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The Insanity Virus: The Link Between Schizophrenia and Immune Response

Updated on March 12, 2011

There have been many theories as to the cause of schizophrenia and related mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder over the course of the past century. However, recent research conducted by Dr. Fuller Torrey and his staff at the Stanley Medical Research Institute suggests that these disorders, which have always been regarded as psychiatric conditions, may not be mental illnesses at all. Instead, Torrey’s research alleges that schizophrenia is in fact caused by a virus.

This theory is referred to as “the insanity virus,” and while the theory is attributed to Torrey alone, there are many psychiatrists and medical researchers that support the idea. The insanity virus theory points to a virus ingrained in human DNA. The insanity virus is not contagious,. Rather, it is something that we are all born with. Torrey claims that certain environmental conditions, like stress or immune response, can somehow activate the virus, leading to inflammation in the brain, delusions, and other psychotic symptoms.

Torrey began conducting research on schizophrenia and bipolar disorder after his younger sister was diagnosed as being schizophrenia. Many doctors and therapists 30-40 years ago believed that the disease was attributed to bad parenting or the result of abuse. Later, a genetic link was recognized, but doctors still do not have the answer as to why some people with a genetic predisposition for disorders on the same spectrum go on to develop schizophrenia while others do not.

In his preliminary research, Torrey began to notice similar patterns of inflammation in the brain of people diagnosed with schizophrenia. Inflammation is commonly attributed to illness, infection, or heightened immune response. Following this, Torrey began studying over 100 volunteers. His theory asserts that an infection or illness can trigger the insanity virus, leading to the development of schizophrenic symptoms that last for longer periods of time. 

Torrey began treating many schizophrenic patients with antibiotics and anti-viral medications, and his studies have had astounding results. Each time that immune response is diminished through the use of these kinds of drugs, symptoms in schizophrenic patients began to improve, and inflammation declined. The theory of the insanity virus has still not thoroughly been proven. There is substantial criticism from other researchers in the field, and there is considerable research left to do. Still, the notion that the schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and related conditions may be attributed to an actual physical condition is supported by a large percentage of psychiatrists. 

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