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Ergotism Essay

875 words - 4 pages

What really happened in Salem that ignited the spark of the Witchcraft Trials? Was it out of boredom? Did the girls come down with a case of Schizophrenia, encephalitis, or Huntington’s chorea? (Vogel 1). These are all possibilities, but there is still one theory that could reveal the truth behind the Salem Witch Trials. According to the research by psychologist Linda Caporael, of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of Troy, New York, the poisoning of ergot originally created the hysteria. (Vogel 1 and Clark 2). Ergot is a form of fungus that spreads best in cold, damp weather. (Vogel 1). This fungus mostly grows on different types of grain, wheat, and especially rye. (Vogel 1). In the year of 1692, Salem, Massachusetts suffered a cold, wet winter. (Vogel 1). The growth of rye was substantial, making rye the main grain for the citizens of Salem. (Vogel 1).
Although farmers were aware of the fungus ergot, they did not know that ergot is the result of a mold that’s very toxic and fatal to humans. (Clark 2). They called it cockspurs, because the fact that ergot looks like black whole grains, they believed that it was just grains cooked by the sun and that they were completely harmless. (Clark 2). But they were wrong. Ergot contains alkaloids including lysergic acid isoergine (the main ingredient in LSD) so when ingested, the fungus begins to affect the central nervous system and can cause vasoconstriction. (Vogel 1 and Clark 3). It can lead to sudden death, limit fertility, and it damages the immune system making the body more susceptible to get other diseases because it’s too weak to fight off infection. (“5.1 Poisons of the Past/Ergotism.” 1). Symptoms caused by ergot are feelings of numbness, hallucinations, and feelings of suffocation. (“5.1 Poisons of the Past/Ergotism.” 1). But there are two different types of Ergotism, Gangrenous and Convulsive. Gangrenous Ergotism causes burning of the skin, blisters, and the dry rotting of extremities. (Clark 3). It can lead to death, amputations or lost of extremities and/or phalanges. (Clark 3). Convulsive Ergotism is mainly the attack on the central nervous system. It can cause mania, psychosis, hallucinations, paralysis, and prickly sensations. (Clark 3). Some signs of Ergot are gastrointestinal symptoms, burning, itching or crawling sensations of the skin, convulsions, and hallucinations and psychosis. (Vogel 1). These were the exact symptom displayed by “Salem’s bewitchment.” (Vogel 1).
In February of 1692, Elizabeth Parris fell mysteriously ill. (Clark 2). She began to exhibit strange behavior such as barking at her father, throwing herself around the room, screaming of her...

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