One of the diseases that induces altered states of consciousness is schizophrenia, a disease in which information is not properly regulated in the brain. The amazingly diverse symptoms of schizophrenia include hallucinations, especially "hearing" voices, and delusions, such as the belief that one has been chosen for a special mission or is being persecuted by others. Schizophrenics become withdrawn, are emotionally unresponsive, and experience inappropriate moods. They also experience abnormal motor behavior, which can include total immobilization (catatonia). The symptoms occur in patterns that may or may not overlap.
The causes of schizophrenia remain unclear. Recent studies suggest that the disease reflects a developmental disorder in which neurons migrate or mature abnormally during brain formation due to a genetic predisposition or multiple environmental factors that may include viral infections and malnutrition during fetal life or early childhood. The brain abnormalities involve diverse neural circuits and neuro-transmitter systems that regulate basic cognitive processes. A widely accepted explanation for schizophrenia suggests that certain dopamine pathways are overactive. This hypothesis is supported by the facts that the symptoms are made worse by amphetaminelike drugs, which are dopamine agonists, and that the most therapeutically beneficial drugs used in treating schizophrenia block dopamine receptors.
Schizophrenia affects approximately one in every 100 people and typically appears in the late teens or early twenties just as brain development nears
Vander et al.: Human Physiology: The Mechanism of Body Function, Eighth Edition
Consciousness and Behavior CHAPTER THIRTEEN
completion. Currently there is no prevention or cure for the disease, although the symptoms can often be controlled with drugs. In a small number of cases, there has been complete recovery.
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