Anaesthetic Could Help Treat PTSD And Cure Phobias, New Study Finds

Scientists have found that sedating a person immediately after recalling a traumatic memory, actually numbs the emotional parts just hours later.

It was thought for decades that once a memory formed it was almost impossible to target and eliminate, but researchers now know that every time a memory is recalled it can change slightly.

Experts also know that when people undergo anaesthesia during surgery, it can affect their memory.

Now Spanish scientists have put the two together.

Study leader Ana Galarza Vallejo and her research team recruited 50 people and asked each to watch slideshows telling emotional stories, like a boy being hit by a car and a young woman being attacked.

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A week later the participants were shown parts of the stories to re-activate their memories before being injected with propofol to sedate them for roughly 12 minutes before they were re-tested.

Side note: If that drug sounds familiar, it's the one Michael Jackson overdosed on, but it was used at a lower dose during the experiment.

Half were quizzed on the stories immediately after they woke up, the other half took the quiz 24 hours later.

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Those that took the later test found it harder to recall details -- specifically the emotional parts of the story.

"We did not expect to see that," Galarza Vallejo said.

IMAGE: Getty

Fellow researcher Dr Bryan Strange of the Polytechnic University of Madrid told The Independent that it was the moments of violence or injury that proved to be the hardest to recall.

“What was interesting about the effects of propofol was that it was very selective for the emotional component of the story,” he said.

Researchers are hoping this initial study, published in the journal Science Advances, will help guide the development of a therapy that will combine memory reactivation and anaesthetic to treat those suffering disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as those with debilitating phobias.

READ MORE: Aussie Scientists Have Figured Out A Way To Stop Our Memory-Based Fears

"It would be really important for something clinically, like PTSD, to know whether this sort of manipulation is long-lasting," Dr Strange said.

The next phase is for researchers to find a group of patients with similar traumatic memories that can also be triggered similarly.