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Is My Teen Vomiting From Smoking Marijuana?

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

Marijuana is popular among teens.

According to the most recent Monitoring the Future Survey, 45 percent of high school seniors said they’d tried marijuana at least once, and around six percent of them use marijuana every day. That’s about one in every 16 students. The advent of new e-cigarettes, such as the Juul, which looks like a flash drive, contributes to the problem. In 2018, 60 percent more teens started to vape marijuana than in 2017. Adolescents consider vaping less harmful than smoking, which increases the chances of they’ll try vaping marijuana.

However, despite the recent trend toward legalization – for adults – we want everyone who reads this to understand this fact:

Marijuana isn’t harmless.

Its negative effects are especially pronounced in adolescents, whose brains are still developing. Long- and short-term marijuana use can damage attention, memory, and learning. In rare cases, very high doses of marijuana can even induce paranoia and psychosis.

But that’s not all.

Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome

The effects of marijuana are not just mental. An interesting phenomenon is occurring among teens who chronically use marijuana:

They’re vomiting, nonstop.

This effect has been termed Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS).  According to recent research from case studies, symptoms of CHS include:

  • Severe, repeated episodes of vomiting
  • Ongoing nausea
  • Belly pain
  • Decreased food intake and weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Malnutrition

Many teens find that they feel better after taking a hot shower, which somehow eases their nausea.

The reason many find this syndrome paradoxical is because marijuana has well-documented anti-nausea properties. In fact, many cancer patients take marijuana during chemotherapy, because nausea and vomiting are side-effects of chemotherapy, and marijuana helps. But in some cases, it has the opposite effect on chronic users.

According to a useful guide on CHS from Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles:

Certain receptors in the brain may stop responding to the drug in the same way [with repeated use of marijuana]. That may cause the repeated bouts of vomiting found in people with CHS.”

It’s important to note that CHS is rare. It only occurs in a small population of people who use marijuana at least once a day for several years. But when it does occur, it’s extremely uncomfortable, intrusive, and possibly dangerous. Teens can become dehydrated or malnourished from frequent vomiting.

CHS Case Studies

In one case study, a 22-year-old young man used marijuana for six years. He smoked every day – once every hour or two, on average. When he came to the doctor, he’d been vomiting every day for a week. He’d get nauseous several times a day – more after he ate – and had bad stomachaches. After each bout of vomiting, he’d immediately take a shower and feel better.

But then it would happen all over again.

In another case study, A 21-year-old in England came to the emergency room because he vomited more than 10 times in the 12 hours.

“Oddly,” write the doctors, “he persistently demanded to use our showering facilities.”

The healthcare providers figured out it was CHS after the young man admitted to using marijuana for the past four years, sometimes four times a day.

Advice for Parents

If your teen smokes or vapes marijuana and complains of stomachaches and vomiting, please take them to see a doctor. Take them even if they tell you they’ve only tried marijuana a few times. CHS mainly appears in those with prolonged use – that means you should be open to the idea consider that your teen may use marijuana more than you think, and more than they admit.

Keep in mind that since CHS is a relatively new diagnosis, it’s relatively under-recognized. Your doctor may not make the association between cannabis and vomiting. In fact, medical professionals often confused CHS with cyclical vomiting disorder since both disorders have a similar presentation.

However, there’s an easy way to figure out whether your teen has CHS. If they stop using marijuana and the vomiting stops completely, then it’s likely that CHS caused the vomiting.

Also, a general rule, don’t minimize marijuana use.

Marijuana’s impact on the developing brain depends on how often marijuana is used, the amount of THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) present, age at first use, and whether the teen simultaneously uses other substances such as alcohol or tobacco. The more a teen uses marijuana, the worse it will be. The negative effects of marijuana are more pronounced when use begins early and when the use is heavy and prolonged.

That’s why – despite the recent trend towards legalization for adults – parents should still consider marijuana a drug, and they should understand the dangers of marijuana use. If you’re a parent and don’t know that marijuana can be dangerous, click here to read our article on the effects of drug use on the adolescent brain.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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