Antifungal Medication Makes You See Chewbacca

A new antifungal drug, voriconazole, causes patients to “develop a range of neurological side effects, including auditory and visual hallucinations,” within 24 hours to 2 weeks of beginning treatment. The drug is marketed as Vfend, and is administered intraveneously to treat serious fungal infections. The National Institute of Health has been testing the toxicity of the drug and reported the neurological side effects at a recent conference.

The visual hallucinations frequently consisted of seeing people or scenes. One patient reported seeing flying objects, another saw scenes of Montana and New York City, and a third patient saw a giant “Wookie” from the movie Star Wars bending over his bed. The auditory hallucinations often consisted of hearing voices and music, and one patient reported hearing TV commercials.

Among the non-fun side effects: 5% of patients studied developed signs of liver damage.

But back to the hallucinations: we wonder if taking large doses of vitamin C along with the treatment would make them any more intense?

“Hallucinations not unusual with antifungal therapy” [Reuters]
(Photo: Getty)

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  1. TechnoDestructo says:

    Liver damage? That’s such a common side effect it’s almost not worth noting. The vet recommended testing my cat’s liver while I was treating him for ringworm. Oh, and my TB medication was supposed to do a little dance on my liver, too, which is why, I’m told, they’re hesitant to give it to people over 40.

    As for the hallucinations, as long as they stop after the treatment is over, I’d be A-ok with it. Fuckin’ ringworm. I had some particularly tenacious lesions from it so I took the concentrated antifungal rinse I had for my cat and applied it directly to my skin. Like the vet said, yes, it will burn through the skin, but hey, it takes the fungus with it.

    Oh yeah…and why cancer patients? Are they just particularly susceptible to fungal infections? Did their cancer drugs have anything to do with the hallucinations?

  2. gacompguy says:

    So the study was of 66 cancer patients… What kinds of cancer? The study has a bit more validity if the study is of patients that don’t already have all sorts of other drugs in their systems. Besides, 66 patients isn’t exactly a statistical sample.

  3. CoffeeAddict says:

    LOL….although I wouldn’t take the drug that’s very interesting. Who needs illegal drugs, when over the counter makes you see things.

  4. Bunnymuffin says:

    When my aunt had gallbladder surgery a few years back the pain meds they sent home with her caused her to see Alice Cooper lurking in her closet. She still shudders a little when his name is mentioned. Good times.

  5. durkzilla says:

    I can’t wait until there’s a lawsuit filed on this – will the pharmaceutical company’s lawyers use the Chewbacca Defense?

    Oh, and it’s “Wookiee”. Sorry, pet peeve.

  6. brokennails says:

    @durkzilla: Hah, you beat me too it! It’s my pet peeve too.

  7. mac-phisto says:

    fighting mushrooms with mushrooms. sweet!

  8. synergy says:

    @TechnoDestructo: I’m guessing that because chemotherapy given to cancer patients effects the immune system, cancer patients are more susceptible to opportunistic infections.

    @Chris Walters: Maybe taking a lot of Vitamin C will make people have a hallucination of the Kool-Aid man trying to sit on them. :D

  9. Trai_Dep says:

    But back to the hallucinations: we wonder if taking large doses of vitamin C along with the treatment would make them any more intense?

    Heh. SOMEone in Consumeristland is/was a clubkid… Yay!

    I think they’re missing a fantastic off-label benefit. Sort of like how Viagra was originally a heart medicine, or somesuch.

    It’s like visiting Disneyland from your own home! Well, except for the liver damage. And Wookies.

  10. TechnoDestructo says:

    @synergy:

    Yeah, but wouldn’t it be harder to be certain that the effects aren’t from an interaction, or from the cancer drugs?

    I mean, any results they get are still applicable to people on those same cancer drugs, but not necessarily to anyone else who might take this antifungal.

  11. suburbancowboy says:

    I love how virtually every drug on the market designed to treat something that either isn’t a real problem, or can be treated naturally, has side effects far worse than the original problem.

    Most cases of toenail fungus can be treated by filing the nail and applying full strength tea tree oil which will run you less than 10 bucks, and has no side effects. But rather than tell you that, your doctor would much rather write you a Lamisil prescription with his lamisil pen, on his Lamisil pad, while digesting his lunch which was paid for by a pharmaceutical rep.

  12. CSMiller says:

    @technodestructo:
    It’s very unlikely that a drug interaction between whatever chemotherapeutic agents these patients were on and the voriconazole would lead to psychotic interactions. Most drug interaction are precipitous – i.e. they add up when affecting similar systems. for example, if a patient accidently gets a drug that lowers blood pressure and one that slows their heart, they may end up in heart failure. Novel side effects, like hallucinations are unlikely to be caused by a drug interaction.
    Also, systemic antifungals have some of the nastiest side effects of the modern pharmocopeia because of the cellular similarity between us and them (we’re both eukaryotes, if you’ll recall your 6th grade life science). No doctor likes giving these drugs, nor do they do it flippantly at the behest of drug companies. This drug is for life threatening infections for which there is, sadly, no better option.

    But, if I had to have hallucinogenic side effects, I’d want them to be of Wookees.

  13. Chicago7 says:

    @brokennails: @durkzilla:

    NERDS!

    :D

  14. burgundyyears says:

    @suburbancowboy: Erm, the fact that this drug is administered in an IV tells me that this isn’t used to cure a simple toenail infection. As the article states, the people who generally receive are fairly ill already. This is probably more of a “an entire limb is threatened by fungal infection” type of drug.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Vfend is a serious antifungal agent that is definitely NOT available OTC. No doctor would ever dream of treating a simple toe nail fungus with this; voriconazole is used for treating fungemia (fungus that has seeded the blood stream, which can easily be fatal) or for less serious fungal infections in patients that are immune compromised (HIV, transplant etc).

    These side effects are old hat to experts in the infectious disease branch of medicine.

  16. synergy says:

    @CSMiller: IAWTC

  17. Febryle says:

    I am an infectious disease specialist at a major academic medical center. Voriconazole is used all the time for treatment of invasive fungal infection, especially invasive aspergillosis. The vast majority of patients receiving Vori are quite ill due to underlying immunocompromise. This is not used for garden variety infections such as “toenail fungus.” Hallucinations are a well-known side effect, and I caution all patients about this before starting treatment.