The Trauma Pill

A “trauma pill” could blot out memories of harrowing events for combat veterans and survivors of accidents or terrorism, say Canadian researchers.

Most memories decay naturally, but people under extreme stress pump an abnormal amount of stress hormones during the event — so the memories are stored differently, said Dr. Alain Brunet, professor of psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal.

“If you have (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) your memory is so fresh it’s as if the event is happening now,” he said. “For a person to have that vivid flashback certain hormones are released by the brain. If you can block these, the memory is weakened or even removed completely.”

Brunet and colleagues had 20 people suffering from PTSD recall their experiences as vividly as possible in therapy sessions, after being given doses of propranolol — a beta-blocker used to treat high blood pressure, angina and abnormal heart rhythms. Preliminary findings indicate the PTSD sufferers experienced fewer flashbacks and less severe symptoms after taking the drug.

(“Trauma Pill” — pre-fab band name)

15 thoughts on “The Trauma Pill”

  1. This sounds just like the drug Col. Fury describes in Marvel’s Secret War: Book Five. It’s kind of scary knowing that memories could be wiped out so easily. Heh, if only the “trauma pill” had been invented in the DC universe, certain superheroes could have mind-wiped those villains properly! Take THAT Zatanna!

  2. Propanolol also is also used to treat anxiety…especially its somatic effects (i.e. sweaty palms, queasy stomach, etc.) A side effect is depression comes with long term use. It also induces asthma attacks.

  3. Is this sort of reverse roofies? Someone gets raped, pilled, and wakes up in the morning with a sore ass and no idea why?

    Just wait, you’ll see this in a year being sold in topical format as a lube.

  4. Propranolol is actually a very old drug, and has been generic for a long time. It slows the heart rate by blocking beta-adrenergic receptors which are activated during “fight or flight” responses and is often used in heart patients to control heart rate. It doesn’t really have many side effects other than some people feel a little sleepy, but nothing major, nothing like roofies or whatever, but it does prevent your heart from racing, excess sweating, rapid breathing etc.

    It has been a great tool for a lot of other problems as well, such as performance anxiety, anxiety from air travel, etc. So if you’re a concert pianist and you need your nerves to be rock solid but you can’t take a valium which will make you sleepy and dull, you take a propranolol and your hands don’t shake without any mental side effects. It doesn’t alter your consciousness, so you might still be terrified of the audience and of failure, but since your autonomic nervous system’s fight or flight response is muted, your hands are steady and you don’t piss yourself. This story is really interesting because it suggests if you don’t feel the physical effects of such terrifying experiences, you don’t record them traumatically. It’s not a mind control drug or anything so dramatic, it’s just blocks the physical effects of nervousness and that’s apparently enough to block traumatic memory. Freaking genius really.

  5. Read “On the Sea of Memory: a Journey from Forgetting to Remembering” by Jonathan Cott (an author and Rolling Stone journalist who did the last interview of John Lennon before the killing.) This is a new book that includes all kinds of wild-sounding tales about memory, including this one about beta-blockers and PTS.
    Cott, a wonderful writer, received electroshock treatments for serious depression and subsequently forgot 15 years of his life, 1985 to 2000. In this book he explores memory from all kinds of angles — medical to African storytelling and Tibetan Buddhist remembrance of past lives. In between he writes his own story.
    No, this business with beta-blockers and PTS isn’t a joke and isn’t Brave New World. Traumatic memories, as I understand, never diminish in intensity and so can ruin the lives of people who’ve already been through too much.

  6. Those familiar with the past forty years or medical research originating from McGill University will tell you that it is usually thorough, but at times can be poorly designed, inconsistent, and laced with dramatic pronouncements. As such, it is wise to take such announcements with a dose of scepticism, sleep on it, and then call me in the morning.

  7. The conclusions reached are a little bit much, I agree. It sounds like the researchers are making some extraordinary claims from what is really a simple finding. This isn’t some miracle drug or high tech memory blocker. It’s just a drug that prevents you from feeling the physical side-effects of nervousness and fear. You are still afraid, and you still can be nervous or fearful, you just don’t sweat and your heart doesn’t beat out of your chest. Everyone knows that feeling of terror, your stomach dropping down to your toes, and that impending feeling of doom that makes you shake, sweat and faint. This drug wouldn’t prevent you from feeling afraid, but it would prevent you from experiencing the physical feelings of being afriad.

    Per Bill’s comment, yes, it probably could help soldiers stay calm before a fight, but I think their training and experience is more than adequate and probably safer. If you took beta blockers before a fight you’d be cool as a fish, but in the end they prevent full performance of your body. It might be a bad idea to prevent higher heart rates and autonomic responses in the heat of a battle. But for those who are unused to responding to life-or-death situations or are completely undone by their fear it is a useful drug and based one these researchers’ claims might prevent the long-term storage of traumatic memories.

  8. I suffered from really bad PTSD. Tried the usual gamut of psychiatric drugs and they messed me up badly. Did research on mind-body interaction, and realised that flash-backs caused my pulse to rise – caused fight-or-flight reactions in an ever-increasing spiral both mental and physical. 3 years ago, researched ways of stopping the cycle. Betablockers stop my pulse from rising, which short-circuits the mind-body onterplay (and in this country they cost about 5% of what psychiatric drugs cost). Took very low doses for about 6 months. Seemed to break the cycle and I am a different person today. In stressful situations, will take a dose to avoid anxiety and have not yet had a serious flashback. Brilliant stuff!!

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