Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Font Size

Health Risks From Mothball High

Mental Sluggishness, Unsteady Walking, Scaly Skin Seen in Teens Who Abuse Chemical PDB
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 27, 2006 -- Teens who sniff or chew mothballs to get high may be taking a big health risk.

Abusing the chemical in mothballs can cause mental sluggishness, unsteady walking, and skin rashskin rash, warn French doctors who treated a girl hospitalized for the problem in Marseille.

In a letter published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the doctors tell a cautionary tale about twin 18-year-old girls they treated.

The first twin came to a Marseille hospital with several problems. She walked unsteadily, was mentally sluggish, had had a scaly rash that lasted a month, and was retaining urine.

The doctors -- who included Lionel Feuillet, MD, who worked at a different Marseille hospital, the Hôpital de la Timone -- ran medical tests on the girl, but couldn’t figure out why she was sick.

Then they discovered her twin also had a scaly rash -- although to a lesser degree -- and an unsteady gait. (This twin did not require hospitalization.)

But the family had no history of nerve or skin problems.

Mothball Use Discovered

A few days later, the doctors made a breakthrough.

"We accidentally discovered a bag of mothballs in the first patient’s hospital room," they write.

"The mothballs contained paradichlorobenzene (PDB) as the only active substance," Feuillet and colleagues continue.

"It turned out that both sisters had been encouraged by classmates to use mothballs as a recreational drug," they add. Blood and urine tests confirmed the diagnosis.

Why was one twin sicker than the other? She had been sniffing mothballs for four to six months and chewing mothballs for two months, while her twin had sniffed mothballs for only a few weeks before the doctors saw her.

The twins recovered after several mothball-free months.

Doctors should consider the possibility of mothball abuse when seeing patients with scaly skin and neurological problems, write Feuillet and colleagues.

Mothball abuse may be rare. "We are aware of only three other cases of self-intoxication with PDB," the doctors write.

But because the high from PDB can be hidden, experts may not have a true sense of its abuse, the doctors write.

Other household products -- including other insect repellants, air fresheners, toilet-bowl and diaper-pail deodorizers, and fungicides – also contain PDB, Feuillet’s team notes.

WebMD Video: Now Playing

Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing