The Vestibular System and the “Spins”: A Proposal
Humans have eyes to observe the world in three dimensions, but how do people perceive their own motion/orientation in space even when their eyes are closed? Believe it or not, the brain accomplishes this feat by using the vestibular system in the inner ear to decipher the direction of rotational and linear acceleration applied to the head!
Research by Reinis, Landolt, Weiss, & Money (1984) suggests that changing the concentration of the fluid within the vestibular canals may be a factor of nystagmus, or motion sickness. The injection of “heavy water” (water molecules that contain deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen with an extra neutron in its nucleus) intravenously and direct stimulation of the vestibular labyrinth in cats were both found to significantly cause motion sickness . According to UW Neurobiology Professor Richard Robinson, this may hold significant consequences for getting “the spins,” motion sickness and vestibular disorientation upon sufficient levels of alcohol consumption . He proposes that consuming enough alcohol may cause a change in blood alcohol concentration that alters the concentration of the fluid within the vestibular labyrinth. Such changes in concentration could temporarily displace the cupula at a fixed state. If Professor Robinson’s hypothesis holds true, the resulting disagreement between the brain’s perceived motion and the head’s actual motion may explain why some people get “the spins” after consuming alcohol!
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