“In my practice, it’s been pretty much the norm that patients who maintain and/or pursue beliefs in some of the more common conspiracy theories or far-out fringe conspiracy theories, are almost always suffering from mental illness.”
In a study covering over twenty-two years of patient study in the fields of paranoiac anxiety states and bipolar paranoiac disorders, German-Canadian psychiatrist Leo Gann has raised a few eyebrows with statements like the one printed above. Dr. Gann has been both lauded and lambasted by the medical community in North America and abroad, but ironically, it’s the patients in his study who support him the most.
“I came to Dr. Gann in 1991 with a firm belief that oil companies and car companies were secretly trying to poison the globe,” said Manitoba, Canada resident Jayne Minner (not her real name).
“I looked up everything I could find on this subject and went so far as to home school my children. This was in the days before the internet so looking up fringe ideologies was taking up a lot of my time. I spent hours in the library filling my head with everything from John F. Kennedy’s killing to the levels of lead in a lake near my home. It got to be a problem because I started going to activist meetings where I met people who thought like me and eventually I became part of a group of crazy people — and I was one of them.”
Dr. Gann agrees that Minner was in a downward spiral and that her beliefs were destroying her life inasmuch as being a wife and mother were concerned, but he would never have seen Minner as a patient if she hadn’t been in a car accident that badly shattered her right arm.
“I was called in to consult on Jayne’s case after she’d been in an accident that nearly cost her the use of her arm. She required a lot of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications yet she insisted that the doctors were trying to poison her. Because of her paranoid state of mind, I was asked to have a look at her. Initially she resisted psychiatric therapy and counseling but eventually she relented and spent hours upon hours lecturing me about my profession.
“I was amazed at her knowledge of medicine and medications,” continued Dr. Gann.
“For example, Jayne insisted that an antibiotic that she was receiving in hospital, although it had a Canadian label on the IV bag, was actually manufactured by a company in Belgium that had been cited by Belgian authorities for using excess amounts of a mercury compound. I looked at the IV bag of N-6 Erythromycin, and while it had a Canadian branding I asked the hospital chemist about this medication and he told me that it was made by a generic drug giant in Belgium.
“Of course the drug cured Jayne’s bone infection and she made a complete recovery, but when she insisted on mercury testing, I approved it. The tests showed that mercury levels, both hair and blood were virtually non-existent. As a matter of fact, her levels were far lower than what is expected as the norm for the average person in North America. When I told her this, she ventured off on another theory that her lead levels were low because chemicals in gasoline that chelated lead were in her body because they were being spilled out by an energy plant sixty-two kilometers from her home. She insisted that constant westerly winds carried the exhaust from the plant to an area directly around her house. Again, against my better judgement, I obtained meteorological evidence that this was indeed a fact, but the chemical, 5-hydroxy-n-butyl- ammonium lactate, can’t exist in the presence of oxygen for more than a millionth of a second before being turned into nitrogen and butane gas which is burned off by a stacking tower. Independant testing of air and plants and animals (mice and birds) in and around the plant showed zero levels of this compound.
“Still I was amazed by the depth of her knowledge of these seemingly minute and patently paranoid oddities. Today’s internet access, and the ease of obtaining information that was otherwise left to the most obscure library references, leaves me more in awe of Jayne’s knowledge because she had to go through great pains to learn all of these things without the use of the internet.
“I later learned that many conspiracy theorists go through the same kind of grueling madness. Many agoraphobic patients, people who begin to fear leaving their homes, eventually start to embrace conspiracy theories because their world becomes small for reasons they can’t explain and when conventional therapy fails to help them their mind start to venture into madness. I realize that to say madness seems unkind and almost primitive, but that’s the best way to describe what happens.
“There is something to the old adage, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”
“In 2006 I called Jayne and sixteen other patients with similar ideas, and asked them to participate in a study. I was not surprised to hear that all of them were still active in their conspiracy theories but by now they had dug in deep with Internet groups and individuals. What had once been a time-consuming process, had now become a few clicks of a mouse — feeding into their ideas about medicine, government, extraterrestrials, secret experimentation — the list goes on and on.”
Dr. Gann was not surprised when seven of the sixteen patients refused to see him and accused him of being part of the Canadian government’s plan to secretly test anti-viral medications on average citizens.
“Around the time I contacted these people, there was indeed a little known and patently obscure study going on where healthy patients were being tested with anti-viral agents. Of course none of this was done without the permission of the patient, but the idea spread across the internet and conspiracy theorists that the US and Canadian drug companies were plotting some diabolical scheme.
“Oddly enough, none of the anti-virals being tested were pharmaceuticals per se. The trials involved things like oregano oil, tea tree oil, shirk mushroom extract and cumin, but of course the trail of the internet had convinced these unfortunate people otherwise. All it takes is for one grossly unstable person to grab the internet ear of vulnerable people and the whole house of consiracy cards starts being built.
” I regret that these patients are still continuing with their system of anti-social beliefs. I truly believe that these ideas are a sign of anti-social behaviour and if the medical world is put off by that, they will have to live with it because I will not change my opinion — especially because my current research supports it. ”
In three years of out patient therapy, Jayne Minner’s life has changed dramatically.
“Currently I take Paxil, 1mg per day, and that’s one tenth of the smallest dose available,” said Minner. “I no longer worry about silly things. I call them silly because 10 years ago I thought they were dead serious issues that needed to be addressed. Today I look back and see another person — a dead person. I am not that person. I have had time to get my MBA and I enjoy my life. I had become increasingly agoraphobic during my conspiracy years, but now I’m out and about. Dr. Gann saved me from a life of craziness because in the end it was just that — craziness.”
I have had a 100% cure rate with the five patients I have in my study. That might not seem like a whole lot of data, but in each case the symptoms were the same and in each case the symptoms have vanished. One of my male patients has gone from spending 12 hours per day on the internet looking up things from UFO’s and Gulf Oil Spill conspiracies, to just checking his email and football scores. He’s gone back to his hunting and fishing club and just returned from a trip to Hawaii with his children and grandchildren.”
Dr. Gann firmly believes that the newer classes of anti-depressants, in doses far less than the recommended dose, along with psychological counseling, can cure a lot of people whose lives are wasted on the internet reading about medical problems, government plots, industrial scheming and a whole host of other time consuming obsessions that prevent people with mental illness from living their lives.
Gann believes that up to 5% of Canadians and11% of Americans suffer from this “disease” and he will publish his report in the March 2011 New England Journmal of Medicine as an add-on to his studies of POTS or Potural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome; a disorder of the autonomic nervous system that also seems to trouble devout conspiracy theorists who suffer with comormid agoraphobia and other anxiety disorders.
Of course conspiracy theory groups are already petitioning the governments of the USA and Canada and say that there is an ongoing plot to discredit them.
“I am not surprised,” said Dr. Gann. “I knew this would happen, but if I canhelp five people, I think I can help many many more.”