"Scared me to death:" Rare but terrifying illness affecting chronic marijuana users

PORTLAND, Oregon -- A rare but terrifying illness is affecting chronic marijuana users in the Portland area.

It's called Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, and it leaves those who develop symptoms suffering from bouts of uncontrollable vomiting that can last as long as 48 hours.

Christine Martinez, who said she used cannabis heavily to treat chronic pain, suddenly developed Cannabinoid Hyperemesis in July.

"I lost 17 pounds in one week. 25 in two weeks," said Martinez. "It was comparable to when I had cancer."

Doctors with the Oregon Poison Center said little is known about what causes Cannabinoid Hyperemesis, but it is typically seen in patients who have used cannabis daily for several years.

"It's confusing and paradoxical for patients because cannabis use is thought oftentimes to be a relief of vomiting and nausea," said Dr. Matt Noble, a medical toxicologist with the Oregon Poison Center.

Noble said emergency rooms don't specifically track cases of Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, but said doctors have been seeing roughly three or four cases a month.

Noble said symptoms can return if patients continue using cannabis, and doctors typically advise discontinuation of marijuana use.

Martinez said she hasn't smoked or consumed cannabis since she got sick.

"It scared me to death," said Martinez. "Never again. I'm through with it."

Noble said several studies are underway in an attempt to better understand the illness.