Mysterious, Rare Illness Linked To Smoking Weed Causes Severe Screaming and Vomiting

Justin Calvino displays marijuana grown on one of his properties in Mendocino County, California on April 19, 2017. Marijuana growers, forced to run their businesses with cash, must navigate legal and political gray areas as regulations and laws continue to change. Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

For many marijuana users, the drug delivers a soothing, therapeutic effect. But for a small number of people, smoking results in a unpleasant aftermath of serious vomiting and stomach pain.

The mysterious illness—called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS)—was discovered in 2004, NPR reports. However, it didn't receive much attention until recently, when doctors began to identify more cases of the syndrome.

"It's something we're seeing more commonly in areas where marijuana use is becoming more frequent," Dr. Kennon Heard, a professor of emergency medicine and medical toxicology and pharmacology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, told WBUR.

"Essentially, patients who use marijuana very frequently for long periods of time—usually at least six months, probably most of them have been using for several years—develop sort of intractable abdominal pain and vomiting that sort of comes and goes over the course of days to weeks," Heard explained to WBUR.

He noted that at least one person a day visits his institution in Colorado and presents symptoms, which he believes are a result of the condition. Dr. Roneet Lev, the director of operations at Scripps Mercy Hospital, has seen an identical trend in his emergency room in San Diego, he told NBC 7.

Although the syndrome is rare, enough patients have visited Scripps Mercy Hospital that led the emergency room staff to dub the symptoms of CHS—screaming and vomiting—into a new word: "scromiting," Lev said.

Chalfonte LeNee Queen, a 48-year-old woman living in San Diego, experienced "scromiting" for nearly two decades.

"I've screamed out for death," Queen told NPR. "I've cried out for my mom who's been dead for 20 years, mentally not realizing she can't come to me."

12_1_smoking marijuana
Bert De Loera smokes marijuana at the launch of Privee Social Club, an exclusive cannabis users club, on March 23, 2017 in the Venice section of Los Angeles,California. Privee Social Club curates cannabis products for its members to receive at its events and in monthly subscription boxes. David McNew/AFP/Getty Images

After a misdiagnosis and years of pain, Queen was eventually diagnosed with CHS in 2016. One of the telltale signs of her condition were her frequent hot showers, in order to alleviate her symptoms. Resorting to hot baths or showers to relieve pain is "the only feature that definitively points to CHS," Dr. Jordan Tishler, a Harvard-trained physician who runs a cannabis clinic in Massachusetts, told Newsweek via email.

Doctors are still uncertain exactly what causes the condition, but Heard believes he has some valuable insight.

"The most likely cause is 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," Heard told 7NEWS Denver.

The small number of people who suffer from the syndrome often don't like to hear the only identifiable cure: to stop smoking.

"Who wants to be told you can't smoke marijuana, when you think marijuana can help? Cameron Nicole Beard, a 19 year old who was treated at University of Iowa hospital, for CHS symptoms, told NPR.

Although the symptoms are alarming, the majority of cannabis users have nothing to worry about.

"CHS is concerning for people who have it, but it is not a major public health hazard," Tishler said.