Seeing Ghosts May Just Be a Result of Breathing a Toxic Mold

Do you believe in ghosts? Do you want to believe? Go find a spooky, creaky, worn-down, abandoned house, and definitely make sure it's old. According to researchers, toxic mold that builds up in old buildings may cause ghostly results. Is it creepy in here, or just dirty?

I Ain't Afraid of No Mold

According to a 2009 Pew Research Center survey, 18 percent of American adults say they have seen a ghost. Not just felt one or heard one, but visibly stared down an apparition. Shane Rogers, a professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering at Clarkson University, has a hunch about what's actually going on. According to Rogers, when mold reproduces, it creates spores in the air that you can then breathe in. The side effects of breathing in spore-y air align with that of the spooks. A 2009 study hinted at a potential link between certain toxic molds and symptoms like "movement disorders, delirium, dementia, and disorders of balance and coordination." You know, that "creepy" feeling in old, spooky places that make you feel like things just aren't ... quite ... right.

"I've had an interest in ghost stories and paranormal exploration and shows and other things for a long time," Rogers told Mental Floss. "Back in grad school watching these shows I thought, 'Jeez, some of these places they're going into are pretty dingy and moldy. I wonder if there's some kind of a connection.'" Ghosts? Maybe just fungal spores festering in old buildings with inadequate ventilation and poor air quality. Both scary in their own right, to be fair. Being in a spooky place at night could set the scene for you to be on the lookout for ghosts, and mold might be what pushes you over the edge to make you believe Casper just passed by, Rogers says in this episode of Science Vs.

Ghostbuster or Dustbuster?

So far, this connection between the fungal and the paranormal is still speculative. "Hauntings are very widely reported phenomena that are not well-researched," Rogers says. "They are often reported in older-built structures that may also suffer poor air quality. Similarly, some people have reported depression, anxiety and other effects from exposure to biological pollutants in indoor air. We are trying to determine whether some reported hauntings may be linked to specific pollutants found in indoor air."

Although there isn't yet the strong evidence to bust ghosts with mildew (yet), this concept of mold-tripping is not totally new. Dr. R.J. Hay, one of England's leading mycologists (fungus experts) and dean of dermatology at Guy's Hospital in London, wrote about "sick library syndrome" in The Lancet in 1995. Hay writes that hallucinogenic spores in old books could lead to "enhancement of enlightenment." Spooky, isn't it?

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For a no-nonsense approach to the science of the paranormal, there's none better than Joe Nickell. Check out his book "The Science of Ghosts: Searching for Spirits of the Dead" to delve into the real evidence for and against the existence of otherworldly spirits. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Joanie Faletto September 6, 2017

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