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Brain Tumor Linked To Extreme Spirituality And Psychosis – Case Study

Researchers link extreme spirituality in a grandiose patient to a brain tumor.



Credit: Maxim Pavlov / Fotolia

In prior research, extreme spiritual and religious beliefs have been linked to psychosis — time and time again.

Although there are many theories as to what causes psychotic disorders, including psychological, genetic, and environmental factors, a group of researchers decided to study something far less conventional: psychosis possibly rooted from a brain tumor.

In a case study, published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, researchers investigated a 48-year-old female patient with a history of abnormal social behavior, including delusions of grandeur in the form of spirituality.

According to researchers, the woman had a dysembryogenic neuroepithelial tumor located in the posterior thalamus, which they believe triggered psychotic and self-destructive symptoms such as auditory verbal hallucinations, intense preoccupation with rituals, and self-mutilation.

“The patient’s history includes periodic religiousness over decades of her life suggesting that spirituality in this case might be a symptom of tumor progression,” the study reads.

The Investigation

Depending on where brain lesions are uncovered, in addition to its size or duration, may play a role in the development of functional deficits and neurological symptoms.

In the case of the woman in the study, the tumor’s progressive state of growth in a particular area of the brain potentially contributed to spiritual and religious beliefs over different periods in her life, beginning in adolescence. However, at age 48, and after decades of growth, the patient began exhibiting drastic changes that landed her in a psychiatric facility.

The patient entered an emergency facility with self-inflicted thoracic stab wounds, measuring up to 7 cm in depth. The reasoning behind the self-mutilation was a ritual sacrifice, potentially fueled by her grandiose delusions, according to the findings.

In regards to her hallucinations, the patient had a fixed belief that the voices she heard were “heavenly” and in some way connected to her intense preoccupation with spirituality.

“They occurred continuously in a normal speaking voice and were described as two different divine and persistently enjoyable voices, occasionally lasting for hours at a time. AVH were either imperative or in a dialog with the patient and generally of religious content (e.g., “In the name of Jehova, there is brother Agathon”),” researchers stated.

During the time she was admitted, the patient also experienced psychomotor retardation and disturbed cognitive functioning. There were also routine brain scans conducted, which subsequently revealed the brain lesion.

In the treatment stage, researchers administered Haldol, a first-generation antipsychotic, at a dose of 10 mg; and Ativan, a benzodiazepine, at a dose of 4 mg, for her psychotic symptoms.

What researchers quickly noticed was partial remission of psychotic symptoms, significantly decreasing her intense spiritual beliefs. But, despite the therapeutic effects, the patient’s psychotropic treatment was changed to Invega, an atypical, second-generation antipsychotic, at a dose of 9 mg, because of side effects like sleepiness.

The drug was ultimately tapered off, and her attitudes toward God and spirituality fluctuated in intensity, once again.

Brain Lesions & Psychosis

The thalamus and structural alterations in this area of the brain have always been associated with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, due to its role in cognition and perceptual networks.

The study found that the patient’s tumor altered parts of the brain responsible for auditory processing and spiritual experiences, all key traits observed in the patient.

“The neurobiological correlates to the phenomenon of marked spirituality have previously been observed in temporal lobe epilepsy, which was linked to spiritual conversion,” the study also found.

Now, with these new findings in mind, can we hypothesize that brain lesions might be the cause of some cases of psychosis, possibly spiritually-based ones?

Although researchers never initiated any surgical procedures, they did investigate and uncovered a link between anatomical structures and grandiosity, which do offer a different perspective on psychosis and its role in spirituality/religiousness.

More research, however, may be needed to strengthen this theory.

Jose Florez is the founder and editor of Mental Daily. His work has appeared in Psychology Today, Glamour, HuffPost, among others. He is a mental health advocate, and currently studying psychology.

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