Sunday, October 31, 2021

Xylological Delusions of Being a Tree

The mythology surrounding reverse inter-metamorphosis, a delusional syndrome that involves transformation into a beast, has frightened and fascinated for hundreds of years. A special instance of reverse inter-metamorphosis is clinical lycanthropy, the delusion that one has been transformed into a wolf (or another animal). A recent review identified 43 cases in the literature between 1852 and today (Guessoum et al., 2021). Psychotic depression and schizophrenia were the most common co-existing psychiatric diagnoses in these individuals.

The article advocates a cultural and person-centered approach to treatment, as did many of the original authors. The wolf has different characteristics and symbolic meanings across various cultures. As in other realms, popular media and folklore shape the content of the delusion. Occasionally, there may be a literal event that triggers the belief of transmogrification.

Clinical Kynanthropy After a Dog Bite

This case report of kynanthropy delusional transformation into a dog was notable because the COVID-19 lockdown might have exacerbated the condition. The patient was a 28-year-old single male who started grinning, barking, and walking on four legs after being bitten by a dog... but not until two years later (Jain et al., 2021).

He was apparently alright until two months before the presentation, when, due to the COVID-19-related nationwide lockdown, he read excessively on the internet about dog bites. ... he developed a feeling that his tongue is moving like a dog’s and began having repetitive thoughts about converting into a dog. Gradually, his sleep reduced to 1–2 hours/day, and he expressed fear that if he sleeps, he might get up as a dog. He sought repeated reassurance from his family that he hasn’t transformed into a dog, to the extent that they got irritated and asked him to see a doctor. These repetitive thoughts would be present for the whole day, and he would chant God's name to get relief from them.

The man had no history of rabies, mood disorder, or substance use. Upon examination, he was anxious but did not present with depression or psychotic features. Instead, he had repetitive doubts about turning into a dog. The patient was diagnosed with moderate OCD (with poor insight) and given a prescription of 20 mg fluoxetine (Prozac). A month later, he reported improvement in his repetitive thoughts, and at three months showed an improvement in social and occupational function. He realized he had spent way too much time on the internet reading and watching videos about dog bites.


Botanical Inter-metamorphosis

A unique arboreal delusion was briefly described in a recent abstract (Bakhshi & Hirsch, 2021): a depressed young woman believed she had been transformed into a tree. The major manifestations were standing still for long periods of time and repeating, "I am a tree."

A 21-year-old right-handed cisgender female, two months prior to presentation, noted stiffness and difficulty with ambulation. One-month prior to admission, she experienced recurrent depression with myriad vegetative and nonvegetative symptoms of depression. On admission her chief complaint was "I am a tree", standing motionless and minimally responding to query. After treatment with quetiapine, mirtazapine and hydroxyzine for a one-week period, her perception of being a tree fully resolved.


The authors considered a range of delusional diagnoses for her condition:

  • Cotard’s syndrome – NO, she did not think she was dead
  • Ekbom syndrome (delusional parasitosis) – NO, she did not think her body was infested with bugs
  • Reverse Inanimate Capgras Syndrome – MAYBE? (but "instead of an imposter replacing a close friend, who then is inserted into the sufferer; a tree has replaced the sufferer.")
  • Intermetamorphosis – NO, misindentification of another, not self
  • Botanical Intermetamorphosis – NO, another person transformed into a plant, not self
  • Reverse Intermetamorphosis – MAYBE? ("However, in this situation, the objects are all human or animate animals not botanicals.") – but isn't this the point, to report on a botanical?
  • Fregoli syndrome – NO, altered physical identity of another, not self
  • Reverse Fregoli syndrome – NO, patient assumes the physical identity of another person, not a plant
  • Botanical Variant of Interparietal Syndrome – NO, she did not have parietal lobe damage. ("In this condition, parts of the body are perceived to be lifeless, due to lesions of the inferior parietal lobe...")

The groundbreaking conclusion was that doctors should check for delusions involving plant life in all of these syndromes, because botanical variants have not been described before.

Further Reading

Werewolves of London, Ontario

Haunting Delusions of Identity

Ophidianthropy: The Delusion of Being Transformed into a Snake

Psychopharmacology of Lycanthropy

The oldest remaining werewolf movie 

Keanu Reeves as Ortiz the Dog Boy in Freaked


Bakhshi HS, Hirsch AR. (2021). Xylological Variant of Reverse Fregoli Syndrome, Delusions of Being a Tree. CNS Spectrums 26(2):145.

Guessoum SB, Benoit L, Minassian S, Mallet J, Moro MR. (2021). Clinical Lycanthropy, Neurobiology, Culture: A Systematic Review. Frontiers in Psychiatry Oct. 13, 1693.

Jain VP, Gupta N, Kale VP. (2021). Clinical Kynanthropy: A Case Report of Psychological Manifestation of a Dog Bite. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine. Oct 13:02537176211047132.



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