Robert Galbraith Heath

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Robert Galbraith Heath (May 9, 1915 – September 21, 1999) was an American psychiatrist. [1] [2] He followed the theory of biological psychiatry, which holds that organic defects are the sole source of mental illness, [3] and that consequently mental problems are treatable by physical means. He published 425 papers and three books. [4] [5] [6] One of his first papers is dated 1946. [7] He was profiled as a "famous American psychiatrist" in 1983 by Psychiatric Annals . [8]


Heath founded the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Tulane University, New Orleans, in 1949 and remained its chairman until 1980. [4] [9] [10] He performed many experiments there involving electrical stimulation of the brain via surgically implanted electrodes. He placed deep brain stimulation (DBS) electrodes into the brains of more than 54 patients. [11] [12] [13] [14] Indeed, he has been cited as the first, or one of the first, researcher(s) to have placed electrodes deep into the brains of living human patients. [15] [1] It has been suggested that this work was financed in part by the government, particularly the CIA or U.S. military. [16] [17] [18]

In 1972, he claimed to have converted a homosexual man to heterosexuality using DBS. [13] [19] Heath also experimented with psychosurgery, the drug bulbocapnine to induce stupor, and LSD, [20] [21] [22] using African-American prisoners in the Louisiana State Penitentiary as experimental subjects. [23] He worked on schizophrenia patients, which he regarded as an illness with a physical basis. [24] Today Heath's work is considered highly controversial and is only rarely used as reference material. [1] [25] [26]

Personal life

Heath was born on May 9, 1915, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. [1] [2] He was encouraged by his father, who was a general medical practitioner, to enter the medical field as well. [1] He received medical and undergraduate education from the University of Pittsburgh, where he graduated in 1938. [1] [2] [8] He became determined to find his career in neurology after his father died. He then trained in neurology at the Neurological Institute of New York, and became a fellow at Pennsylvania Hospital. [1] [2] During World War II, he was drafted into the U.S. Navy to work as a psychiatrist. [1] [27] After returning from the war, he studied at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, at Columbia University. [1] Heath married and had five children. [2] [4] He died on September 21, 1999, in St. Petersburg, Florida, at the age of 84. [2]

Schizophrenia studies

Heath began electrical brain stimulation experiments on schizophrenia patients in 1950. [28] In 1954, Heath published a monograph called "Studies in Schizophrenia" detailing his deep brain stimulation experiments on 25 schizophrenic patients. [18] The study's methodology was met with much criticism at the time. [18] Some of the patients experienced seizures or fatal brain abscess. [18] In 1956, he published findings claiming the ability to induce symptoms of schizophrenia by injecting the blood of schizophrenia patients into the bodies of healthy patients. In particular, he claimed to have isolated a protein ( taraxein ) that could induce this effect. [28] His findings produced widespread attention, both within the scientific community and the general public. The scientific community tended towards skepticism of his claims, and attempts to replicate his findings ensued. However, these attempts to confirm his findings mostly failed. [28] Psychiatry textbooks in the 1960s lent some credence to his claims, though this ceased to be the case by the 1970s and 1980s. [28] Heath continued to defend his findings and theory of schizophrenia until at least 1996. [28]

Gay conversion therapy

Heath was experimenting in 1953 on inducing paroxysms through brain stimulation. [29] During the course of his experiments in deep brain stimulation, Heath experimented with gay conversion therapy, and claimed to have successfully converted a homosexual patient, labeled in his 1972 paper as Patient B-19. At the time, homosexuality was considered a psychiatric disorder under the DSM-II. [30] [18] The patient, who had been arrested for marijuana possession, was implanted with electrodes into the septal region (associated with feelings of pleasure), and many other parts of his brain. The septal electrodes were then stimulated while he was shown heterosexual pornographic material. The patient was later encouraged to have intercourse with a sex worker recruited for the study. As a result, Heath claimed the patient was successfully converted to heterosexuality. This research would be deemed unethical today for a variety of reasons. The patient was recruited for the study while under legal duress, and further implications for the patient's well-being, including indications that electrode stimulation was addictive, were not considered. [31] [32] In 1973, his ethical conduct during these studies was questioned by a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate. [18] [ better source needed ] Heath's experiment was also criticized by Fred Mettler, who was previously his mentor. [30]

Cannabis studies

Heath conducted a study on two rhesus macaques trained to smoke "the equivalent of one marijuana cigarette a day, five days a week for six months" [33] and concluded that cannabis causes permanent changes in the brain. Nonetheless, he supported cannabis decriminalization. [33] He later conducted a National Institutes of Health-funded study on 13 rhesus monkeys, with one rotating group representing "heavy smokers" whose cannabis dosage was believed to be comparable to three marijuana cigarettes smoked daily, a "moderate" group that was given the equivalent of one joint a day, and a third group that puffed inactive cannabis. He concluded, "Alcohol is a simple drug with a temporary effect. Marijuana is complex with a persisting effect." [34] According to the BBC, "His findings of permanent brain damage have been dismissed by similar, independently conducted studies. But other scientists have argued these methods of animal research are inconclusive." [35] According to NORML, Heath's "work was never replicated and has since been discredited by a pair of better controlled, much larger monkey studies, one by Dr. William Slikker of the National Center for Toxicological Research and the other by Charles Rebert and Gordon Pryor of SRI International." [36]

Selected publications

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 O’Neal, Christen M.; Baker, Cordell M.; Glenn, Chad A.; Conner, Andrew K.; Sughrue, Michael E. (September 2017). "Dr. Robert G. Heath: a controversial figure in the history of deep brain stimulation". Neurosurgical Focus. 43 (3): E12. doi: 10.3171/2017.6.FOCUS17252 . PMID   28859564.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Nick Ravo (September 25, 1999). "Robert G. Heath, 84, Researcher Into the Causes of Schizophrenia" . The New York Times . p. B 7. Retrieved November 2, 2020.
  3. Heath, R.G. (1961). "Reappraisal of biological aspects of psychiatry". Journal of Neuropsychiatry. 3: 1–11. PMID   13905794.
  4. 1 2 3 Weisberg, Leon (January 25, 2000). "In Memoriam: Robert Galbraith Heath, MD, DMSci (1915–1999)". Neurology. 54 (2): 286. doi:10.1212/WNL.54.2.286. S2CID   80187408.
  5. "Heath RG[Author] - Search Results - PubMed". PubMed.
  6. "Robert Heath, MD interviewed by Wallace K. Tomlinson, MD". Archived from the original on December 14, 2021 via YouTube.
  7. HEATH, RG; NORMAN, EC (December 1946). "Electroshock therapy by stimulation of discrete cortical sites with small electrodes". Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine. 63 (3): 496–502. doi:10.3181/00379727-63-15650. PMID   20281090. S2CID   37968262.
  8. 1 2 Tomlinson, Wallace K (May 1983). "Profiles of Famous American Psychiatrists: Robert G. Heath, M.D." Psychiatric Annals. 13 (5): 427–428. doi:10.3928/0048-5713-19830501-08. ProQuest   910217742 via ProQuest.
  9. Correa, AJ; Llewellyn, RC; Epps, J; Jarrott, D; Eiswirth, C; Heath, RG (1980). "Chronic cerebellar stimulation in the modulation of behavior". Acta Neurol Latinoam. 26 (3): 143–53. PMID   6807046.
  10. 1 2 Heath, RG; Llewellyn, RC; Rouchell, AM (1980). "The cerebellar pacemaker for intractable behavioral disorders and epilepsy: follow-up report" (PDF). Biol. Psychiatry. 15 (2): 243–56. PMID   7417614. S2CID   1078814. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 11, 2017.
  11. Becker, Hal C. (1957). "A roentgenographic stereotaxic technique for implanting and maintaining electrodes in the brain of man". Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology. 9 (3): 533–543. doi:10.1016/0013-4694(57)90042-1. PMID   13447860.
  12. Heath, R.G. (1963). "Electrical self-stimulation of the brain in man". American Journal of Psychiatry. 120 (6): 571–577. doi:10.1176/ajp.120.6.571. PMID   14086435.
  13. 1 2 Moan, C.E.; Heath, R.G. (1972). "Septal stimulation for the initiation of heterosexual activity in a homosexual male". Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. 3: 23–30. doi:10.1016/0005-7916(72)90029-8.
  14. Heath, Robert G. (1958). "Correlation of Electrical Recordings from Cortical and Subcortical Regions of the Brain with Abnormal Behavior in Human Subjects". Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery. 18 (2–4): 305–315. doi:10.1159/000105075. PMID   13597512.
  15. Giordano, James (April 26, 2012). Neurotechnology: Premises, Potential, and Problems. CRC Press. p. 151. ISBN   978-1-4398-2586-0.
  16. Caldwell, Don (October 18, 2010). "Wireheading: This Strange Experiment from the 1950s Wired Pleasure Directly Into the Brain". Motherboard. Vice News. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
  17. "Dr Robert Heath (1915–1999)". August 2, 1977. Retrieved July 27, 2013.
  18. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Mahoney, Dominic E.; Green, Alexander L. (May 1, 2020). "Psychosurgery: History of the Neurosurgical Management of Psychiatric Disorders". World Neurosurgery . 137: 327–334. doi:10.1016/j.wneu.2020.01.212. ISSN   1878-8750. PMID   32032787. S2CID   213300884.
  19. "Erotic self-stimulation and brain implants". Mind Hacks. September 16, 2008. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
  20. Monroe, RR; Heath, RG (1961). "Effects of lysergic acid and various derivatives on depth and cortical electrograms". Journal of Neuropsychiatry. 3: 75–82. PMID   14475431.
  21. Monroe, RR; Heath, RG; Mickle, WA; Llewellyn, RC (1957). "Correlation of rhinencephalic electrograms with behavior; a study on humans under the influence of LSD and mescaline". Electroencephalogr Clin Neurophysiol. 9 (4): 623–42. doi:10.1016/0013-4694(57)90084-6. PMID   13480236.
  22. Washington, Harriet A. (2006). Medical apartheid: the dark history of medical experimentation on black americans from colonial times to the present. New York: Doubleday. ISBN   978-0-385-50993-0.
  23. Scheflin, Alan W.; Opton, Edward M. Jr. (1978). The Mind Manipulators: A non-fiction account. New York: Paddington Press. pp. 314–315. ISBN   978-0-448-22977-5. OCLC   741951968.
  24. Heath, R.G. (1967). "Schizophrenia: pathogenetic theories". International Journal of Psychiatry. 3 (5): 407–10. PMID   6045581.
  25. Gulia, Kamalesh K.; Kayama, Yukihiko; Koyama, Yoshimasa (September 1, 2018). "Assessment of the septal area neuronal activity during penile erections in rapid eye movement sleep and waking in the rats". The Journal of Physiological Sciences. 68 (5): 567–577. doi: 10.1007/s12576-017-0562-8 . PMC   10716929 . PMID   28770434. S2CID   4003473.
  26. Young, Jacy (May 13, 2019). "The Pleasure Shock: The Rise of Deep Brain Stimulation and Its Forgotten Inventor". Advances in the History of Psychology.
  27. J., Chrastina; Č., Šilar; T., Zeman (May 2020). "Robert Galbraith Heath (1915-1999) as a controversial personality". Ceská a Slovenská Psychiatrie. 116 (2): 80–84.
  28. 1 2 3 4 5 Baumeister, Alan (April 8, 2011). "The Search for an Endogenous Schizogen: The Strange Case of Taraxein". Journal of the History of the Neurosciences. 20 (2): 106–122. doi:10.1080/0964704X.2010.487427. ISSN   0964-704X. PMID   21480035. S2CID   29384273.
  29. Heath, R. G.; Peacock, S. M. Jr.; Miller, W. Jr. (1953). "Induced paroxysmal electrical activity in man recorded simultaneously through subcortical and scalp electrodes". Transactions of the American Neurological Association. 3 (78th Meeting): 247–50. PMID   13179226.
  30. 1 2 Fecteau, Shirley (January 20, 2022). "Influencing Human Behavior with Noninvasive Brain Stimulation: Direct Human Brain Manipulation Revisited". The Neuroscientist . 29 (3): 317–331. doi:10.1177/10738584211067744. ISSN   1073-8584. PMC   10159214 . PMID   35057668. S2CID   246079225.
  31. Heath, R (1972). "Pleasure and Brain Activity in Man: Deep and Surface Electroencephalograms During Orgasm" (PDF). The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 154 (1): 3–18. doi:10.1097/00005053-197201000-00002. PMID   5007439. S2CID   136706. Wikidata: Q34226342.
  32. Colvile, Robert (July 4, 2016). "The 'gay cure' experiments that were written out of scientific history". Mosaic Science. Archived from the original on February 23, 2023.
  33. 1 2 Rensberger, Boyce (January 13, 1978). "Marijuana Tied To Brain Change In Monkey Tests". The New York Times. Retrieved November 2, 2019.
  34. Chandler, David (December 9, 1974). "Pot Is Safe, Right: Wrong, Says a Doctor: It Can Cause Brain Damage". People. Retrieved June 9, 2020.
  35. "BBC ON THIS DAY | 2 | 1974: Cannabis 'causes brain damage'". BBC News. October 2, 1993. Retrieved November 2, 2019.
  36. "Myths About Marijuana". The Thistle. Vol. 13, no. 2. MIT. September–October 2000. Archived from the original on October 3, 2011. Retrieved November 2, 2019.
  37. Heath, RG; Rouchell, AM; Goethe, JW (1981). "Cerebellar stimulation in treating intractable behavior disorders". Curr Psychiatr Ther. 20: 329–36. PMID   7326976. S2CID   27000585.
  38. Llewellyn, RC; Heath, RG (1962). "A surgical technique for chronic electrode implantation in humans". Confin Neurol. 22 (3–5): 223–7. doi:10.1159/000104364. PMID   13931099.
  39. Bishop, MP; Elder, ST; Heath, RG (1963). "Intracranial self-stimulation in man". Science. 140 (3565): 394–6. Bibcode:1963Sci...140..394B. doi:10.1126/science.140.3565.394. PMID   13971228. S2CID   26553772.

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