With further testing, the team believes their findings could point to a potentially effective noninvasive treatment method with further testing. “The adjustment of maladaptive thoughts and behaviors associated with emotional memories is central to treating psychiatric disorders,” the researchers write in the paper. “A method to selectively impair reconsolidation of specific emotional or traumatic memories in humans could translate to an effective treatment for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Importantly, of course, being able to weaken the memory of an unpleasant story is different from weakening the memory of traumatic event that happened to you personally, which the researchers do acknowledge in the paper.
“These emotional memories remain quite distant from those formed during truly stressful life experiences. While here we provide a proof of concept that a routine anesthetic procedure impairs reconsolidation and could potentially be used to treat psychiatric disorders in which abnormal emotional memory plays a role, clinical trials are required to apply these findings to patients with pathological, traumatic memories,” they write. “Disorders such as PTSD are multifaceted disorders. PTSD involves recurrent, intrusive recollection of the trauma memory and peritraumatic memory disturbances, and these different facets may vary in sensitivity to alteration following reactivation.”
While the prospect of being able to help people struggling to deal with painful life experiences that haunt them, it’s also important to keep in mind the potentially sinister route this line of scientific development can take us: If a shot proves effective in “erasing” a memory, it can be a little frightening to think of what could happen if such tool fell into the hands of the wrong people with less well-intentioned motives.
Overall it’s a fascinating development in the realm of mental health, and we’ll have to wait and see where the science takes us.