Thursday, March 13, 2014

Hearing Voices: The Columbia Mall Shooter

Remember the guy who shot up a mall in Columbia, Maryland in January, killing three people (as it now turns out, all complete strangers)?  Details in the March 11, 2014 Washington Post:
Police said his troubles appeared to surface in January 2013. Over the next year, police said, an examination of his computer showed thousands of Internet queries on school and mall shootings, guns, making bombs and mass murder. McMahon said that the teen downloaded a game in which players can assume the role of a Columbine shooter, although it’s not known whether he played it.
But McMahon said that Aguilar also sought information on suicide and psychiatric issues. He once complained to a doctor of hearing voices but gave no indication that they urged violence, McMahon said.
Police said the doctor recommended that Aguilar see a psychiatrist; there is no evidence that he did so.
The doctor followed up with Aguilar’s mother, McMahon said. The doctor told police that the mother promised to seek help, the chief said, but the mother told police that she didn’t recall talking with the doctor.
"Hearing voices": hallucinations.  Not always a sign of schizophrenia, but often one.
Aguilar kept his handwritten journal private as well, and police have previously described the writings as disconnected and violent, including descriptions of him using marijuana and expressing “thoughts of wanting to die.” 
As I have discussed before, marijuana appears to be a causal factor in the development of schizophrenia.  Perhaps Aguilar started smoking pot in response to the voices, not the other way around.  But marijuana is definitely a risk factor for developing schizophrenia, and the reluctance of the media to discuss this more forthrightly is a big problem.

UPDATE: A reader asked for pointers concerning marijuana and schizophrenia.  Here, and here.


  1. Any chance you could post some of the data on marijuana use and schizophrenia?

    Just the basics, like the incidence of schizophrenia in non-users vs users?

  2. Added as an update above. It isn't just correlation between schizophrenia and users; it is the result of multiple longitudinal studies, so the researchers can demonstrate that the marijuana came before the schizophrenia.

    Most pot smokers will not become schizophrenics. There needs to be a genetic predisposition towards it. But it is persuasive that regular use while young will double your risk of schizophrenia.