Mysterious Vomiting Syndrome Linked To Heavy Pot Use

By Keri Blakinger 12/04/17

"You think you are dying. You pray for death at some points because it hurts so bad. It's just so unbearable."

young man clutching stomach in pain.

A rare and kind of gross pot-related condition appears to be on the rise in some areas in the wake of marijuana legalization efforts.

It’s not clear just how common cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome is because there’s no hard data. But some emergency doctors in California and Colorado are seeing more patients with the condition’s hallmark symptoms, including stomach pain and vomiting so severe it’s sparked the coinage of a new term to ID it - scromiting.

“Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome is something that's been recognized for probably 15 years now,” Dr. Kennon Heard of the University of Colorado School of Medicine told WBUR in July. “But it's something that we're seeing more commonly in areas where marijuana use is becoming more frequent.” 

The mysterious condition usually affects long-term smokers, and causes stomach pain and vomiting and comes and goes for days or weeks at a time. 

“It’s really a quite miserable experience for them, and it's something that we're seeing more and more often in Colorado,” Heard said. A 2015 study showed that the prevalence of cyclic vomiting in ER patients nearly doubled after marijuana legalization.

The primary treatment is to quit smoking pot – but it’s hard to diagnose and sometimes gets mislabeled as cyclic vomiting syndrome, according to NPR. It’s not clear what causes the condition.

“A lot of times, people just don’t believe you,” Kaiser Permanente emergency physician Dr. John Coburn told NPR

Chalfonte Queen spent years trying to figure out the cause of her stomach pain. 

"You think you are dying," she told NBC San Diego. "You pray for death at some points because it hurts so bad. It's just so unbearable."

Although it only affects a small percentage of patients, Scripps Mercy Hospital director Dr. Roneet Lev said it’s common enough to generate a new word to describe severe vomiting. 

“Scromiting” is the combination of screaming and vomiting that some California ER staff are witnessing. 

The condition was first documented in Australia in 2004, and toxicologists believe the symptoms may be caused by pot’s effect on the cannabinoid receptors that help regulate the body’s nervous system, NPR reported.

“Five years ago, this wasn’t something that (doctors) had on their radar,” Heard said. “We’re at least making the diagnosis more now.” 

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.