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Radio Shows | Anesthesia and Memories | mp3wmawav

Have you ever experienced a traumatic event, like being in a car wreck and have it play over and over in your mind? Would you want a simple way to erase that memory, forever?

Well some recent results have shown that low doses of inhaled anesthetics can eliminate bad memories, before they take hold. Imagine the benefit to soldiers on the battlefield who witness horrible events! Could this approach prevent the development of post-traumatic stress syndrome?

In a study scientists treated one set of volunteers with low doses of an inhaled anesthetic called Sevoflurane and another group with a placebo. They then showed them pictures ranging from coffee cups to really nasty images like a severed hand.

A week later, they asked these folks what pictures they could remember. While the placebo group remembered about 29% of the most evocative images, those given the anesthetic remembered just 5 percent of the dramatic images.

What's striking is that they were actually better at recalling the normal images remembering ten percent of what they saw.

Brain scans revealed that the anesthetic blocked communication between the amygdala and the hippocampus. These areas of the brain are critical in the development of long term memory and in regulating emotion.

But it's not clear how the anesthetic actually blocks the formation of memories.

With more research we could develop therapies for victims of trauma to prevent the memories that lead to post-traumatic stress syndrome.

The hard part will be how to eliminate pre-existing memories. Can we remind a patient of the memory that troubles them to bring it to the active mind and then manipulate it?

There is some evidence this might work.

If so, this will spark debate over whether memories are meant to be forgotten at all. After all, negative experiences often give us important lessons.

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For more information…

For an articles describing the research by Dr Michael Alkire and Dr Larry Cahill on how anesthetics can be used to modify painful memories go
here and here.

For general information about anesthesia, why it's done the risks and what you can expect, go
here and here.

For an essay that illustrates the ethical debate about using anesthetics to erase bad memories go


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