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Biotech Science

New Drug Helps to Dampen Bad Memories 255

wile_e_wonka writes to tell us Researchers at Harvard and the Montreal-based McGill University are working on a drug that would allow psychiatrists to dampen painful memories in their patients when combined with therapy. "They treated 19 accident or rape victims for ten days, during which the patients were asked to describe their memories of the traumatic event that had happened 10 years earlier. Some patients were given the drug, which is also used to treat amnesia, while others were given a placebo. A week later, they found that patients given the drug showed fewer signs of stress when recalling their trauma."
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New Drug Helps to Dampen Bad Memories

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  • by Midnight Thunder ( 17205 ) on Wednesday July 04, 2007 @01:07PM (#19744849) Homepage Journal
    Would this be the formula: CnH2n+1OH? At least it seems to be popular for dampening memories.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 04, 2007 @01:08PM (#19744861)
    An old girlfriend who dumped me, I'd like to erase the memories she has of how painful it was to be with me, so she will give me another try.
  • Lacuna Inc. [eternalsunshine.com] anyone?

    So let me get this straight, they give people a drug and it reduces their bad memories? Seems pretty dangerous to me.
    • It doesn't reduce the memories, it reduces the physiological stress associated with them. You can still remember, but your blood pressure doesn't go up to unhealthy levels when you do. Seems better to me...
    • by MikeFM ( 12491 ) on Wednesday July 04, 2007 @01:38PM (#19745181) Homepage Journal
      Yeah, for some of us that'd set us back to prenatal mindsets. I think Eternal Sunshine was convincing enough that doing this is a bad idea. IMO there is just about nothing as bad as someone you cared about forgetting you.
  • Mrs. Hurdicure: [looking at drug] What will this do?

    Dr. Cooper: Well, it reaches into your brain "chemically," and then it locates your happiest memory "chemically," then it locks onto that emotion and freezes it "chemically," and then it keeps you happy, happy.

    Baxter: Chris? She's depressed, not stupid!
  • by jt418-93 ( 450715 ) on Wednesday July 04, 2007 @01:14PM (#19744947)
    it's important to remember the bad times, so you don't end up there again. something about those who can't remember history repeating it.....
    • Right... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by p3d0 ( 42270 ) on Wednesday July 04, 2007 @01:25PM (#19745075)

      it's important to remember the bad times, so you don't end up there again. something about those who can't remember history repeating it.....
      Yeah, those rape victims really should try harder next time not to get raped.

      • Pissed because p3d0 made a valid point? Fine, forget the inflammatory wording and concentrate on the content: there might be some traumas that aren't constructive or character building. Sometimes, bad shit just happens, without any sort of silver lining. Would you look down on someone for needing help coping and finding it in a treatment like this?
      • it's important to remember the bad times, so you don't end up there again. something about those who can't remember history repeating it.....
        Yeah, those rape victims really should try harder next time not to get raped.
        Or at least they'll remember who not to go out with.
      • Yeah, those rape victims really should try harder next time not to get raped.

        Unfortunately, we all know that rape victims are not going to be the major users of this drug if it ever comes to the market. It will be the new Prozac of this decade.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by grasshoppa ( 657393 )
        Yeah, those rape victims really should try harder next time not to get raped.

        No one likes to say it, but often times rape victims should have known better.

        Go out with the guy that other girls warn you about? Sure, why not. They must be jealous is all.
        Walk down a dark alley in a bad neighborhood? Sure, what could possibly happen?

        I am not saying these things are their fault; The sick fuck who did it deserves to have his balls chopped off for it. What I am saying is that, from a rational perspective, if y
    • by dave420 ( 699308 ) on Wednesday July 04, 2007 @01:48PM (#19745279)
      Or what about folks who kill themselves because they can't live a day without being caught up in bad shit that's happened? They won't have a chance to learn from their bad times, as their bad times will have killed them. I'm not having a go at you, but bad memories aren't always afterschool-special-type memories, but often some really fucked up shit that reaches down to every atom in your body and flatly refuses to let go, even slightly. Stuff like this drug might actually help some folks try to live a normal life again.
    • There is a difference between remembering the past and suppressing traumatic memories. Everyone has their bad times, but some people have such traumatic experiences that it elicits a highly emotional response that makes it extremely difficult to live a normal life. If you want a more tame example, try asking a recovering drug addict how difficult it is to repress his cravings when someone/something triggers a previous drug memory.

      I think most of us should be very grateful that the bad times we often dwell
  • Oh yeah (Score:4, Funny)

    by SpiffyMarc ( 590301 ) on Wednesday July 04, 2007 @01:14PM (#19744955)
    I saw this movie. While they are administering the procedure, Elijah Wood steals your underwear and Kirsten Dunst hits on an old guy.

    Count me out.
  • by decipher_saint ( 72686 ) on Wednesday July 04, 2007 @01:16PM (#19744973)
    So, you take a drug and make something traumatic in the past go away. My philosophical question of the day is thus:

    If reality is perception, and the basis of perception is memory and you can alter memory, are you changing your personal reality and in effect, changing who you are? Is the only cure for trauma personal metamorphosis?

    I can understand that there are people who are so traumatized by past events that they require medical attention but is effectively erasing those events from memory the best solution? I guess a follow up question is a drug like this something that will be abused and furthermore, how can I get some of this to dab on past potential girlfriends I said stupid things to?
    • I doubt it would work as such, since rape victims often have other effects which the pills won't deal with. Eating disorders and insomnia are both common side effects.
    • If reality is perception, and the basis of perception is memory and you can alter memory, are you changing your personal reality and in effect, changing who you are? ...is effectively erasing those events from memory the best solution?

      The events aren't erased from memory. The subject can still recall and describe the event. However, certain stress/trauma symptoms are reduced.

      I'd put it in the same category as other psychoactive drugs that address emotional problems. Now there are those who say that any

    • by stonecypher ( 118140 ) <stonecypher@gma i l . c om> on Wednesday July 04, 2007 @02:10PM (#19745507) Homepage Journal

      If reality is perception

      It isn't. This is easily demonstrated by beating a coma victim to death. They won't perceive your actions, but they'll still die. If you really want to try the schroedinger's cat falling in a forest line of things, make a robot do the beating. The coma victim will in fact die without being measured.

      and the basis of perception is memory

      It isn't. There are a variety of individuals with brain injuries that impede or destroy memory. They can still perceive you, and remarkably, they're often still able to function to a degree in the real world.

      are you changing your personal reality

      There's no such thing as a personal reality. Put down the Led Zeppelin, and if you're well educated in Philosophy, climb out of the barrel. You can make all the solipsisms you want, and yes, it's particularly difficult for me to convince you that I exist, when you can just claim that every sense by which you're detecting me is faulty.

      That said, this isn't The Matrix, and you can be affected without being aware of it. As the old saying goes, the bullet you don't hear is the one that killed you.

      and in effect, changing who you are?

      This ... is a difficult point. On the one hand, yes, in many ways we are created and defined by our experiences. On the other hand, though, in many ways we aren't. Consider for example that thing that Ripley's Believe It or Not always does when they're out of material, where they find two twins who were seperated at birth, and point out how they wear the same kind of clothes and the same teeth are missing and their girlfriends both have the same weird deformities and whatever.

      Are you removing part of who you are? Maybe. But, look, what about if you lose your fourth toe? You lost a little bit of who you are there, too, and you're a different person for it. Sure, it's a trivial tiny difference, but it is a difference. These things have a scale. I was changed as a person when I got my elbow injury. Not in a huge way, sure, but it's real. I stopped working out because the stress on my elbow is no longer safe. I used the scar to impress each of two different girls.

      So, you remove a traumatic memory. Does that change a person? Sure. But, then, change isn't always a bad thing, and there's such a thing as changing back - or, at least, there may be now. Consider the case of someone coming back from a brief tour in war, with shell shock. They can't talk, they can't sleep, they scream every time there's a loud sound, and seeing a gun on TV leaves them crying for hours. Don't laugh; there are people who were wounded psychologically in just such a way.

      Say you could remove those memories. Say that turns them back into (almost) who they were before the war. Is that a change? Yes. But maybe you might do better to think of it as a "change back." This drug is apparently thought of for trauma. Rarely is it the case that those changes caused by trauma are beneficial. I'm no psychologist, but can see the case for this maybe becoming an important tool in repairing serious psychological damage.

      Is the only cure for trauma personal metamorphosis?

      Of course not. People come back from trauma every day. That there are other ways, though, doesn't mean that this way isn't important. There are something like 30 ways to remove an ulcer. Half of them are in use today. One might expect there to be only one, but the human situation is complicated; sometimes you need to do it through the mouth, sometimes through the butt, sometimes with a remote control robot, sometimes by just opening the stomach.

      Different situations need different solutions.

      I can understand that there are people who are so traumatized by past events that they require medical attention but is effectively erasing those events from memory the best solution?

      • If only they had a drug that would force you to agree with me, from my point of view change would be a good thing and you wouldn't disagree! :-)
    • This would be a real philosophical conundrum only if our memories, being formative of our personalities (and hence 'ourselves') were perfect inerrant reproductions of the events that generate them. They aren't (in fact, not even close), and so destroying a memory of an event, while possibly being dangerous to the integrity of the personality as such, isn't in any sense 'erasing an event in the past', but only a highly distorted and in the case of traumatic memories highly adrenaline-charged reproduction of

  • by Himuanam ( 852822 ) on Wednesday July 04, 2007 @01:17PM (#19744983)
    The most traumatic thing most of Slashdot has experienced is having their parents turn off their internet connection, come on, all we're going to get is comments about alcohol or how we're becoming a drug-obsessed culture. Experience something *really* traumatic or know someone who has, and you'll see the benefit of research like this.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      remember goatse?
      yeah so do I. *shudder*
    • Ok, I'll bite. I know your half-joking but as someone who has a wealth of traumatic experience under my belt, I do not see the benefit of this research.

      Me and my extended family combined have been through suicide, two rapes, abortion, divorce, infidelity, homelessness, and a slew of other things that many people face, but many do not. I don't consider myself unlucky or unfortunate. You're probably thinking I come from a wrecked family or live in a poor part of the country, but the opposite is true. I com
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        As a person who has a wealth of traumatic experiences, I have to say that you couldn't be more wrong. I have experienced abuse, neglect, abandonment, extreme poverty and more abuse. I have also lived with depression for most of my life. I have attempted suicide, hurt myself, and lived long stretches where I was barely functional because of this illness.

        I am sick of hearing that depression, or other mental illness, is somehow a character flaw. I am beyond tired of hearing that I, and others like me, need t

  • "They treated 19 accident or rape victims for ten days, during which the patients were asked to describe their memories of the traumatic event that had happened 10 years earlier."

    Well that's hardly scientific, perhaps it only helps the people involved in this mysterious decade old mass accident/rape.

  • Funny, if you do this with alcohol or heroin, it's considered drug abuse and problem-avoidant behavior.

    Personally, I find this compulsion to "reduce stress" through pharmacological means to be slightly disconcerting. We seem to always talk about stress as if it were a bad thing when, in fact, it is one of the organism's primary protection mechanisms. Stress is the organisms way of prompting change. You know, the old towards pleasure/away from pain thing.

    In the example of the accident victims, maybe th
    • Big difference when somebody who is addicted to alcohol or/and heroin sticks a knife in you for your wallet.
      • by cecille ( 583022 )
        well, they woudln't have to if a doctor just prescibed it to them like the more acceptable/legal drugs.
  • Zeus is credited with saying 'Only through suffering comes wisdom'.

    This might be a god cure for phobias and memories that trigger panic atttacks, but the sum total of ones personality includes the bad memories as well as the good. I'm afraid some parents are going to drag their kids to the clinic after losing the homecomming king/queen title.

  • by niceone ( 992278 ) * on Wednesday July 04, 2007 @01:36PM (#19745175) Journal
    ...been in use round here for a while, it's called Dupesol(TM).
  • Got a traumatic memory? Take this drug for ten years or so. Really. Nothing sinister or societally altering here. And if you OD we can just change your blood.
  • It brings a whole new meaning to "debriefing".
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday July 04, 2007 @01:49PM (#19745285)
    How does a drug target specific memories? Or does it simply make you an emotional brick?

    I'm always wary when I hear things like that. Drugs that change your mental framework. We don't know jack about the brain, to be blunt. LSD has been out for decades now and we still don't have a clue just how that stuff works. Yet we keep cranking out more pills for "mental" problems.

    Why do I also have the feeling that this pill would only suppress the traumatic experience instead of making people deal with and resolve it? Is that the new medicine? Instead of curing, we treat. Which is incidentally also more profitable, because a cured person is just that, cured. Doesn't need more medication. Treatment, though, can take months, years, decades or however long you want. And for the whole time, he keeps swallowing tablets and gets his shots.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by stonecypher ( 118140 )

      How does a drug target specific memories?

      There are quite a few substances which are already known to target memories. This just happens to be the first one which isn't somewhat poisonous. I don't know the underlying mechanism for this one, but several derivatives of hemlock reveal a toxin which is both highly polar and ferromagnetic. It's quite simply attracted to the cells of the brain that are currently in use; you tend to start losing what you're thinking about during the poison's course through the b

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Hatta ( 162192 )
        Actually, we've understood LSD for about a decade.

        Knowing that LSD is a partial agonist at the 5-HT2a (and to some extent 1a) receptor is a far cry from knowing "how LSD works". How does stimulation of those receptors create the subjective LSD experience?
  • As someone who has gone through therapy, there are always tools that therapists use to "enhance" the experience. Could this be something as "simple" as retraining the brain to have less of a response to the recollection of the event? By asking the patient to retell the event again and again while taking the drug, the mental pathways that have been formed by the drug can be deadend (for lack of a better word) or have their receptors rendered less active and that could help reduce the stress associated with t
  • For those of you paying attention, this is the specific reason that Ecstasy was originally developed by Merck. Also, Ecstasy does a damned good job of it. Unfortunately, ecstasy also makes you feel good, which got it banned.

    Yeah: this'll last. Legal for three months, maximum.
    • Actually that is not the reason MDMA was developed. It was patented in 1914 as a chemical used to make a kind of drug that controls bleeding. The first research on it for human use was in the late 1950's as a possible stimulant. It wasn't until the mid 70's that it began to be used in therapy when psychotherapist Leo Zeff began using it with some of his patients.
      • Uh huh. And when you find that patent, and read it, lemme know. By the way, it doesn't say anything about bleeding except in the brain, and you've got the year wrong. You're looking for German Patent 274,350 (12/24/1912). Also, the person in the mid 1970s was Alexander Shuglin, not Leo Zaff. I suspect you mean Shuglin's third patient, Leo Zeff, who promoted what he was taught by Shuglin; his role in the history of Ecstasy has been wildly overstated by drug advocates, probably for the same reason that B
  • There are going to be a lot of posts about how this would mean suppressing a natural and beneficial process for dealing with tragedy - the more typical course of facing up to a trauma and learning to live with it, learn from it, and heal. I'm not saying those posters are wrong.

    But how do we know they're right?

    How do we know that the mechanisms for dealing with trauma we know now are really the best one? What' inherently wrong with chemistry be an aid in this? What's to say that's inferior?

    My suspicion is th
  • "I don't want my pain taken away. I need my pain!"
  • by TheMohel ( 143568 ) on Wednesday July 04, 2007 @01:56PM (#19745357) Homepage
    It's not a new drug that was tried by Harvard and McGill, it was an old favorite, propranolol. This is a nonselective beta blocker that has anti-adrenaline actions (oversimplifying radically) in the CNS as well as across the body, and it's used for a dozen purposes other than this one. This was actually fascinating research, because they're basically using an old standby drug to help desensitize certain traumatic memories. There was no assertion in the original article (other than the Star Trek pandering at the end) that the memories were eliminated entirely, although eliminating emotional tags to memories would have the side effect of making them harder to recall.
    We know that the beta blockers have significant mood and activity side effects. In fact it's a common limitation on their use. In this case, though, it looks like the researchers are capitalizing on these side effects to make people's handling of trauma better. Cool. This is a use that will probably see more significant human clinical trials in the short run. Propranolol is a very cheap and very well-understood medication.
    In the case of the rat studies with the actual new drug, it's early but interesting work that might or might not have human implication in the future. I'll be nervous about it without a lot more research, and I suspect that the greater degree of wiring in the human brain and the relative resilience of memory are going to be harder nuts to crack, at least in the short term.
    • by Hatta ( 162192 )
      If you're interested in propranolol, it's often prescribed for performance anxiety. For musicians, of course. It's really good at blocking the "fight of flight" response, the dry mouth, the trembling, that kind of stuff. I've had it prescribed to help with public speaking. It's a very safe, effective drug, and not recreational at all so it's easy to get if you ask. Tell them a musician friend told you about it.

      You know, with all the similarities between PTSD and LSD flashbacks it might be a good idea to
      • Yeah, I get asked for it once in a while in my pediatric practice. I'm pretty much fine with it as long as I know their hearts are normal and they don't have depression or postural hypotension. I'm not always sure it helps that much, but some musicians I know swear by it. Like you said, it's safe, at least marginally effective, and not subject to abuse.

        I'd think that it would be excellent for flashback management, but I'd love to see some research on it.
  • PACIFY (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hoggoth ( 414195 ) on Wednesday July 04, 2007 @01:58PM (#19745373) Journal
    'Ok, Mr. Jones. How do you feel now?'
    'I feel wonderful...'
    'Do you still feel outraged when you think of our government controlling your life?'
    'No, it really doesn't bother me that much.'
    'What about this protest meeting you are organizing?'
    'Oh, that. I know it should be important, but I really don't feel like going anymore. I think I'll stay home and plant some flowers.'
    'Good, Mr. Jones, you may go now.'
  • Sounds just like what many people do with alcohol and cigarettes now without therapy, for years. Hopefully this one will have less hangover.

  • The majority of people I know seem to enjoy being drunk. I do not. A majority of people prefer happy fiction over the plain truth. I do not. If a memory is corrupted in any way for any reason, it's corrupted and inaccurate. One could argue that memories are inherently inaccurate, but making them more inaccurate doesn't make them "better"; just more inaccurate.
  • Now if only I can get the office water cooler laced with this stuff.
  • You can just start beta-testing it willy nilly with people. Cuz even if you botch it horribly with the first dozen or so formulations, you can make them all forget once you hit the right one! Imagine if they had that for the poor people who beta-tested Preparations A through G.
  • PTSD (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Adult film producer ( 866485 ) <van@i2pmail.org> on Wednesday July 04, 2007 @02:40PM (#19745781)
    I've heard and seen these stories about vietnam vets that lived tortured lives after coming back. Every day being a struggle to deal with the memories of that war. Some of them who have gone back to vietnam (in peacetime) find the experience liberating. Being able to face what has scrambled their brains for so many years, maybe it gives them a new perspective, but it seems to ease the pain.... not so sure this would help a rape victim, or maybe it does when they face the perpetrators in court?
  • What about the time a person with PTSD spent thinking about the events that caused the PTSD to start with. I might see this working if its administered immediately after a traumatic event but PTSD sometimes isnt diagnosed until much later sometimes years. What happens to all the time after, if you cant remember what happened to cause your meltdown, but remember being in the psych ward years later? Just sounds like trading one sort of trama for another.
  • Have you taken your meds today?

    I don't want to denigrate those who have been through horrific traumatic experiences, but having 'bad memories' and learning to cope with them are part of the human experience. How 'bout we help people to overcome on their own without pill popping their experiences away?
  • KIRK: Dammit, Bones, you're a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can't be taken away with the wave of a magic wand. They're things we carry with us -- the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don't want my pain taken away. I need my pain.
  • The millions of people who upgrades to Vista!
  • by splatter ( 39844 ) on Wednesday July 04, 2007 @10:58PM (#19750013)

    hum, seems to me back in college I found this.. Oh Yeah it's called Pot!

Today is the first day of the rest of your lossage.