findings by the Australian researchers, with many reports stating that people find relief from their symptoms by taking hot showers.
Haight also said that hot showers were the only thing that could abate her nausea.
‘The only thing that makes you feel better is hot water,’ she said. ‘As soon as that hot water hits you, it’s over, you could run a marathon.’
She told BuzzFeed News that the first time she experiencing the debilitating symptoms was in 2005.
‘It just grips you like fog. There’s no way out of it,’ she said. ‘You retch probably 30, 40 times a day minimum.’
Haight was hospitalized for three months and needed a feeding tube because she would vomit anything she ate.
She was hospitalized in November after she vomited 30 times in one day. Pictured: Haight, left, with family members
One doctor recognized her symptoms and diagnosed Haight (left and right) with cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome. The condition is characterized by severe bouts of vomiting in chronic marijuana users
At one point, her weight dropped to just 96 pounds.
No tests could diagnose her condition and, when she was referred to a psychiatrist, he told her she was in ‘fight-or-flight mode’.
So, when she finally received a diagnosis 13 years later, she felt relief.
Doctors aren’t sure what causes the mysterious condition but, according to a 2017 study conducted by Dr Cecilia Sorensen, an emergency medicine physician at the University of Colorado Hospital, the answer lies in the endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system is a group of lipid signalling molecules – called endocannabinoids, often thought of as the body’s own ‘natural cannabis’ – and their receptors.
These receptors control many physiological processes including food intake, energy balance, reward, and mediating the effects of cannabis.
‘These receptors are all over our gut,’ Dr Sorensen told Popular Science. ‘They’re in our intestines, our colon, and they have a role in regulating gastric and intestinal motility to control the propulsion of food and fluids.’
She says too much of THC, the psychoactive compound responsible for the euphoric and ‘high’ feeling often associated with marijuana, could damage the receptors.
‘This alters your gut motility,’ she told the website. ‘Anytime your gastric motility is obstructed, you get really severe abdominal pain and nausea. It’s a severe, spasmodic pain that basically results in overstimulation.’
Physicians also only have theories as to why hot showers help, one being that it helps sufferers distract themselves from their discomfort.
Researchers wrote in the current report that the patient received a topical cream containing capsaicin, the main component of chili peppers.
CHS is believed to be caused by THC in weed altering receptors in the gut that control many physiological processes. Pictured: Haight, left with a friend
Like many sufferers, Haight (pictured) said hot showers were the only thing that relieved symptoms, although why is not understood. She has since stopped using marijuana
According to a 2011 article from Harvard Women’s Health Watch, capsaicin is believed to relieve pain by releasing a chemical called substance P that transmits pain signals from nerves to the brain.
After the cream is applied several times, stores of substance P deplete in the body and fewer pain signals are transmitted.
The only known cure of CHS is stopping marijuana use altogether. Several studies suggest that complete relief takes seven to 10 days.
Haight told BuzzFeed News that she stopped smoking right after she was diagnosed.
It took more than a month, however, to recover and start eating again.
‘You can stop the weed but to get eating again is a nightmare, but you’ve got to do it,’ she said. ‘For me, I’ve smoked enough in my lifetime to last me a lifetime.’