He loved weed. Then the vomiting began. Months later, he died – USA TODAY

The doctors told Regina Denney and her son Brian Smith Jr. what was causing his severe vomiting and abdominal pain.

Neither the teenager nor his mother believed what they said: smoking weed.

Smoking marijuana, the two knew, was recommended to cancer patients to spur the appetite. How could it lead to Brian’s condition? 

As the months went by and the pounds slipped off Brian’s once healthy frame, it was clear that whatever was causing his stomach troubles had just the opposite effect.

Brian kept smoking. The symptoms continued on and off.

Last October, after another severe bout of vomiting, the teenager died. He was 17 years old.  

Five months later, as Denney pored over a coroner’s report for answers, she finally accepted that marijuana played a pivotal role in her son’s death. The autopsy report, which Denney received in March, attributed her son’s death to dehydration due to cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome.

A week before he died, Brian Smith Jr., right, enjoyed time with his nephew Zayden. Brian died in 2018 from dehydration after excessive vomiting. The vomiting was a result of a rare condition called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome.

“We had never heard about this, had never heard about marijuana causing any vomiting. He and I were like, ‘Yeah, I think it’s something else,’ ” Denney said. “Brian did not believe that was what it was because of everything we had ever been told about marijuana. … It didn’t make any sense.”

Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, also known as CHS, can arise in response to long-term cannabis use. The syndrome consists of vomiting, nausea and abdominal pain, which can often be alleviated by taking hot showers. 

Doctors say CHS is on the rise, but they are not certain why. Marijuana is more available than in years past, and it is more potent.

Rarely does CHS result in death.

‘Basically, they smoked weed’

Denney didn’t like the fact that her teen son started smoking at 13, but she figured the situation could be worse. Brian and she had a strong relationship, and he always had been honest with her about his use of marijuana.

For the most part, Brian was a good kid who had a tightknit group of friends who called themselves the GBS, Gimber Block Savages, after the south side street where many of them lived. Although they called themselves a gang, Denney said, they never caused any trouble.

“Basically, they smoked weed,” she said.

About two years after Brian started smoking, he began using a lot more, perhaps to help deal with depression, Denney said. He dropped out of school after ninth grade and started working full-time with an uncle who had a tree-trimming business. Brian helped clear brush.

The job provided enough money to support his marijuana habit, another reason Denney felt there was no reason for her to intervene. After all, many of Brian’s peers were using heroin or methamphetamine.

Regina Denney talks about her late son, Brian Smith Jr., Monday, Sept. 9, 2019. He died in 2018 from dehydration after excessive vomiting. The vomiting was a result of a rare condition called Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS) developed from smoking marijuana. Denney now wants to get the word out about this rare condition.

“I thought, ‘OK, if that’s all he’s doing, smoking marijuana, pick and choose your battles,’ ” she said. “If this is the worst thing he’s doing, I’m OK. He’s not in any trouble legally. He’s not playing with guns, robbing people and stealing things. He’s supporting his own habit. I thought, ‘OK, this is what it is.’ ”

Denney had no reason to be concerned about cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome. She, like many others, had never heard of it.