VOICES: We need to understand the neurochemical origin of mass killings

The forty school shootings in the United States in 2022, including the tragic shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Michigan and St. Louis, and the recent nightclub shooting in Colorado Springs, have precipitated an avalanche of opinions regarding the Second Amendment (notice that I said opinion, and not dialogue). And I have no intention of weighing in on either side. But what I would like to do is shine a little light on the menace of mental illness that creates these horrific scenes of bloodshed, which dominates our newspapers and our evening news.

So, what drives someone to shoot fourth graders, or anyone else for that matter? Many say that it is “evil.” I get that. But since most of us have moved past demonic possession, the word “evil” is mostly meaningless. But, if you still want to call these actions “evil,” for lack of a better word, then we need to understand where “evil” originates.

It is neurochemical. A dear friend from medical school, a neurologist, and neuroanatomist, joked that every nuance of life boiled down to two things: ”neurons that fire and glands that squirt.”

Place a newborn baby into its mother’s arms. Suddenly, an unbreakable bond has formed. Why? The neurohormone, oxytocin has been released into the mother’s bloodstream.

Likewise, the rage that fills the heart of a killer has an origin — a neurochemical origin. And that chemical is D2 dopamine. One of five types of dopamine, it, when elevated (genetic), causes racing thoughts, rapid mood changes, unbridled anger, narcissism, and sleep disturbances. Raise it even higher and you will see obsessions, compulsions, paranoia, and suicidal ideation. And it is only a short walk from suicidal thought to homicidal thought.

So, why aren’t we looking for signs of high D2 dopamine in mentally disturbed patients? The answer is because most providers on the front line of mental health haven’t been trained to recognize it. Described in “Towards a glutamate hypothesis of depression,” (Neuropharmacology, Jan. 2012, page 62-67), D2 dopamine causes rage, impulsivity, and incongruency of thought. Sound familiar? The Glutamic Theory, as opposed to the fifty-year-old Monoamine Theory, perfectly describes the neurochemical scourge of symptoms in patients with elevated levels of D2 dopamine, including rage, hate, and other negative symptoms listed above. And since its entrance into the medical literature fifteen years ago, surely it must be the hitching post of modern psychiatry. One would hope so. But actually, it is not.

In the last fifteen years or so, I have taught more than one hundred-fifty medical and PA students in my office. When queried, not one of them had ever heard anything regarding the Glutamic Theory or D2 dopamine. That is pathetic and sad. And I would extend that nescience to the family practice providers and OBGYN’s that man the front lines of mental illness. The outdated monoamine theory just tells these practitioners to try a different serotonin drug, even though the previous ones have failed. Unfortunately, that is all they know. The Glutamic Theory has not made it into their respective medical literature.

Despite what the talking heads say, the problem with mental illness is not access to help. Access to what? Fifty-year-old theories? We need a revolution in psychiatry. First responders to mental health crises need more than a weekend crash course in neuropsychiatry. They need to understand D2 dopamine and how to recognize it. And one hundred percent of psychiatrists need to be on board with the Glutamic Theory, not the current thirty percent. Until then, thoughts and prayers are all we’ve got.

Dr. Rick Gebhart is an associate professor of medicine at Wright State University, Ohio State University, and Chamberlain University.

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