My name is Regina and I want to tell the story of how marijuana changed my life and the lives of my family forever. My son Brian began using marijuana at 13 years old, I was not aware he was using that young. I did find out later that he was smoking, and when I found out, I was grateful that he wasn’t on heroin or meth.
Brian had been on antidepressants and did not like the way they made him feel, so he used marijuana as a way of dealing with depression. I don’t believe he started smoking heavily until around 16. On April 7, 2018, Brian had to be taken to the Emergency Room because he had been vomiting and could not keep even a sip of water down. After arriving at the hospital, Brian’s muscle began to contract, and I thought he was having a stroke. The doctors determined it was an anxiety attack caused by the violent vomiting. Brian was treated for dehydration which had caused his kidneys to go into failure. The ER doctor wasn’t sure what the cause was and, while we were speaking, another doctor poked her head in and asked if Brian smoked marijuana and if hot showers or baths relieved symptoms. His reply was yes. She said he had Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome.
CHS is caused by marijuana use and the symptoms are severe abdominal pain and vomiting, also known as “scromiting”. The only cure is to quit all cannabis use. Brian was hospitalized and monitored. He was released after 2 days because his kidney function had improved. He agreed to quit smoking until he could see a GI doctor in 45 days.
Brian continued to have minor symptoms; we were both in denial of the diagnosis. The GI doctor confirmed the diagnosis of CHS, and his only information was to quit smoking marijuana.
But Brian resumed smoking, and for 6 months did not complain of symptoms. On Oct. 7, 2018, Brian had to be taken to the ER for vomiting. His kidneys had begun to fail, and his heart rate was too high. The ER doctor decided it would be in Brian’s best interest to transport him by ambulance to a children’s hospital, which they did.
Brian was treated for dehydration which improved his kidneys and heart rate. He was released after 2 days, with nausea medication and antidepressant prescriptions. Despite the CHS diagnosis a third time, he was still in denial and returned to smoking marijuana.
Brian returned home after spending the weekend with family and on Oct. 24, 2018, at around 3:30am, I found him sitting on the couch holding his abdomen. He said his acid reflux was acting up. I made sure he took his medication, and he assured me he was ok. I went back to bed.
When I woke up at 11am, Brian was not feeling well and soon after, the vomiting began. I called his doctor; he was still seeing a pediatrician since he was under 18. I told the nurse I felt like I was watching my 17-year-old son slowly die. They decided to send a prescription for nausea medicine to the pharmacy and said if I couldn’t get Brian to quit using marijuana, I could take him to a rehab facility. I explained to Brian that rehab was an option. I picked the medicine up and it was the same medication he had been taking. I called the doctor and they said they would send a suppository; the pharmacy would call when it was ready.
I was back and forth between taking care of Brian, cooking dinner and caring for two 2-year-old kids. While holding the bucket for Brian to vomit, he said, “Mom, I’m sorry you have to take care of me.”. I assured him this is what moms do and that I love him.
About 30 minutes later, I went to check on Brian, and he grabbed his back, saying it hurt. Instinctively I thought it was his kidneys. I called 911. I went in the room to tell Brian help was coming and he said, “Mom, I can’t breathe.”.
As I got to the side of the bed closest to him Brian said, “Mom, I can’t breathe.” again. Brian quit breathing.
I yelled for help and began doing CPR. My daughter’s boyfriend got a neighbor who came and took over CPR and at one point thought he felt a pulse. After what seemed like forever, the paramedics arrived and took over care. I begged Brian to breathe, I begged God to take me instead, I begged for Brian to just be ok.
After 30 minutes, the EMT came out and said it wasn’t looking good. I begged her to please keep trying. Brian was my baby. He was too young to leave me yet. Fifteen minutes later, the EMT came out, and I didn’t need her to tell me: I could see it in her face. My baby was gone.
I had to tell Brian’s sister’s, Brian’s dad, Brian’s aunts, that I couldn’t save him.
Brian’s death had to be treated as a homicide because he was under 18 and died at home. There is a lot of that day after he died I can’t remember, maybe it was from shock. My heart was broken, my life forever changed. Family helped make arrangements and to find financial help. Brian’s funeral was attended by lots of family and friends who all had such wonderful things to say about him. They told stories of how Brian tried to lead them in the right direction.
I didn’t have a cause of death, and I researched every possible cause I could find on the internet. I went through Brian’s hospital records and couldn’t figure out the cause. I called the coroner’s office every other day to see if the autopsy report was ready. Six months after Brian passed away, the report was finally ready. I went to the coroner’s office to pick it up and only made it to my car before I had to open it. The official cause of death was dehydration due to Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome.
I have made it my mission to spread CHS awareness and to continue making sure Brian makes a difference in this world. Family, friends and even strangers are forever changed by Brian. He is making a difference. What I want most from Bran’s story is for people to educate themselves and know the risks. Brian was a real person with goals, a family and so much potential. His story has saved lives, but Brian will forever be loved and missed.