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Pill Could Erase Ptsd Memories

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  • HadIt.com Elder

January 16, 2006

Pill could erase PTSD memories

By Marilynn Marchione

Associated Press



Some doctors have an ambitious goal: trying to cure PTSD. They are deliberately triggering very old bad memories and then giving the pill to deep-six them. [deep-six, well now, that's creative writing]

The first study to test this approach on 19 longtime PTSD sufferers has provided early encouraging results, Canadian and Harvard University researchers report. “We figure we need to test about 10 more people until we’ve got solid evidence.” said Alain Brunet, a psychologist at McGill University in Montreal who is leading the study.

The need for better treatment grows daily as American troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan with wounded minds as well as bodies. One government survey found almost 1 in 6 showing symptoms of mental stress, including many with post-traumatic stress disorder. Disability payments related to the illness cost the government more than $4 billion a year. [see costofwar.com]


Memories, painful or sweet, don’t form instantly after an event but congeal over time. Like slowly hardening cement, there is a window of opportunity when they are shapable. During stress, the body pours out adrenaline and other “fight or flight” hormones that help write memories into the “hard drive” of the brain, McGaugh and Cahill showed.

Propranolol can blunt this. It is in a class of drugs called beta blockers and is the one most able to cross the blood-brain barrier and get to where stress hormones are wreaking havoc. It already is widely used to treat high blood pressure and is being tested for stage fright. [is stage fright anything like a FFZ]

Dr. Roger Pitman, a Harvard University psychiatrist, did a pilot study to see whether it could prevent symptoms of PTSD. He gave 10 days of either the drug or dummy pills to accident and rape victims who came to the Massachusetts General Hospital emergency room. In follow-up visits three months later, the patients listened to tapes describing their traumatic events as researchers measured their heart rates, palm sweating and forehead muscle tension.

The eight who had taken propranolol had fewer stress symptoms than the 14 who received dummy pills, but the differences in the frequency of symptoms were so small they might have occurred by chance — a problem with such tiny experiments. [tiny experiements with tiny dummy pills]

Still, “this was the first study to show that PTSD could be prevented,” McGaugh said, and enough to convince the federal government to fund a larger one that Pitman is doing now. [goverment funds more dummy pills]

Meanwhile, another study on assault and accident victims in France confirmed that propranolol might prevent PTSD symptoms. One of those researchers, Brunet, now has teamed with Pitman on the boldest experiment yet — trying to cure longtime PTSD sufferers. “We are trying to reopen the window of opportunity to modulate the traumatic memory,” Pitman said.

The experiments are being done in Montreal and involve people traumatized as long as 20 or 30 years ago by child abuse, sexual assault or a serious accident. “It’s amazing how a traumatic memory can remain very much alive. It doesn’t behave like a regular memory. The memory doesn’t decay,” Brunet said. [wow, he must have taken his dummy pills for this brilliant insight]

To try to make it decay, researchers ask people to describe the trauma as vividly as they can, bringing on physical symptoms like racing hearts, then give them propranolol to blunt “restorage” of the memory. As much as three months later, the single dose appears to be preventing PTSD symptoms, Brunet said. [forgetaboutit, take another dummy pill]

Joseph LeDoux, a neuroscience professor at New York University, is enrolling 20 to 30 people in a similar experiment and believes in the approach. “Each time you retrieve a memory it must be restored,” he said. “When you activate a memory in the presence of a drug that prevents the restorage of the memory, the next day the memory is not as accessible.” [memory isn't important anyway, why not whiskey]

Not all share his enthusiasm, as McGaugh found when he was asked to brief the President’s Council on Bioethics a few years ago.

They didn’t say anything at the time but later they went ballistic on it,” he said. [ballistic means angry, pissed off, psycho, loco]

Chairman Leon Kass contended that painful memories serve a purpose and are part of the human experience.

McGaugh says that’s preposterous when it comes to trauma like war. If a soldier is physically injured, “you do everything you can to make him whole,” but if he says he is upset “they say, ’suck it up — that’s the normal thing,”’ he complained.

Propranolol couldn’t be given to soldiers in battle because it would curb survival instincts. [and after combat, survival instincts aren't important]

“They need to be able to run and to fight,” Pitman said. “But if you could take them behind the lines for a couple of days, then you could give it to them after a traumatic event,” or before they’re sent home, he said.

Some critics suggest that rape victims would be less able to testify against attackers if their memories were blunted, or at least that defense attorneys would argue that.

“Medical concerns trump legal concerns. I wouldn’t withhold an effective treatment from somebody because of the possibility they may have to go to court a year later and their testimony be challenged. We wouldn’t do that in any other area of medicine,” Pitman said. “The important thing to know about this drug is it doesn’t put a hole in their memory. It doesn’t create amnesia.” [and he knows, because they've already tested like 20 people already with dummy pills]

Practical matters may limit propranolol’s usefulness. It must be given within a day or two of trauma to prevent PTSD. [like the morning after pill]

How long any benefits from the drug will last is another issue. McGaugh said some animal research suggests that memory eventually recovers after being squelched for a while by the drug. [my dog told me he doesn't remember biting the mailman]

Overtreatment also is a concern. Because more than three-quarters of trauma victims don’t have long-term problems, most don’t need medication.

But LeDoux sees little risk in propranolol. “It’s a pretty harmless drug,” he said. “If you could give them one or two pills that could prevent PTSD, that would be a pretty good thing.” [pretty harmless, pretty good thing, pretty smart guy, pretty is as pretty does]

Klein, the Saint Louis University psychiatrist, said it would be great to have something besides sleep aids, antidepressants and counseling to offer traumatized people, but she remains skeptical about how much long-term good propranolol can do. [it would be cheaper than counseling and we could spend our money on golf tournaments]

“If there were a pill to reduce the intensity of symptoms, that would be a relief,” she said. “But that’s a far step from being able to prevent the development of PTSD.”

Only more study will tell whether that is truly possible. [more studies and more dummy pills, forget, forget, forget zzzzzzzzzz][somebody wake me up when they begin to study the costofwar.com]

[my comments, ~Wings]

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  • HadIt.com Elder

Interesting. If the VA had a pill that would cure your Mental Illness and you refuse to take it than what?

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  • HadIt.com Elder

Taking DUMMY pills is against my religion. ~Wings



Practitioners of healing arts help veterans cope

December 21, 2005

The Associated Press

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) - When Albert Laughter unpacks his medical supplies, preparing to treat the military veterans who are his patients, he finds no stethoscope or thermometer.

His examination room doesn't have walls to speak of. It is made of canvas and wooden poles, a tipi with a small fire ring inside. His supplies - pheasant and eagle feathers, cornmeal, sage and other herbs - come wrapped in small leather pouches.

Laughter, a Navajo medicine man, cares for warriors as five generations of his forebears have: with traditional herbs, songs and ceremonies. But unlike his ancestors, he does it as a healer under contract with the federal government.

Laughter's services are part of a small assortment of programs run by the Department of Veterans Affairs to treat American Indian veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder and other maladies.

''Our culture, even though we live in the 21st century, we come back to the ceremonies, we come back to where the fire is, come back to where the herbs is, come back to where the songs is,'' said Laughter, who does his work in Navajo and in English at the VA medical center in Prescott and on northern Arizona reservations.

There are more than 181,000 American Indian veterans in the United States, less than 1 percent of the 24.8 million veterans nationwide, according to the VA. But officials at VA medical facilities near reservations say they have found Indian veterans have unique needs.

Deborah Thompson, director of the northern Arizona VA health care system, said providers don't have a perfect understanding of how traditional practices help, but they have learned they are important for Indian veterans and can aid in treatment.

Most Indian veterans who participate in the traditional practices do so in combination with Western medical treatment at VA facilities.

Standard Western medical treatments, including psychotherapy, are less effective on their own for some Indians because of their unique traditions and cultural values, including a tendency to avoid drawing attention to themselves, VA officials say.

''In Native American culture - in every culture - one of the main things that goes against a spirit is taking a life,'' said Cari James, the minority veterans coordinator for the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix. The Hayden facility has an agreement with the Navajo Nation to reimburse costs for medicine man services provided to veterans on the reservation.

Navajo ceremonies can be performed to help Indian veterans recovering from combat and other trauma, said James, an Eastern woodland tribe Indian who is married to a man who is Navajo and Hopi.

Practices like hand trembling and crystal gazing - which Laughter likens to a medical checkup - can be used to determine what the veteran's spirit needs. Then ceremonies, some lasting days, are used to help cleanse or heal.

Laughter and other Indian practitioners provide a variety of veteran services, ranging from blessings to talking circles to elaborate ceremonies designed to bring a warrior back into the community.

Laughter and non-Indian VA officials say those who take part in the traditional ceremonies often report at least temporary relief from PTSD, a mental illness characterized by symptoms like flashbacks and nightmares that afflicts some who have experienced traumatic events.

Laughter, who served two tours in Vietnam, said he learned how beneficial traditional ceremonies could be in reducing PTSD symptoms when his own father, also a medicine man, performed ceremonies for him.

''When [veterans] go to the doctor or hospital, they give them medicine. Pretty soon, they have a bag of medicine after medicine,'' said Laughter, who wears a waist-length pony tail and turquoise bracelet along with two cell phones strapped to his belt. ''We still come back to the ceremony.''

Christopher Elia, head of the PTSD program at the VA center at Fort Mead, S.D., set up a sweat lodge 13 years ago and has seen veterans benefit from the sense of purification, forgiveness and thankfulness generated during a sweat.

Among the Lakota veterans he works with, ''many of them feel they left - for lack of a better term - a piece of their psyche, or soul, on the battlefield,'' he said.

A Sweatlodge ceremony, where hot rocks are doused in water to create steam, is how the Lakota welcome warriors home and how warriors reintroduce themselves to the community, Elia said.

''Traditionally, you give [your troubles] to the rock and burn them off. You no longer have to carry those burdens,'' he said.

Elia said he's unsure exactly why sweat lodges aid PTSD patients, but he's seen the experience of a sweat help veterans feel and express emotions and memories that other treatments, like talk therapy, have failed to uncover.

''Veterans will go into a sweat and say things they haven't said in five years of psychotherapy,'' Elia said.

Edward George Jr., a Navajo from Chinle, recently attended a talking circle presided over by Laughter.

His spirits have been lifted by traditional songs, and George, a former reconnaissance Marine who struggles to be around people, has found it easier to communicate with others.

During the ceremony, George sat cross-legged on the floor of the tipi, his hands palms-up. Laughter threw cornmeal onto the small fire and used pheasant feathers to swirl the smoke in a welcoming blessing over George's hands, shoulders and head.

''Coming back to our Native culture in a way helps us find our way back, find our spirituality again,'' George said.

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