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Environmental Factors in Violence

HARRY R. ERWIN herwin at mason1.gmu.edu
Sun May 15 18:06:29 EST 1994

I've been reading through the new book by Bill Calvin and George
Ojemann, _Conversations with Neil's Brain_ (Addison-Wesley, 1994).
On page 154, there's a short discussion of serial arsonists and
the evidence for an organic cause for their behavior: "they're
not psychotic.... They're nearly all male--and alcoholics. They
seem to have a more general disorder with serotonin and blood sugars.
They're generally coming off a binge when their blood glucose levels
plunge and their brain serotonin levels change. In this state, they seek
excitement by setting fires.

"....they don't share most of the other symptoms experienced by the
people with mania. Fitting the same syndrome as the impulsive
fire-setters...are those who impulsively attempt to kill someone.

"When the police said that the victim was unknown to the assailant and
didn't do anything to provoke the attack.... These people are
also at risk of doing violence to themselves, many of them once having
been hospitalized after attempting suicide. And they aren't
characteristically violent, or setting fires, while in prison--where
alcohol is generally unavailable."

(Note to Bill Calvin--I hope I stayed within the limits of fair use.)

--The reason I'm posting this is that there have been a significant
number of incidents of this type in the Washington DC area over the
last 2-3 years. LSD and some other hallucinogenic drugs interact
with the serotonergic system. My question is whether there has been a
epidemic involving these drugs recently. Perhaps the rate of alcoholism
is a sufficient explanation, but we may actually have a public health
problem on our hands, rather than a problem with respect of law and
authority. Has this been investigated?

A somewhat related point: my wife points out that there has been a
secular increase in other diseases (other than cancer) over the last 50
years that seem to be at least partly due to environmental toxins.
Infertility is one (involving CFCs?). Ojemann and Calvin add bipolar
disorder. I've heard the same about parkinsonism. Speculatively, there
could be an environmental toxin that interferes with the serotoninergic
system. Has anyone been doing any research?

Harry Erwin
Internet: herwin at gmu.edu 
Working on Katchalsky nets....

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