A significant portion of the population are quick to assume that marijuana is safe because it is increasingly becoming legal across the nation, but many misuse the drug. In late 2012, Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize marijuana. Since then, over two dozen states have followed. While in most cases legalization only covers marijuana use for medicinal purposes, a handful of states including California, Nevada, and Massachusetts also allow recreational marijuana use. The legalization of marijuana has increased its social acceptance, and views on the drug have significantly shifted to positive. While many recognize that synthetic marijuana is dangerous because of its mysterious chemical components, few realize that the drug on which it is based also poses risks.
Is marijuana really as harmless as it is often portrayed? A recent study says no, linking long-term marijuana use to a rare debilitatingly painful condition known as Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS). CHS is characterized by recurrent cramping, strong abdominal pain, nausea, and violent vomiting, which can lead to acute kidney injury. Gravity of symptoms varies but can be severe and prevent individuals from living normal lives.
While the symptoms are painful, often leading to multiple emergency room visits, the cure is simple ⎼ stopping marijuana use. Unfortunately, diagnosing the condition isn’t always simple, as symptoms mirror several other conditions varying from gallbladder disease to psychiatric or anxiety related syndromes. And because the condition develops after years of marijuana use, individuals do not suspect their drug use is to blame for their medical woes.
“I know patients who have lost their jobs, gone bankrupt from repeatedly seeking medical care, and have been misdiagnosed for years,” said Dr. Habboushe, head of the study which was conducted at Bellevue Hospital in New York City.
Although CHS only affects a small percentage of marijuana users, it is estimated that 2.7 million Americans who smoke marijuana regularly may suffer from some form of CHS. Dr. Cecilia J. Sorenses, an emergency room doctor in Colorado, says that the number of patients matching the symptoms of CHS has doubled since the legalization of marijuana. Emergency rooms in other states where marijuana is legal show a similar rise in cases of CHS.