Brain Researcher: South Beach cannibal attack was 'scariest drug-induced state I've ever seen'

7:02 AM, Jun 1, 2012   |    comments
Police eye a man shot and killed as he apparently tried to eat the face of another man. Both were naked at the time. (CBS4)
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MIAMI (CBS4) - It is an image that's stunned the world: surveillance cameras captured a naked man ripping the clothes off Ronald Poppo, a homeless man, and then slamming him into a cement sidewalk and beginning to chew off his face.

While the grotesque scene is chilling to even veteran law enforcement, to the scientist who perhaps knows more about the human brain on drugs than anyone else in the country, the news is even worse than you think.

GRAPHIC PHOTOS: South Beach cannibal victim photos

"This is the scariest, drug induced state that I have ever seen in my academic career," said Dr. Deborah Mash, founder and director of the UM Brain Endowment Bank.

When Dr. Mash first learned of the case she was stunned.

"I'm frightened. Can you imagine that this is the next epidemic that could be happening in the streets of America?" cautioned Dr. Mash when she sat down CBS4 Chief Investigative Reporter Michele Gillen at the world-renowned Miller School of Medicine Brain Endowment Bank.

"Absolutely bizarre, if not demonic, behavior," said Dr. Mash. "This is taking the worst type of psychiatric condition and magnifying it 10 times when you hear about someone chewing off the face of another human being,"

For three decades she has studied the effects on the human brain of drugs including cocaine, LSD, marijuana, and more recently, designer drugs like bath salts.

"These designer drugs that are now flooding the streets of America and are causing an abnormal behaviors state," said Dr. Mash. "A psychiatric syndrome unlike anything we have ever witnessed before."

Dr. Mash said that while many may want to believe the horror on the MacArthur Causeway is a first of its kind exception, evidence shows otherwise.

"We are starting to hear a pattern of this," said Dr. Mash. "Like the woman in North Florida, who under the state of bath salts, almost beheaded her 70 year old mother."

On the cusp of this nightmare, Dr. Mash, for the first time ever, allowed cameras into the refrigerated room that may hold the secret to what she believes is an emerging new drug threat. Lining shelves are clear containers holding brains being studied for their signature imprint of a human mind destroyed by drugs.

"They have a scrambled neurochemistry. There's an actual dysfunction in the way that the brain processes the neurotransmitter dopamine. And what happens is we believe that with continued use you have an individual who is vulnerable to a condition of excited delirium," explained Dr. Mash. "But because they are exposed to a toxicant, in this case cocaine, they ratchet up the neurochemical continuum to the point that there is a break. And in that case, they become agitated, paranoid, actually look psychotic, they may grunt or growl. Sometimes they disrobe. They take their clothes off."

Dr. Mash and her team conducted pioneering research on excited delirium syndrome, where drug users exhibit violent behavior and where - as in the case of Rudy Eugene, the so-called cannibal attacker - begin shedding their clothes.

"Because they are getting hot. Because the thermostat, the brains thermostat is getting readjusted. And so they ratchet up on their body temperature, agitated, They are fighting . They are struggling. And then there is a failure of the feedback mechanisms that will readjust your core body temperatures. So in essence, you are cooking your brain," explained Dr. Mash.

Where are these new concoctions of drugs coming from? Dr. Mash told Gillen that clues suggest India, Pakistan and labs in China.

"This is a very bad science fiction novel. This is that novel where somebody cooks up a series of compounds and then just decides to release it on the United States," she offered.
Dr. Mash issued a warning to anyone, particularly young people, considering experimenting with any synthetic drug today. It's an alarm she hopes will be heeded.

"This is taking the worst nightmare," warned Dr. Mash. "That horror dream and making it a waking reality."

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