Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome: A Review of Potential Mechanisms


Marieka V. DeVuono, Linda A. Parker

Published in Mary Ann Liebert, Inc Publishers

June 2020



Cannabinoids have long been known for their ability to treat nausea and vomiting. Recent reports, however, have highlighted the paradoxical proemetic effects of cannabinoids. Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) is characterized by cyclical episodes of nausea and vomiting, accompanied by abdominal pain following prolonged, high-dose cannabis use, which is alleviated by hot baths and showers. Little is known about the cause of this syndrome.


Cannabinoids produce a biphasic effect on nausea and vomiting, with low doses having an antiemetic effect and high doses producing emesis. Presentation and treatment of CHS are similar to cyclical vomiting syndrome as well as chemotherapy-related anticipatory nausea and vomiting, suggesting that these phenomena may share mechanisms. The prevalence of CHS is not known because of the symptomatic overlap with other disorders and the lack of knowledge of the syndrome by the public and physicians. Treatment with typical antiemetic drugs is ineffective for CHS, but anxiolytic and sedative drugs, along with hot showers, seem to be consistently effective at reducing symptoms. The only known way to permanently end CHS, however, is abstinence from cannabinoids. Case studies and limited pre-clinical data on CHS indicate that prolonged high doses of the main psychotropic compound in cannabis, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), result in changes to the endocannabinoid system by acting on the cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptor. These endocannabinoid system changes can dysregulate stress and anxiety responses, thermoregulation, the transient receptor potential vanilloid system, and several neurotransmitters systems, and are thus potential candidates for mediating the pathophysiology of CHS


Excessive cannabinoid administration disrupts the normal functioning of the endocannabinoid system, which may cause CHS. More clinical and pre-clinical research is needed to fully understand the underlying pathophysiology of this disorder and the negative consequences of prolonged high-dose cannabis use.


Open Access


DOI: doi.org/10.1089/can.2019.0059


DeVuono, M. V., & Parker, L. A. (2020). Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome: A Review of Potential Mechanisms. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, 5(2), 132-144