View Full Version : No Fear: Memory Adjustment Pills Get Pentagon Push

12-20-2011, 12:28 AM

The Pentagon hasn’t come close to solving the PTSD crisis plaguing the current generation of troops. But a cutting-edge realm of treatment might change that — by wiping away the fear that military personnel associate with traumatic memories.

The Pentagon this week announced an $11 million grant for three research institutions, all of them long-time hubs for the military’s ongoing PTSD investigations. Experts at Emory University, the University of Southern California and New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center will study the effectiveness of D-Cycloserine (DCS). DCS is a pharmaceutical thought to help extinguish fearful memories. It’s usually taken right before exposure therapy, a process that involves recalling traumatic experiences in an effort to nullify the menacing associations that accompany them.

“We already know that exposure therapy is an effective [therapy] for PTSD, and we want to figure out how to optimize it,” Dr. Barbara Rothbaum, who will lead the Emory team’s research, told Danger Room. “I really think that this study will move beyond the theoretical. We can rescue people.”

Exposure therapy is thought to work by allowing patients to revisit traumas in safe settings. Every time the mind remembers an event, it “rewrites” that recollection. By helping a patient rewrite traumatic memories to be less frightening, studies suggest that exposure therapy can significantly improve symptoms like nightmares and flashbacks.

Adding DCS seems to hasten that process, targeting the precise brain pathways responsible for regulating fear responses.

Researchers will look at two different kinds of exposure therapy: Virtual reality, where a patient is fully immersed in digital combat scenarios, and prolonged imaginal exposure therapy, which asks them to simply remember and recount fearful memories. A total of 300 patients, all of them veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, will partake. They’ll undergo seven individual weekly sessions of one of the therapies. Before each session, half will receive DCS, and the rest will get a placebo.

Experts have already spent plenty of time figuring out how DCS works. It’s been around since the 1960s, when it was used to treat tuberculosis. Now, however, researchers are more excited about the drug’s potential ability to alleviate symptoms of depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and, of course, PTSD — without a lifetime of pill-popping.

“Most drugs, you dose every day,” Rothbaum says. “But DCS is only useful during exposure therapy, so you’re taking the drug right before the session. And when your series of sessions end, the medication ends too.”

DCS seems to enhance the brain’s learning process. For PTSD treatment, the drug could, ostensibly, help patients more quickly internalize that, say, driving down a suburban American highway is far different — and less dangerous — than driving on a Baghdad street. The drug also binds to receptors in the amygdala, the region of the brain that governs fear response. So by blocking out fearful reactions while a patient revisits trauma, experts think DCS can, literally, “extinguish” fear right at the source.

Emory researchers have already tried using DCS and virtual reality in humans with PTSD, fear of heights and obsessive compulsive disorder. Since 2006, Rothbaum and a team of experts have been comparing exposure therapy, used along with DCS, Xanax or placebo, in patients. “Results so far are positive,” Rothbaum says, though they haven’t finished analyzing the data.

That said, results from some other human studies on DCS aren’t encouraging. Just last year, several disappointing trials using DCS were presented by researchers assembled at the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies conference. “The early results are not as positive as we [had] hoped,” noted Dr. Charles Marmar, head of the psychiatry department at NYU, of his team’s study that combined DCS with cognitive behavioral therapy.

But even a glimmer of hope seems to be enough for the Pentagon. So far, what they’ve tried to treat PTSD — which afflicts at least 250,000 of this generation’s soldiers — isn’t working. Conventional approaches, like antidepressants and behavioral therapy, have been a massive failure. So it makes sense that military officials are increasingly open to out-there ideas: They’re already funding research into yoga and acupuncture, neck injections and “digital dream” computer programs — although promising approaches taking advantage of “illicit” substances, like marijuana and ecstasy, have thus far been nixed.

Of course, this latest study will be bigger and more thorough than its failed predecessors. It also builds on years of animal research suggesting that DCS has potential. And there’s no doubt the project is calling on some of the Pentagon’s top civilian scientists. Dr. Rothbaum has been evaluating PTSD treatments, including preliminary studies on DCS, for decades. And Dr. Albert “Skip” Rizzo, from the University of Southern California, pioneered the use of virtual reality therapy to mitigate PTSD symptoms.

Not to mention that this research team will also be conducting genetic tests on every patient. In particular, they’ll be looking at a gene dubbed “BDNF.” Experts already know that a variant of the BDNF gene can make fear extinction tougher. By comparing patient results to genes, Rothbaum says they hope to “figure out what’s the best treatment approach, and whether DCS can really rescue those patients, where maybe therapy alone can’t.”

Of course, the idea of using drugs to tweak memories isn’t without controversy: An online debate flared last year among two camps of neurologists and neuroethicists, arguing over whether the existence of such drugs would “alter something that makes us all human,” or open a Pandora’s Box of illicit use “by people doing things they’d like to forget themselves, or that they would like others to forget.”

Then again, those debates hinge on DCS, or some other memory extinguisher, actually working. DCS’s efficacy is far from proven. And earlier research efforts that tested supposed “fear-extinguishing” drugs, most notably a series of much-touted, Pentagon-funded studies on Propanolol at Harvard, have all been disappointments.

Photo: U.S. Army

12-20-2011, 08:56 AM

12-20-2011, 09:53 AM

12-20-2011, 10:04 AM
there's a pill for dat...

Occam's Banana
12-20-2011, 10:07 AM
Private THX-1138 reporting for duty, SIR!

12-20-2011, 10:09 AM

how about looking to the SOURCE of most ptsd and doing something about it? REPEATED, PROLONGED COMBAT TOURS with no clear and defined goals thus no way to achieve a victory. how about ENDING that?


October 7 of this year marked the 10 year anniversary of America’s War in Afghanistan. It is now the longest War in American history, surpassing even Vietnam. As of today, the 15th of December, the DOD (Dept. of Defense) reports the total American soldiers killed in action is 1,459. Total American deaths including DOD civilians is 1,845 lives. The DOD reports 15,090 soldiers have been wounded in action in Afghanistan since the War began.

“According to the Department of Veterans Affairs in June 2010, there were 171,423 deployed Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans diagnosed with PTSD. Thus far 84,005 Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veteran patients have been granted VA disability compensation; of that about half for PTSD. Often disregarded is the fact that many of our wounded veterans are surviving injuries that would have resulted in their fatality in wars past.” – The Frontline, Jan. 2011

“According to Department of Defense statistics, there were 309 suicides among active-duty and reserve troops in the military in 2009, compared with 160 in 2001. There was a record high number of suicides in July this year – with the deaths of 33 service members categorized as suicides, the report said.” -The Daily Mail

“For the second year (2010) in a row, more US soldiers killed themselves (468) than died in combat (462). ‘If you… know the one thing that causes people to commit suicide, please let us know,’ General Peter Chiarelli told the Army Times, ‘because we don’t know.’ Suicide is a tragic but predictable human reaction to being asked to kill – and watch your friends be killed…” – Project Censored, Dec. 12, 2011

With suicide rates among veterans of our current wars on the rise and reaching record levels, one must ask what is going on with the morale of these soldiers. While there may be many explanations and theories, I believe it hints at something much larger than just a normal reaction to a long war. Without question, the one thing that boosts the morale of any team is success; the one thing that endangers a team’s morale is failure. Certainly, one of the worst mistakes made by the Bush Administration when going to War in Afghanistan & Iraq was not to define clear goals and a clear definition of success for the soldier in the fight. The justifications and purposes for military incursion into Afghanistan & Iraq were muddled from the beginning. Some of us who wanted to protect our Country went to War anyway, knowing for ourselves our own reasons for going regardless of the lack of clarity from our leaders. Now, many of us are speaking up as to why the War is no longer necessary – or even morally justifiable. This seems blatantly obvious when you consider that Ron Paul continues to get more individual small donor support from active duty military than all the other Republican Presidential nominees combined. Everyone wants to know, “why are these current veterans supporting the anti-war candidate in the Republican field, Ron Paul?” Admittedly, this could just be conjecture; but I may have an answer: SOLDIERS WANT TO WIN WARS, not occupy foreign lands. The soldiers who joined the military and served in Wartime out of a sense of patriotic duty to American Freedoms are many of the same soldiers who don’t want to infringe on those same freedoms of self-determination in other countries. SOLDIERS WANT TO WIN WARS & come home.

A correct understanding of what a military is can shed a lot of light on why we should not occupy foreign peoples. A military has 2 purposes: to kill people, and to break things. A military is supposed to be used in defense, not in offense. Offensive Wars will result in blowback against the American people and the homeland. Policing the world, nation-building, and protecting corporate interests is NOT the proper role of the U.S. military, and will only result in building more resentment against the United States all around the world. The oath of every service-member is to protect and defend the Constitution, not something outside of national defense. SOLDIERS WANT TO WIN WARS, not necessarily hearts and minds. The average soldier is not exactly the best diplomat for peace, and it is not necessarily even in the best interest of the soldier to focus on winning hearts and minds instead of being focused on keeping himself and his buddies alive when in a combat zone. Some of us have learned this lesson the hard way, and we’re trying to get Americans to wake up and pay attention to what horrors are being perpetrated in our name. SOLDIERS WANT TO WIN WARS, not keep the populations of other nations under our military control in perpetuity.

Here’s the case:

America spends almost as much in military spending as all the other nations of Earth combined.

America has the most highly trained, technologically advanced, and best-equipped military in the entire world.

America has the firepower and logistical power to deliver it in such a way that no nation on Earth could go toe-to-toe with us.

Osama Bin Laden is dead.

“I think at most, we’re looking at maybe 50 to 100 [al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan], maybe less” – CIA Director Leon Panetta, ABC News, 27 June 2010

Numbers for Taliban currently in Afghanistan range anywhere from several hundred to several thousand, but are outnumbered by U.S. forces by many multiples in any case.

Afghanistan has had secure and free elections.

The real question seems to me to be, why the hell are we still in Afghanistan? This is the question on the minds of many of our service-members and of many Americans; dare I say on the minds of many people all around the world? For those who might say that we still need a military presence in Afghanistan, I would ask; what is it that you still want to accomplish in Afghanistan before you take our service-members out of harm’s way? What goal still justifies your son or daughter dying in Afghanistan? What do you see as such a threat from Afghanistan that you’re willing to keep piling up the dead bodies of the civilian women and children as collateral damage of our War? Do you not see that Osama Bin Laden’s admitted strategy to bog our nation down in an ever-escalating War in the Middle East is working? SOLDIERS WANT TO WIN WARS. Do you honestly believe that America’s aggressive posture of continuously pissing in the backyards of all our international neighbors will not eventually cost us a hefty price here at home? The Big Government Warfare/Welfare State is bankrupting our country and assaulting our civil liberties.

Many people have noticed that Ron Paul is getting a lot of support from young people, and a growing number of self-described Libertarian youth. Why wouldn’t he? Anybody 20 years old in college today who is smart enough and actually cares to crunch the numbers can easily see that America’s present spending course is absolutely unsustainable. That 20 yr.-old probably can’t remember much back before his/her nation being at perpetual War. That young person knows that they could be on the hook for paying into a federal entitlement system that will be bankrupt before they ever see benefits. What a bleak future of perpetual War & perpetual debt we’ve placed on our children. Why wouldn’t they want to shake off the chains of Big Government and return to the Constitutional principles of our Founding Fathers? There is hope in Limited Government for true peace & prosperity. There is hope for our childcare’s future if we have a revival of the spirit of liberty in America.

Considering American military capabilities, there is absolutely no excuse why it should take us over 10 years to win the War in Afghanistan with no end in sight even now. I can guarantee it’s not the failure or the fault of the soldier actually in the fight on the ground; it is the fault and failure of America’s leaders. SOLDIERS WANT TO WIN WARS. Our government has failed its’ service-members. It is time the American people hold them accountable. It is time to restore sanity to our policy. It is time to elect Ron Paul for President. ♠

12-20-2011, 10:18 AM
Oh don't you know there is a pill for everything? My problem is, I took the Liberty pill...once you take that there is no turning back!!!