In the last month, several brutal crimes involving cannibalism made headlines, bringing both the subjects of drugs and cannibalism into the public eye. According to The Huffington Post, trying to explain the psychology behind cannibalism is scary.
Karen Hylen, the primary therapist at Summit Malibu Treatment Center in California, spoke extensively with this publication, defining the ins and outs of cannibalism. Historically, people resorted to cannibalism for survival or religious reasons, but modern interpretations focus on mental illness or addiction. Hylen said, "People who have engaged in this act report feelings of euphoria or get a 'high' by performing the action of completion. These individuals have psychopathic tendencies and are generally not psychotic. They know exactly what they are doing."
Hylen claims that cannibalism often begins as a fantasy, playing out only in the person's head. But, when the person gets a "taste" of the real thing, "the pleasure center of the brain becomes activated and large amounts of dopamine are released-similar to what happens when someone ingests a drug like cocaine." Once the person does this, the cannibal's brain becomes conditioned to seek out the activity in order to obtain that feeling again, which can lead to a cycle of cannibalism that often cannot be stopped without outside intervention.
Like drug addicts, cannibals become addicted to the ritual, as well as the actual eating of the flesh. The ritual of hunting their prey becomes as much a part of the addiction, as the act itself, just as an IV drug user can often become just as addicted to the needle and the process involved to prepare the drugs for injection.
Unlike other addictions, the chance of someone becoming addicted to cannibalism is extremely low. Hylen said, "It takes a complete lack of empathy and ability to experience normal human emotions to reach this state. Generally, less than 1% of the population is classified as a psychopath, although many more possess the tendencies associated with psychopathic disorder." She adds that not every psychopath will have a cannibalistic mind-set. She said, "Only the sickest of individuals would entertain such a notion, let alone act on it. Just because you or your therapist believes you have psychopathic tendencies does not mean that cannibalism is in the realm of possibility for you. If you are this type of person, most likely you already know it to be true and do not need an outside source to tell you."
According to Hylen, cannibalism is rare, and it occupies the far end of the spectrum of addictive behaviors, which means getting treatment is incredibly difficult. She said, "To date, there is no effective cure or treatment for these individuals, as no amount of medication or psychotherapy can instill empathy in someone."
There are a few success stories in regards to overcoming cannibalism. Sumanto, a self-proclaimed cannibal in Indonesia, was sentenced to five years in prison in 2003 for stealing and eating a woman's corpse, which he believed would give him supernatural powers. He was freed in 2006, and has lived in a private mental institution since then. So far, he has steered away from his cannibalistic tendencies, attributing his success to his conversion to Islam.
In the past few weeks, multiple stories of cannibalism have speckled the media. The UK's Daily Mail highlights these occurrences. The first incident, involved face-eating Rudy Eugene in Miami. Another cannibal, Luka Magnotta, called the 'Canadian cannibal,' was captured last week in Berlin after he posted a video online where he is seen murdering his gay lover with an ice pick, hacking his corpse, raping some of the body parts, and then eating the man's flesh. He then sent his dead lover's hands and feet to Canadian government offices and two schools. Also, in Miami, police arrested 21-year-old, homeless, Brandon DeLeon after he threatened to eat officers and attempted to bite one of them.
Then, there was the 21-year-old Kenyan student who was accused of killing his housemate, carving up his body before eating his heart and parts of his brain. When police showed up, he reportedly threw parts of the brain at officers.
Finally, the a Louisiana man bit a chunk out of his victims face during a frenzied altercation. A number of these cases had admitted to using, or were suspected of using, bath salts, but it makes you wonder of these people had some cannibalistic tendency, or was it merely the drugs.
Image courtesy of The Huffington Post.