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Hair cannabinoid concentrations in emergency patients with cannabis hyperemesis syndrome

  • Khala Albert (a1), Marco L.A. Sivilotti (a1) (a2) (a3), Joey Gareri (a4), Andrew Day (a1), Aaron J. Ruberto (a1) and Lawrence C. Hookey (a5)...



Cannabis hyperemesis syndrome is characterized by bouts of protracted vomiting in regular users of cannabis. We wondered whether this poorly understood condition is idiosyncratic, like motion sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum, or the predictable dose-response effect of prolonged heavy use.


Adults with an emergency department visit diagnosed as cannabis hyperemesis syndrome, near-daily use of cannabis for ≥6 months, and ≥2 episodes of severe vomiting in the previous year were age- and sex-matched to two control groups: RU controls (recreational users without vomiting), and ED controls (patients in the emergency department for an unrelated condition). Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabinol (CBN), cannabidiol, and 11-nor-9-carboxy-THC concentrations in scalp hair were compared for subjects with positive urine THC.


We obtained satisfactory hair samples from 46 subjects with positive urine THC: 16 cases (age 26.8 ± 9.2 years; 69% male), 16 RU controls and 14 ED controls. Hair cannabinoid concentrations were similar between all three groups (e.g. cases THC 220 [median; IQR 100,730] pg/mg hair, RU controls 150 [71,320] and ED controls 270 [120,560]). Only the THC:CBN ratio was different between groups, with a 2.6-fold (95%CI 1.3,5.7) lower age- and sex-adjusted ratio in cases than RU controls. Hair cannabidiol concentrations were often unquantifiably low in all subjects.


Similar hair cannabinoid concentrations in recreational users with and without hyperemesis suggest that heavy use is necessary but not sufficient for hyperemesis cannabis. Our results underline the high prevalence of chronic heavy cannabis use in emergency department patients and our limited understanding of this plant's adverse effects.


Le syndrome d'hyperémèse cannabique se caractérise par des accès prolongés de vomissements chez les grands consommateurs de cannabis. La question était donc de savoir si ce trouble, peu compris encore, relève d'un état idiosyncrasique, comme le mal des transports ou l'hyperémèse gravidique, ou d'un effet de type dose-réponse prévisible chez les grands consommateurs de cannabis.


Des adultes chez qui un diagnostic de syndrome d'hyperémèse cannabique a été posé au service des urgences (SU), qui faisaient un usage presque quotidien du cannabis depuis ≥ 6 mois et qui ont connu ≥ 2 épisodes de vomissements importants au cours de l'année précédente ont été appariés à deux groupes témoins selon l’âge et le sexe : des témoins faisant un usage récréatif du cannabis, sans vomissements (UR) et des témoins traités au SU (examinés pour des troubles non connexes). La teneur des cheveux en Δ9-tétrahydrocannabinol (THC), en cannabinol (CBN), en cannabidiol et en 11-nor-9-carboxy-THC a été comparée chez les sujets ayant obtenu des résultats positifs à l’égard du THC urinaire.


Des échantillons satisfaisants de cheveux ont été prélevés chez 46 sujets ayant obtenu des résultats positifs à l’égard du THC urinaire : 16 cas (âge : 26,8 ± 9,2 ans; sexe masculin : 69%), 16 témoins UR et 14 témoins SU. La teneur des cheveux en cannabinoïdes était comparable dans les trois groupes (cas : THC : 220 pg/mg de cheveux [médiane; écart interquartile : 100–730]; témoins UR : 150 [71–320] et témoins SU : 270 [120–560]). Seul le rapport THC/CBN différait entre les groupes : il était 2,6 fois (IC à 95% : 1,3–5,7) inférieur dans les cas (rapport rajusté selon l’âge et le sexe) que chez les témoins UR. La teneur des cheveux en cannabidiol était souvent non quantifiable, et ce, chez tous les sujets.


Le fait que la teneur des cheveux en cannabinoïdes était comparable chez les utilisateurs faisant un usage récréatif du cannabis, tant chez ceux qui souffraient d'hyperémèse que chez ceux qui en étaient exempts, donne à penser qu'il y a un usage nécessairement abusif de la drogue mais non suffisant pour causer l'hyperémèse cannabique. Les résultats font ressortir la forte prévalence d'un usage excessif et prolongé du cannabis chez les patients traités au SU et le peu de connaissances que la communauté médicale a des effets indésirables de cette plante.


Corresponding author

Correspondence to: Dr. Marco Sivilotti, Department of Emergency Medicine, Queen's University, 76 Stuart Street, Kingston, ON K7L 2V7; Email:


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Hair cannabinoid concentrations in emergency patients with cannabis hyperemesis syndrome

  • Khala Albert (a1), Marco L.A. Sivilotti (a1) (a2) (a3), Joey Gareri (a4), Andrew Day (a1), Aaron J. Ruberto (a1) and Lawrence C. Hookey (a5)...


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