I ENJOYED SEEING ICONIC MUSICIAN JONI MITCHELL performing at the 2024 Grammy Awards this weekend. Today, I want to explore Mitchell’s shocking health revelation: her battle with Morgellon disease.
As you will learn, the backstory is bizarre.
Descriptions of the disease symptoms sound like something out of a horror film:
Morgellon disease causes white, black, red, or blue fibers to protrude from (or appear under) the skin (or protrude from it). Individuals may also have the sensation of something crawling beneath their skin.
Morgellon disease affects approximately 13,000 individuals in the United States.
The condition is so odd and mysterious that the consensus in the medical community is that Morgellons does not actually exist.
Joni Mitchell just snagged her 10th Grammy at last Sunday’s awards in LA — make that 11 if you count her Lifetime Achievement Award.
The honor was for Best Folk Album, celebrating her 2023 release, “At Newport.”
Even though Joni scored her first Grammy in 1970, she made her first-ever singing appearance on the awards stage just last week.
Picture this: she belted “Both Sides Now” in a cool “Joni Jam” style. She was seated on a plush throne, rocking her recent trademark cane, and surrounded by a squad of all-star musicians casually taking their seats.
Quite the scene!
Morgellons is the informal name of a self-diagnosed skin condition in which individuals have sores that they believe have fibrous material.
While clinicians do not understand the problem very well, many believe that it is a delusional parasitosis:
Patients with a delusional infestation (DI) have an overwhelming conviction that they are infested with (non) pathogens without any medical proof.
Check out the sores on the body of a patient depicted below. These lesions are typically the product of compulsive scratching.
The sores are typically the result of compulsive scratching, and the fibers, when analyzed, are consistently found to have originated from cotton and other textiles.
When the fibers in the lesions are analyzed, examiners often think that the fibers are from cotton and other textiles.
It can be challenging for those suffering from Morgellon disease to reconcile healthcare provider’s explanations with their own beliefs.
Many believe that Morgellon disease is an infectious disease, perhaps associated with Lyme disease.
I discovered this 2018 article headline:
“Detection of tick-borne infection in Morgellon disease patients by serological (blood) and molecular techniques.”
The authors concluded that “the role of Borrelia [a pathogen involved with Lyme disease] and coinfecting pathogens in developing Morgellon disease warrants further investigation.”
These findings are contradicted by much larger studies conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which found skin samples mostly contained cellulose that came from cotton, with no evidence of infection or other causes.
As noted above, some researchers believe the Lyme disease pathogen B. burgdorferi causes or has associations with Morgellon disease (MD).
A 2015 study discovered B. burgdorferi in 24 of 25 subjects with MD. Skin examination of each participant showed that many samples contained fiber-like materials.
The scientists examined the subjects’ skin samples and concluded that the fibers contained human skin cells. The researchers found that the fibers originated from hair follicles, not fabric.
As opposed to a psychological condition, an infectious agent, such as Lyme disease, may be responsible for Morgellon disease.
However, more research is necessary to confirm the cause of the condition.
A review of 16 publications regarding the causes of Morgellon disease (MD) showed the majority of studies pointed to a psychiatric reason for the condition.
The researchers also reviewed 11 articles looking at treatment.
Low-dose antipsychotic medicines were the most effective management tool for MD once non-psychiatric causes have been excluded.
A 2012 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paper settled the debate for most doctors.
One hundred and fifteen patients reported, via a questionnaire, that they had fibers emerging from their skin or abnormal skin sensations.
The researchers examined the patients and declared that there weren’t any common medical reasons for the symptoms. To the examiners, most of the fibers the patients noted were cotton pieces from their clothing.
Here is what The Washington Post reported:
“Internet discussions about Morgellons include many conspiracy theories about the cause, including biological warfare, nanotechnology, chemtrails, and extraterrestrial life.”
One of my favorite shows is Criminal Minds. A team of FBI agents specializing in criminal profiling works in the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU).
This group uses behavioral analysis and profiling techniques to assist in crime investigations, primarily identifying and apprehending the unknown subject, commonly called the “unsub.”
The television show featured Morgellon disease.
In the episode, the team discovers that two individuals were abducted. Both had small bites and deep self-inflicted marks.
The crime investigators conclude that the unsub has delusional parasitosis — he thinks he is infested with bugs — and is searching for others to support his delusion by making them feel what he feels.
When the abducted individuals don’t support the delusion, he kills them.
The scientific community is divided: While many believe Morgellon disease is a purely psychological disorder, a minority believe there is an underlying pathogen.
I have never met a patient with this condition.
Many individuals who believe they have Morgellons, a condition that the medical community generally questions, often turn to the internet for self-diagnosis using online sources like Google.
This situation has led to the forming of a supportive online community where people who think they have Morgellons share their experiences and seek information.
No matter the cause, it must be distressing to experience the skin sensations associated with Morgellon disease.