An 18-year-old French teenage girl was admitted appearing unsteady and mentally sluggish with scaly skin on her hands and legs according to doctors.
In addition it was found that the girl's twin sister displayed similar, but less severe, symptoms. Doctors were puzzled because there appeared to be no family history of the problem. These findings were reported by the doctors in this week's New England Journal of Medicine.
Some days later a bag of mothballs that was found stashed in her hospital room revealed the cause of the illness to doctors.
It was found that these teenagers had been using the mothballs to get high by inhaling air from the bag for about 10 minutes a day on the recommendation of their classmates. In fact it was revealed that the sicker of the two also had been chewing half a mothball a day for two months.
According to doctors this kind of high was "dangerous" as well as most likely under-reported in medical literature.
Lionel Feuillet at the Hospital of Timone in Marseille, France said that the teenager reported to doctors that she used these mothballs even during her hospitalization "because she thought her symptoms were not related to her habit."
The chemical paradichlorobenzene found in mothballs, used to prevent moth larva from getting into clothing, is also found in air fresheners and insect repellents causing liver and kidney failure, and also severe anemia.
This discovery came at a time when teenagers were know to be experimenting with legal drugs like OxyContin commonly known as "hillbilly heroin," as well as Vicodin taken from medicine cabinets or sometimes bought online without even trying marijuana or alcohol, as health officials report.
The sicker of the twins recovered fully only after six months. Fortunately her twin with "bagging" of only a few weeks, recovered after three months.
Feuillet said that a cleaning lady had discovered the mothballs in the drawer of the patient's night table.
He said that when the girl was questioned as to what she was doing with the bag, "she showed us how she used to breathe directly into the mothballs bag."
Feuillet and his colleagues said in the Journal that although only three cases of getting high with paradichlorobenzene have been reported in medical literature, "since young people usually deny practicing self-intoxication, the incidence of this type of recreational activity is probably underestimated."