“‘Metyrapone is a drug that significantly decreases the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that is involved in memory recall,’ explained lead author Marie-France Marin. Manipulating cortisol close to the time of forming new memories can decrease the negative emotions that may be associated with them. "The results show that when we decrease stress hormone levels at the time of recall of a negative event, we can impair the memory for this negative event with a long-lasting effect," said Dr. Sonia Lupien, who directed the research.”Researchers taught 33 men a story that consisted of neutral and negative events. They separated the men into different groups and observed them 3 days later. A third of the participants received a single dose of metyrapone, another third received a double dose and the final third received a placebo. Researchers asked the participants to recall the story while under the influence of the drug they were given. Their memory of the story was evaluated while using the drug and again 4 days later when the drug was no longer circulating in their bloodstream.
“‘We found that the men in the group who received two doses of metyrapone were impaired when retrieving the negative events of the story, while they showed no impairment recalling the neutral parts of the story,’ Marin explained. ‘We were surprised that the decreased memory of negative information was still present once cortisol levels had returned to normal.’”Consequently, such research could be very useful in treating mental illness. Not only could this drug be successful in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but it could help many people with mental health issues resulting from traumatic experiences.
Unfortunately, metyrapone is no longer commercially produced; however research on the impact of certain compounds on cortisol levels can only lead to a better understanding of the way in which our brain processes negative emotions and memories. Additionally, this type of research may lead to the discovery of other medications that are currently available or potentially more successful in erasing our bad memories.
On the other hand, use of such a drug could lead to abuse as many of us could certainly pinpoint at least one painful memory that we would be willing to let go. Also, despite those whose lives have been seriously disrupted from past trauma, it is our experiences, both positive and negative, that molds us into the person we have become. Therefore, erasing our experience of negative emotions from certain memories may be toying with our personality and possibly creating havoc in our society.
Drug May Help Overwrite Bad Memories
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