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Mental Health Center

5 Halloween Character Case Files

WebMD delves into the medical and psychological histories of witches, zombies, ghouls, vampires, and werewolves to uncover the scary truth about these frightening figures.
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Halloween Character Case File No. 2: Zombies continued...

Townspeople would rub a preparation of Datura stramonium on their bellies, Adams says. "The Datura stramonium contains scopolamine, the motion sickness drug," Adams says. The belief was that if people were innocent they wouldn't have any symptoms from the preparation being rubbed into them.

But people absorb it at different rates, he says. "The people who react quickly absorb scopolamine within a couple of hours," Adams says. "In some, scopolamine can take 13 hours to be absorbed."

Those who absorb the preparation quickly can begin to hallucinate, with visual and auditory changes, and their breathing becomes depressed, he says. Those are the ones who turn into "zombies" -- someone who can barely walk, barley see, and walks very clumsily. They walk around with arms outstretched, stiff arms and legs, as if they are bumping into things, he says.

Those who absorbed it slowly, he says, went home and slept it off. And they were presumed innocent.

Another expert, Daniel Lapin, PhD, a clinical psychologist with a private practice in San Francisco, sees the medical mystery of zombies differently. In Haiti in the 1700 and 1800s, the bokor, or priest, selected a victim and laced his drink with curare, a preparation of plant poisons that knocks out the motor nerves but keeps the sensory system untouched.

"As total paralysis sets in, the bokor pretends to be magically inducing the paralysis," Lapin says. "The bokor next officiates at the victim's burial. The victim thinks he or she is being buried alive." And the victim is right.

Two or three days later, the bokor digs up the victim. "The victim bonds subserviently and forever with the person who digs them up, usually the person who drugged them," Lapin says.

Sometimes, however, Lapin says the victim would "go crazy during the ordeal," and the bokor then has no use for them and drives them away. The victim would then be likely to wander from village to village, Lapin tells WebMD, earning the reputation as the village idiot.

Halloween Character Case File No. 3: Ghouls

Ghouls, traced back to ancient Arabic folklore, have a complicated, troubling psychological profile. They like to hang around burial grounds. And they have an obsessive-compulsive desire to consume corpses, says Lapin. "Unlike a psychotic, they know what they are doing, know the consequences, know it is wrong, and could turn themselves in," he says.

"Some just obsess about this in their head," he says, but some actually do the dastardly deed. In 19th-century India, for instance, Lapin says there are reports of women with this condition, sitting around a grave and "chowing down."

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