Heavy users of Cannabis are showing up at hospitals with chronic abdominal pain and severe vomiting.
Most advocates for marijuana, commonly known as weed, argue that it is completely healthy, but hospitals in the United States are reporting that a strange illness is affecting users in states where the drug is now legal.
Cannabis users in Colorado are showing up at emergency rooms with chronic abdominal pain and severe vomiting – symptoms that are confusing when you consider that cannabis has a big reputation as a pain reliever and cure for nausea.
In 2009, the American government eased its stance on marijuana, eventually legalizing the drug in states like Colorado and California. According to Amber Heard, a physician at the University of Colorado in Aurora, the number of reports of the illness has increased since then, with new cases showing up on a "daily to weekly" basis.
The illness, known as cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, was first diagnosed in 2004 by Australian scientists who tied it to long-term marijuana users, or "chronic cannabis abuse" as they chose to put it. However, there isn’t enough research to determine how frequently the disease appears among users or how much marijuana will count as excessive use.
According to Heard, the science behind it is not clear, "…the most likely cause is that people using marijuana frequently and in high doses have changes in the receptors in their body, and those receptors become dysregulated in some way, and it starts causing pain".
In the worst cases, the illness can cause kidney failure, but most patients and doctors have discovered that hot showers help to relieve symptoms. Regardless of all they know on it, doctors are still having a hard time prescribing a lasting solution for the pain and constant vomiting, and as Heard says, "the treatment is to stop using marijuana or at least to cut back severely, that’s really the only way to make it better".
One question that arises is whether reports of a strange illness are enough to make a dent in the use of marijuana, medical or otherwise. Any user cares about the state of their health, but cannabis enjoys a history that spans thousands of years and a reputation as a cure rather than the cause of illness.
One strange illness might not be enough to convince the average user to quit the world’s most commonly-used recreational drug.