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POT SICKNESS: Rare syndrome makes Owasso woman sick from marijuana

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Posted at 3:46 PM, Jun 06, 2024

An estimated two million Americans use medical marijuana.

Oklahoma legalized medical marijuana in 2018.

Most often it's used to manage chronic pain. But what if the product used to relieve pain actually caused it?

Amber Post, of Owasso, found out she had a rare, but increasingly common, illness called Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS).

What is CHS?

CHS is caused by long term, heavy cannabis use. 

The syndrome happens when you have cycles of nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain after using cannabis (marijuana) for a long time.

Symptoms:

  • Persistent nausea — often in the morning.
  • Repeated vomiting and retching (making the sound and movement of vomiting). This can happen up to five times an hour.
  • Intense abdominal discomfort or pain.
  • Fear of throwing up.
  • Loss of appetite.

“I didn’t think I was going to live - it was that miserable,” said Post.
For nearly a year, Post did not know what was wrong with her.

She had chronic nausea and diarrhea. She was unable to eat. She tried eliminating alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and gluten. Doctors conducted a myriad of tests. Believing weed helped relieve pain, Post used it more.

“It was just the last thing on my mind; I never dreamed that could be the issue,” she said.

When the pain became debilitating, she went to the emergency room. A doctor there asked her about marijuana use, the first time it came up.

He told her to look up CHS. She has not used marijuana since then and now feels great.

2 News talked to a leading expert on CHS to learn more.

Dr. Sam Torbati works at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He said CHS was first recognized in 2004.

“Exactly why that small percentage of patients who use heavily get that syndrome and why the vast majority don’t, we don’t quite understand,” said Dr. Torbati.

He said not a lot of research has been done but believes genetics play a role.

“I’m neither pro or anti, I’m just telling you that in some patients, this is what can happen,” he said.

He said diagnosis can be hard because many Americans are not transparent about using cannabis.

“Either embarrassed or shy or don’t want to tell doctors their entire story,” he said.

For Post, any judgment towards her does not matter.

“If one person stops and starts feeling better, then me visiting with you was worth it,” she told 2 News. 

Post still believes cannabis can be beneficial—just not for everyone. 

Dr. Torbati said the most difficult part is getting patients to stop using cannabis.

He does not advise quitting cold turkey for long-term success. He recommends seeing a medical doctor and a therapist to discuss treatment options. He said if you have severe symptoms, it is important to get to a doctor.


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