Sunday, November 26, 2006

Propranolol for the Spotless Mind

This Sunday, 60 Minutes took a look at the controversial drug Propranolol. Recent studies involving the drug have found that it helps patients deal with difficult experiences--like attacks and witnessing tragedies--that might lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by erasing the trauma from our memory.

According to Leslie Stahl, science is finding that memories are like "jello", they take time to form. The closer the drug is delivered to the occurence of the trauma, the better chance of recovery.

The Bush administration, of course, has condemned the study as potential threat to our identity. Pain is there to teach us something, critics say.

Dr. Roger Pittman, who heads the study at Harvard University, says based on that logic we should deny those in extreme physical pain drugs like morphine.

The most shocking part of the story is how similar the science behind this treatment is to the faux-science in Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Just as in the movie, patients are asked forced to recall traumas while they take doses of the drug. Unlike the movie, the patient's memories are just activated by thinking. They don't use artifacts of the bad memories, like journals documenting lost loves or dead pets' collars.

Beyond the ethics and creepiness of this scientific development, the real news is that the people who have taken the treatment say that it works. And not just for recent traumas.

"I feel like I have my identity back," says one middle-aged patient. She had been haunted the memory of rape she suffered as a child at the hands of her family doctor. Propranolol has made those memories less present and potent in her everyday life. For the first time in her life she can undress in front of her husband without feeling ashamed.

That's the kind of healing that seems to only happen in the movies.


Blogger jeff said...

What i thought was interesting about the movie version was the fact that regardless of how hard we tried to remove our memories to save ourselves, we are unable to change who we are as individuals and how we respond to others.

10:34 AM  

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