Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

The 18-year-old French woman was hospitalized with scaly skin on her legs and hands, appearing unsteady and mentally sluggish, doctors said.

They found the condition puzzling, especially since the woman’s twin sister displayed similar, but less severe, symptoms and there was no family history of the problem, the doctors reported in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine.

Then they found a bag of mothballs statshed in her hospital room.

The two teenagers had been using the mothballs to get high. They been inhaling the air in the bag for about 10 minutes a day, at the advice of their friends. They continued to use the mothballs, even when hospitalized, because they thought the symptoms were unrelated. (Er……)

The sicker of the women took six months to recover fully. Her twin, who had only been “bagging” for a few weeks, recovered after three months.

Feuillet told Reuters that a cleaning lady discovered the mothballs in the drawer of the patient’s night table.

When the woman was asked what she was doing with the bag, “she showed us how she used to breathe directly into the mothballs bag,” Feuillet said.

Mothballs contain paradichlorobenzene, which can cause liver and kidney failure, and naphthalene can cause brain damage, seizure, and coma (among other nasty side effects). Apparently this situation isn’t so isolated.

From “Medical Complications Due to Mothball Abuse” on MedScape:

….a 10-year-old American Indian boy who inhaled naphthalene mothballs for 8 hours nightly for 2 months and died of liver failure after progressive portal hypertension developed; a 26-year-old woman who “sucked on moth balls” during the last trimester of her pregnancy and developed anemia; a 19-year-old woman who smelled, chewed, and sucked mothballs during pregnancy and became anemic; and a 15-year-old boy who sucked mothballs, had mid-epigastric pain and vomiting, and subsequently received a diagnosis of anemia.

and….

In one case, a 19-year-old black woman ingested four to five paradichlorobenzene moth pellets per day for 2 years and had sluggishness and tremulousness when she stopped. In the other case, a 21-year-old woman ingested two paradichlorobenzene toilet air freshener blocks a week while pregnant; anemia developed that did not respond to iron therapy.

Darwin Awards, anyone???

Comments

  1. #1 Julie Stahlhut
    July 27, 2006

    In the other case, a 21-year-old woman ingested two paradichlorobenzene toilet air freshener blocks a week while pregnant…

    Holy shit. I mean, holy SHIT.

  2. #2 Robert P
    July 27, 2006

    Why are the people in these stories always pregnant? Seriously, because they end up with children that have birth defects, so they get hospitalization?
    I can’t believe this is considered some safe alternative for pregnant women among the drug crowd.

  3. #3 daksya
    July 27, 2006

    Apparently this situation isn’t so isolated

    It seems pretty isolated. How many cases? 15-20 tops. Compare to ER visits for almost all other drugs. Of course, rate of adverse effects among all mothball users may be very high. In which case, the prevalence of mothball use is very, very low.

  4. #4 jayson
    July 27, 2006

    on the plus side, assuming that they survive long enough, this makes a FANTASTIC “when I was your age” story.

    “Morphine? cocaine? E? Grandson, when I was your age I was popping urinal cakes, in the snow, on the way to school, while pregnant with your daddy. And your daddy turned out fine, see? He’s only 30 and he’s already learned not to drool on the couch!”

    hmm. that sounded funnier in my head.

  5. #5 Shelley Batts
    July 27, 2006

    Daksya, that point was mentioned in the Medscapre article:

    “Since patients rarely volunteer that they abuse mothballs and other common household products and physicians rarely ask directly about the use of such substances as intoxicants, there is currently no way of determining the actual prevalence of this type of substance abuse and the frequency with which it may contribute to medical problems. Further research into these issues, as well as treatment, is necessary”

  6. #6 Kagehi
    July 27, 2006

    Makes me wonder at what side effects the common practice, in my parents time, of taking a bit of tar from the road after it was paved and chewing it may have had, other than making their teeth really white.. Of course, now I think they formulate the stuff way differently, or use a completely different material, so its probably lethal.

  7. #7 daksya
    July 27, 2006

    But you can still eyeball an estimate. Given that there are 8 case reports, how likely is it that there are 1000 individuals with such complications? 500? 100? 50? 20? Obviously the probability goes higher as the estimate goes lower. The very fact that these particular histories are written as case reports mwans that their authors found them sufficiently unique to document them. Obviously, there’s a non-zero likelihood that such cases have gone unreported. But how many? I’m guessing 20. Maybe 50.

  8. #8 Shelley Batts
    July 27, 2006

    The less the better, let’s hope. Just one case is too bizarre!

  9. #9 Gerry L
    July 28, 2006

    My grandmother used to have mothballs everywhere. Even in her purse. (We used to be able to separate the dollar bills she gave us at holidays from the ones we got from the other relatives — by sniffing them.)

    I recall we sometimes spent the night in the attic bedroom. As she pulled the layers of blankets off the bed, we would be sweeping off the mothballs. I’ve always wondered whether sleeping up there caused any permanent brain damage.

  10. #10 Me
    July 13, 2010

    I sniffed toilet bowl freshners, of course new one for 3-4yrs. 2 yrs into I started eating them I noticed a weight loss. In 2-3 mos 25lbs, slurred speach, sluggish. mental state wasnt at all good..
    I couldnt walk w/o help from others or a cane
    Diarrhea, weak, anemia, Nausea, breathing problems, headaches, changes in alertness

  11. #11 Me
    July 13, 2010

    I sniffed toilet bowl freshners, of course new one for 3-4yrs. 2 yrs into I started eating them I noticed a weight loss. In 2-3 mos 25lbs, slurred speach, sluggish. mental state wasnt at all good..
    I couldnt walk w/o help from others or a cane
    Diarrhea, weak, anemia, Nausea, breathing problems, headaches, changes in alertness