A pill to help forget painful memories

A pill to help you forget painful memories

By Liz Lockhart

If we could wipe out painful memories would we?  The things that we experience surely shape who and what we are.  But could a pill that wipes out memories that are distressing help sufferers of PTSD?

A new study by The Centre for Studies on Human Stress at the University of Montreal shows that the right medication might actually help to erase traumatic remembrances.  An account of this study was reported on msnbc.com.

Researchers observed 33 volunteer university students and asked them to watch a video presentation that revealed the story of a little girl who had an horrific accident whilst visiting her grandparents.  When the girl was helping her grandfather to construct a birdhouse one of her hands gets caught in a saw.  One of the scenes watched in the study is particularly horrific and shows her mangled hand.

The girl’s hand is eventually saved at the hospital and the story ends happily ut the presentation is very difficult to watch and tends to cause great emotional distress to the viewers.

Marie-France Marin, a doctoral student at The Centre for Studies on Human Stress is the study’s lead author and says ‘It’s not fun to watch.  It induces a lot of emotion.’

Prior to playing the video Marin had instructed the volunteers to watch and listen very carefully to the presentation.  Afterwards, she and her colleagues collected saliva samples to measure levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.  Then the 33 were sent away.

The study volunteers were brought back into the laboratory three days later.  Some were given a placebo, while the rest were given one of two doses of a drug that greatly reduces the amount of cortisol coursing through the body.

It is thought that cortisol is in some way involved in preserving memories, especially emotionally charged ones, Marin explains.  If you cut back on cortisol and maybe you will be able to alter memory...even after it has already been created and stashed away in the brain.

Marin then asked the volunteers to recall the video presentation, those who were given the cortisol-damping drug found it much harder to recall the more wrenching details.  The higher the dose, the harder it was for them to remember.

The volunteers were asked to go back to the lab. Again four days later.  Quite surprisingly, the impact that the drug had on the memory was still apparent.  The volunteers who had taken it still had difficulty in remembering the traumatic scenes.

Marin hopes that the study, which is to be published in August in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, may one day help people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  She suspects that, in the right setting, the drug might help to diminish the power of the traumatic event that started the The patient would review the event with a psychotherapist after having taken the drug.   

For further information or help with PTSD please see the following links


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