What if you could erase the most negative memories of your past? If there was a pill that could do such a feat, would you take it?
One day, there might be such an option. But are we researching into dangerous waters in the name of science and medicine?
Two articles earlier this year explore the idea that a memory loss or forgetting pill might one day be a reality. Wired and Scientific American both published articles describing the science and the research behind making a person forget a specific memory.
Interest in the subject is rooted in the desire to find ways to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental issues stemming from the recalled memory of a traumatic event or series of events. The idea behind the research is that memory is more of a fluid process rather than a static function of the human brain.
Research, currently in the animal studies stage, suggests that certain proteins and their relationship with specific receptors in the brain are responsible for memory recall. Theoretically, if one could target the right proteins and the correct receptors, one might have the ability to suppress a targeted memory.
I’ve always had an idea that a person’s memory worked more like a recording device. We simply document an event in our brain for later recall. The relationship between that memory and our ability to remember it is a simple function of recalling the documentation in our own brain.
In reality, memory seems to be more of a fluid process that has the potential to be manipulated for various outcomes. If the process of memory recall can be broken down into a specific pathway, researchers could attempt to find ways of manipulating that pathway or blocking it entirely.
One outcome of this research might be having a patient forget some traumatic event from their past. If an event is severe enough, it can have long-term implications on a patient’s mental and physical health. Blocking such a memory might help a patient to heal and move on with their life.
But the ability to suppress a specific memory through chemistry raises several questions. Should modern medicine tamper with the foundation of who a person really is- their memories?
What if this science does develop way past the interesting but inconclusive animal studies data reported in the above articles? Would patients be open to the idea of eliminating a memory, even if it could be deemed medically safe?
To me, this reminds me of earlier periods in medicine when mood disorders were first being targeted for treatment options. Disorders like depression became much more complicated as more understanding of brain chemistry was discovered. We now know there are many things that impact a person’s mood.
What if the chemical pathways of memory become equally complex as research continues to advance? Should modern medicine attempt to alter the memory pathways of individuals without fully understanding the implications of doing so?
Personally, I don’t think we are anywhere close to the release of a so called forgetting pill. Research looking at the possibility of such a drug is too far in it’s infancy to expect that kind of treatment option anytime soon.
But if the day comes when a memory losing pill is an option, I’d be hesitant to use such a drug. My memories, both good and bad, are what make me who I am and how I react to the world around me. The implications of altering that dynamic in any way seems dangerous.
What do you think? Does a forgetting pill sound like it’s a worth while area of research for PTSD? Or is this all mad science with far reaching implications that can’t even begun to be understood given what we currently know about how our brain works?
Science and medicine is evolving. We may one day have the ability to alter a person’s memory. But I am wondering if we should even try? And what happens if we do and something goes wrong?
The Redheaded Pharmacist