A Pill to Erase Bad Memories?

Having a bad week? Take a pill and you will forget all about it.

Most of us would like to erase all of those bad memories and silly mistakes from our minds – we would not feel so guilty and remorseful.

A team of researchers from the University of Montreal has come up with a new pill this week aimed at eliminating negative memories and emotions.

Recalling painful memories while under the influence of the drug “metyrapone” reduces the brain’s ability to re-record the negative emotions associated with them, according to University of Montreal researchers at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress of Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital.

The team’s study challenges the theory that memories cannot be modified once they are stored in the brain.

“Metyrapone is a drug that significantly decreases the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that is involved in memory recall,” said lead author Marie-France Marin.

To come up with this theory, 33 men participated in the recent study, which involved learning a story composed of neutral and negative events. Three days later, the men were divided into three groups – participants in the first group received a single dose of metyrapone, the second received double, while the third were given placebo. They were then asked to remember the story. Their memory performance was then evaluated again four days later, once the drug had cleared out.

“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 said. “We were surprised that the decreased memory of negative information was still present once cortisol levels had returned to normal.”

The new research offers some hope to people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders.

The research team said they believe that, in the right setting, the drug might help diminish the power of a traumatic event that kicked off a long-lasting condition. The idea is that a patient would review the event with a psychotherapist after having taken the drug.

But Christian authors like Lois Degler say we can move past all those tough times – hurtful, challenging experiences – with the help of God.

“Sometimes the clamor of our troubles, the bad memories, and the fears loom so large that they encompass our thought, crowding out everything else,” Degler writes.

“But the wonder of grace is its ability to penetrate that clamor and lead us to peace and comfort.”

Degler said one day in the midst of her grief she found herself with Bible in hand, opened to a verse from Philippians, which read, in part, “forgetting those things which are behind.” Philippians 3:13.

“The text almost shouted out at me. Its message was clear,” she continues.

“Later, whenever feelings of guilt crept back into my thought, I was able to turn quickly from them. I’d gotten a message from God. Trusting and honoring that message enabled me to turn from the temptations to feel guilty until they finally stopped coming.”

She says with prayer and the word of God, the guilt dropped away. What remains is a great gratitude for that clear evidence of God loving us.

What do psychologists say?

Most psychologists today will say that after a traumatic experience, it’s normal to feel frightened, sad, anxious, and disconnected.

Usually, as time passes, the upset fades and you start to enjoy life again. But sometimes the trauma you experienced is so overwhelming that you find that you can’t move on. You feel stuck with painful memories that don’t fade and a constant sense of danger.

Dr. Joseph M Carver, a well-known psychologist, says people feel what they think. He said the brain is always on the alert and ready to pull a file, the brain has built-in protection behaviors.

“But positive thinking works,” Carver said.

“What we think about a situation actually creates our mood. Passed over for a promotion, we can either think we’ll never get ahead in this job (lowering serotonin and making us depressed) or assume that we are being held back for another promotion or job transfer (makes a better mood).”

Carver said if we choose to change our mood, we can do things like listen to favorite songs, look at a high school annual, look at vacation pictures, and do other things, which will cause the brain to pull different files, which have different moods – better moods.

“Keep in mind, the brain will do anything we want: it will allow us to be angry the rest of the day or it will allow us to change its mood – it simply doesn’t care,” he said.