Image: Ship of Fools, a reference to Michel Foucault's Madness and Civilization
The following article/abstract is quoted here as an introduction to the practice of using olfaction to better understand mental health:
Grete Kjelvik , Hallvard R. Evensmoen , Veronika Brezova , Asta K. Håberg, Journal of Neurophysiology. Published 15 July 2012. Vol. 108, No. 2, 645-657 DOI: 10.1152/jn.01036.2010
Odor identification (OI) tests are increasingly used clinically as biomarkers for Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia.
ODOR IDENTIFICATION (OI) tests examine an individual's ability to correctly name an odor. In the clinic OI tests have been shown to have high sensitivity and specificity for predicting Alzheimer's disease (AD) at an early stage. This OI deficit is considered a central phenomenon as olfactory threshold, detection, and discrimination abilities are preserved (Arnold et al. 1998; Morgan et al. 1995; Serby et al. 1991; Wilson et al. 2007, 2009). Since AD pathology is first observed in entorhinal cortex and subsequently in the hippocampus (Braak and Braak 1992), OI impairments may arise from medial temporal lobe (MTL) pathology. Indeed, the early and specific OI deficit in AD correlates with the number of tangles in entorhinal cortex and the hippocampus (Wilson et al. 2007), and left hippocampal atrophy (Murphy et al. 2003). Structural changes in the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus are also present in patients with schizophrenia (Baiano et al. 2008; Bogerts et al. 1985; Ebdrup et al. 2010; Schultz et al. 2009; Witthaus et al. 2009), another group of patients with a specific OI deficit (Atanasova et al. 2008; Moberg et al. 1997, 2006; Rupp 2010). The utility of OI tests as a clinical tool depends on a better understanding of the neuronal processes underlying OI, and how OI differs from passive smelling (PS).
This point about smelling mental illness is fantastically queried by the odor author Annick Le Guérer in Scent the Mysterious and Essential Powers of Smell (1992), where she plays with the possibility of the “odor of sanctum” reported to emanate from certain saintly corpses as a result of extensive abnormal mental states which lower, or encumber the metabolic rate, leading to incomplete combustion of aromatic materials in the body. She reciprocates by suggesting such lower metabolism as a result of sustained meditation. Regardless, it is a general understanding that psychosis brings with it an identifiable smell.