Virus of the Mind: Hallucinations
If Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth suffered from hallucinations of permanently stained, blood-ridden hands after a spate of murder, it is not merely the product of fiction. Hallucinations have a scientific basis. On March 5, 2013, the 9th annual Annenberg High School Science Symposium was held in Riddle Hospital, gathering students from Garnet Valley High School, Penncrest High School, and Marple-Newton High School. The students from GVHS were commended by the judges at the event for their thorough and creative presentation on hallucinations.
Now, what exactly is a hallucination? Some may speculate that it is a “dream-like” state of mind, and in actuality, it is similar to a “conscious dream.” Hallucinations involve sensing things while awake that appear to be real, but, instead, have only been created by the mind.
Hallucinations link the senses in the ears, eyes, and nose. Auditory hallucinations range from hearing basic noises, such a bangs, whistles, claps, screams, and ticks, to speech and music. Also, the most common example of an auditory hallucination is hearing a voice that utters short, comprehensive phrases.
Visual hallucinations can often be triggered by illnesses, such as Schizophrenia, various psychological disorders, seizures, migraines, dementia, sleep deprivation, drugs, and tumors. Flashes of light at particular frequencies can also produce hallucinations of intricate patterns and vivid colors. Some may question how these phenomena occur; in the brain, neurotransmitters and brain structures are disturbed, which fuels the emergence of an unconscious into the conscience. The electrical stimulation in the brain is also increased.
Furthermore, olfactory hallucinations are also known as Phantosmia. The effect of this hallucination, for instance, is that an odor is smelled even though it is not present in the environment. This condition occurs because of the temporal lobe seizures that cause the brain to believe that a certain smell is present. These types of perceptions can be the result of head injuries, respiratory infections, nutrient deprivation, temporal lobe seizures, brain tumors, migraines, Parkinson’s disease, and strokes. Some examples of this include the smelling of burning rubber, decaying fish, or the fragrance of fresh-baked cookies.
The obvious follow-up question would be, how would one treat themselves if they were experiencing these “vivid illusions”? Treatment would depend entirely on the underlying cause; for instance, if an individual hallucinates due to delirium caused by severe alcohol withdrawal, they may be prescribed medication that slows down their nervous system. However, hallucinations caused by more serious illnesses, such as Parkinson’s disease in a patient with dementia or Schizophrenia, require a more accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. Many times a hallucination is caused by a morbid mental health condition, sleep disturbance, drug effects, inborn errors of metabolism, migraines, and even cases of paranoia. Counseling is a common form of treatment to help one develop coping strategies and better understand what is occurring in their mind and body.
Hallucinations can occur to anyone, regardless of age. In order to ward away trance-like conditions found in Shakespearean plays, make sure treatment and care is provided to counter any unsettling symptoms.