Mother hallucinated bugs living under her skin in ADHD side effect

A mother-of-two was left clawing at her arms and making holes in the walls of her flat when she became obsessed with the idea she had bugs crawling under her skin.

The unnamed woman was convinced there were insects inside her body and infesting her home and became so ‘extremely distressed’ her doctor prescribed her Valium.

Known only as Mrs T, her hallucinations began as a horrifying side effect of medication she was taking for her recently-diagnosed ADHD.

She risked losing her home when her landlord discovered she was damaging the walls, and doctors did tests to make sure she wasn’t taking illegal drugs. 

Mrs T, from Melrose in Scotland, was taken off the medication and stopped having the visions but still spent weeks believing they had happened for real in the past.

The mother-of-two from Melrose, Scotland, became convinced she had insects living under her skin and clawed at her arms to try and get them out, becoming ‘extremely distressed’ to the extent her doctor described her Valium, BMJ Case Reports revealed (stock image)

Mrs T was diagnosed with a condition called delusional infestation as a result of taking atomoxetine for her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The mental condition causes people to wrongly believe they have parasites, worms or bugs living inside their body or near them.

The Department of Psychiatry at NHS Borders in Scotland reported the case of their patient, Mrs T, who had no history of mental illness before she began ADHD treatment.

When she first went to a doctor, her daughter had recently been diagnosed with ADHD and Mrs T worried she might have the same condition.

Her doctor described her as a ‘petite, slim woman with good evidence of self-care’ and said she was fidgety and struggled to sit still but seemed calm and well-spoken.

After doing various tests doctors agreed she did have ADHD and gave her medication to treat it, it was reported in BMJ Case Reports.

But, six weeks into her treatment, she sought help from local mental health nurses because she was having ‘weird ideas’ and ‘erratic behaviour’.


Delusional infestation (DI) is a disorder in which someone genuinely – but incorrectly – believes there are insects, bacteria or other organisms living in their skin or near them.

The organisms can be parasites, worms, bugs or other insects.

People with DI can often both see and feel the hallucinations, but other people may only see normal skin markings or particles in their place.

DI is more common among women and people over 40 years old.

It can be caused by the use of medications or illegal drugs, or be a side effect of other psychiatric disorders.

If the cause of the hallucinations cannot be found or stopped, it can usually be treated with anti-psychotic medication. 

Source: BMJ Case Reports   

Medics realised Mrs T was totally convinced she had ‘black bugs or fibres living in her skin’ and even said she could see them when her skin was checked and nothing was there.

Dr Catriona Howes wrote in her report: ‘She could feel them crawling in her skin and reported seeing them emerging from the skin of her hands and forearms.

‘She also admitted to trying to “pull them out” by picking at her skin.’

Doctors could find no evidence of anything living in her skin or any infection – the only abnormal things were scratch marks where Mrs T had been clawing at her arms.

Mrs T claimed the infestation had originated from a damp patch in her kitchen and became ‘hugely distressed and agitated’, the report said.

But environmental health officers were sent to her house and found no evidence of infestation.

And tests for heroin, methadone, morphine, codeine, amphetamines, cocaine and cannabis in Mrs T’s system all came back negative.

So she was diagnosed with delusional infestation and the link made to ADHD medication she had started just two months earlier.

After being taken off the atomoxetine her symptoms stopped and she gradually stopped believing the infestation had happened.

Six months later, Mrs T had made a full recovery.