Alice Moon is a well-known cannabis reporter and media consultant based in Los Angeles, Calif. In 2018 she was diagnosed with cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, a rare and—for some strange reason—controversial medical condition that causes victims to suffer from abdominal pain and severe vomiting.
We recently spoke with Moon about her illness and how it’s perceived by the cannabis community.
Weekly Alibi: Can you explain what cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome is?
Alice Moon: CHS is kind of like a developed allergy. All of a sudden, some people will just get sick from weed. There’s three different stages to it. There’s the prodromal stage, which is when people feel nauseous—they may feel burpy and might have gas. That stage can last a few months to a few years before going into the hyperemetic stage—which is when people throw up excessively. It causes people to just throw up non-stop for days to weeks on end. And then there’s the recovery stage, which is when people have stopped using cannabis, and they’re recovering and starting to heal up. But if they go back to using cannabis, their symptoms return.
How long does it take for symptoms to show up?
This usually only occurs for people who have been using cannabis long-term. I’ve surveyed 330 people who have CHS and the shortest amount of I’ve seen a person use cannabis before developing symptoms was for one year. But usually it occurs after years and years of use. With me, I was using cannabis for six years before I developed symptoms.
How did you find out you had it?
I was throwing up, off and on, for about two years and saw numerous doctors, and eventually I found a doctor who knew about it and thought it was my problem. Most doctors don’t know about it, unfortunately, so a lot of people go undiagnosed or get misdiagnosed. One thing that has similar symptoms is gallbladder inflammation, so a lot of people have had their gallbladders removed, because doctors didn’t know about CHS and didn't know what was wrong. I know of 28 cases of that happening out of the 330 people I surveyed.
How many people do you know that have CHS?
Thousands. We have a Facebook group with close to 5,000 people in it. If that many people can find each other on Facebook, imagine how many people are out there that have it and haven’t found us yet or don’t even realize that they have it.
I wish that more budtenders were educated on it. I wish more doctors were educated on it and consumers were educated on it. There needs to be much more awareness and education all around. I can’t even handle second-hand smoke now; I’m so sensitive to it. But if I had caught this soon enough, then I wouldn’t be as severely affected by cannabis. If I’d known two years sooner, then I’d still be able to be around people who smoke weed. But now I can’t even handle the smoke.
I was writing edible reviews for a few years, so I was consuming edibles almost daily. But in small increments—like 5 to 20 milligrams a day—sometimes up to 50. But I wouldn’t consider myself a heavy user in the grand scheme of things. I was just a user.
Was it a reaction to THC?
And CBD. A lot of us tried to see if we could use CBD only and that actually caused my most severe episode. It caused a 16-day episode where I was throwing up all day, every day for 16 days non-stop. That was my most severe one.
Is the experience the same for everybody who suffers from CHS?
There are some variations. It treats people differently. Hot baths are a way to relieve the symptoms, but some people don’t get relief from them. The majority—around 97 percent of people who have CHS—get relief from hot baths.
Some people find relief from running. Some people get relief from medication, and others don’t. So it can vary—the way different people experience it. Some are in a prodromal stage for a very long time. Some skip the prodromal stage and go straight to the hyperemetic stage, so it varies.
I built a whole website about CHS (cannabinoid-
Should I even mention the hate you’ve received over this or does it just make things worse?
I think talking about it is important, because there’s a lot of denial in the industry. And it’s kind of ridiculous that people try to deny that this is real, even though I’m standing here as a cannabis advocate and saying that I’m 400 percent pro-cannabis even though I can’t use it. So I think acknowledging the hate is a good thing to do. I think it’s kind of important, because it’s part of what I go through being a CHS patient and advocate. I deal with hate from peers, and it’s unfortunate. And it sends a bad message about cannabis that people want to deny that there can be negative side effects.
What do you think is the motivation behind the negativity?
People are afraid of there being a negative side to cannabis. For so long we dealt with prohibitionists who would make up lies about cannabis, so many people think this is an attack from prohibitionists. They’re afraid to face the truth that cannabis does have negative side effects. And this isn’t the only negative side effect cannabis can have. Cannabis can cause anxiety in some people and we have to acknowledge that, because it’s true. Cannabis isn’t one-size-fits-all.
What’s the best way for people to get involved?
Just talking to other people about CHS and being aware of the symptoms. Spreading awareness is really important. I get messages every other day from somebody who’s just discovered that they have CHS. So that’s a lot of people who are now discovering they have it. I think that’s just because I’m spreading the word and other people are helping to spread the word.
If you have nausea or vomiting that’s unexplained, and you’re a regular cannabis user, you could have CHS. But I always say if you’re sick, go to the doctor and rule out every other possibility first. And taking a cannabis break is important. If you don’t find any other underlying conditions, then take a three-month cannabis break. And if you get better, then it’s probably the cannabis making you sick. But I think it’s important to rule out other possibilities before going straight to the cannabis—just to make sure that you’re not missing anything that could be detrimental.