Why Kidney Failure Is the Latest Problem Associated with Marijuana Use

hand with a marijuana joint

Those in favor of the use of marijuana for medical purposes tout its ability to ease vomiting, especially among those who are undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. Ironically, heavy use of marijuana has become known as a triggering agent for severe, hard to control vomiting—a condition known as “cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome” or CHS. Now, doctors are beginning to see that a person suffering from CHS can also be tipped right over into kidney failure.

What’s going on here? Why this paradoxical effect of marijuana? Frankly, doctors don’t know yet. They’ve even been fairly slow to grasp the fact that marijuana has been the source of this violent vomiting and severe stomach pain disorder. Slowly, the number of scientific references to CHS have been increasing, also increasing the number of doctors—especially those in emergency rooms—who can recognize the cause of this problem.

One report from Missouri stated that the average CHS patient had made five visits to walk-in clinics, seven trips to ERs and had been hospitalized three or more times, in part because of medical unfamiliarity with the condition. As more doctors become familiar with this problem, it’s possible that it may take fewer encounters with medical staff to come up with the right answer.

The resolution for CHS is pretty simple—cease using marijuana. Some patients don’t accept this solution and thus may experience further episodes of vomiting and stomach pain.

Understanding the Marijuana-Kidney Failure Connection


This part of the picture is easier to understand. A person suffering from CHS may vomit violently as many as twenty times a day. The only improvement is staying in a very hot shower or bath—the hotter, the better. In one case, the sufferer was taking 14 hot showers a day.

Usual medications that might calm someone else’s vomiting normally do nothing in this situation. In some cases, it takes twelve hours after stopping marijuana use for the symptoms to abate and in other cases, it can take weeks.

The main factor in triggering kidney failure is the dehydration that results from violent, repeated, unresponsive vomiting. This throws off a person’s electrolyte balance which seriously affects one’s kidneys, even to the point of their shutting down. One review of CHS cases found renal (kidney) failure in 9% of the 55 cases included in the project.

Those experiencing this problem are commonly heavy, daily and long-term users of marijuana. As potency increases and legalization increases availability, we may be seeing more cases of CHS in America. Fortunately, it is one of the easiest conditions to treat—simply stop consuming the drug.


Sue Birkenshaw

Sue has worked in the addiction field with the Narconon network for three decades. She has developed and administered drug prevention programs worldwide and worked with numerous drug rehabilitation centers over the years. Sue is also a fine artist and painter, who enjoys traveling the world which continues to provide unlimited inspiration for her work. You can follow Sue on Twitter, or connect with her on LinkedIn.