Seriously, This Drug Can ERASE Your Meth Memories
It’s kind of an insane question, right? Would you let a doctor literally erase memories if they promised it would help prevent relapse and they’d only erase memories associated with meth use?
Start coming up with an answer because, according to top scientists, there’s a real possibility this type of treatment may soon be coming to a drug rehab near you.
An article published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry in early August explored how scientists in Florida are working to create a “meth memory eraser” and how they’re gearing up to start running human trails.
Without going into a bunch of technical jargon (don’t worry, that’s below), researchers at The Scripps Research Institute have been studying how memories and addiction interact for a number of years. Then, in 2013, they made a breakthrough.
They found that by blocking a common protein called actin they could actually erase memories associated with meth use in mice while, at the same time, leaving other memories untouched.
This project is the brainchild of Courtney A. Miller. Miller is an Associate Professor of Neuroscience at Scripps. She’s been exploring the intersection of substance abuse and memory for the past 15 years.
In a recent interview, Professor Miller stated,
“The idea is that someone would go into a rehab program with the typical abstinence therapies and while they are in the treatment program they would receive this medication one time and it should remove all of the associations with the drug…It’s exciting” (The Washington Post).
Learn exactly how this meth memory erasure works – and whether it’s safe for humans to try – below!
How Drug Memories Are Formed
In 2013, while conducting research that involved giving lab mice copious amounts of methamphetamine, Miller discovered something groundbreaking. No, it wasn’t that mice love meth – memories involving meth and “normal memories” are physically different, according to Miller.
To explain the difference, it’s important to explore how memories are formed. Although this is pretty scientific and dense stuff, The Washington Post explained it in pretty straightforward language.
Basically, our memories are nothing more than electric and chemical connections in our brains. In other words – our memories are made up of neurons and the connections between them.
The actual connections are named dendritic spines. They “held up” by that protein actin we mentioned above. It acts as support and framework for the dendritic spines spanning our brain.
Once we experience something – anything – actin stabilizes around new dendritic spines. After a few minutes, it’s stable and the memory is cemented into our minds.
When it comes to meth, though, this isn’t what happens. Rather than stabilize around the dendrite, actin actually remains instable.
This leads the memory to behave differently than a normal memory and may, scientists believe, account for the euphoric recall associated with meth addiction.
This also may have something to do with anhedonia, or the inability to feel pleasure that many recovering meth addicts experience in early-sobriety.
Okay, so scientists now know how meth memories are different than regular memories. They know how they’re formed and how to selectively target, disrupt, and effectively erase them.
Sounds pretty good, right? Well, there’s a bit of a problem.
Actin is one of the most prevalent proteins in the human body. It’s responsible for a host of necessary functions, including “…how muscles contract, [how] the heart works, [how] cells divide…So if we inhibited actin it would probably kill a person” (The Washington Post).
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Is There a Way to Erase Memories Without Killing Us?
That, readers, is the billion-dollar question.
Well, Miller and her team at Scripps weren’t ready to give up. They went back to the drawing board and tried out some new ideas. After a year of hard work, they believe they’ve come up with a way to erase meth memories without also killing someone.
Instead of targeting actin itself, they’ve switched their focus to something called blebbistatin. This is a chemical that inhibits something called a nonmuscle myosin II (also known as a NMII). NMIIs support memory formation and by blocking them Miller was also able to block meth memories from being formed in mice.
Don’t worry if you don’t get exactly what that means. I’ve been reading scientific studies about NMIIs and blebbistatin all day and still don’t understand exactly how they work!
What matters here is the practical implication of Miller and her team’s research. After injecting mice with one dose of blebbistatin, they were able to block meth memories from being formed for 30 days. At the same time, the mice’s other memories were left untouched and intact.
That sounds like a win to me!
There’s one major thing to remember though. These tests have only been performed on mice. It remains to be seen whether the effect will be the same in humans. Miller and The Scripps Institute are in the process of applying for federal grants and hope to start human trails within the next five years.
When asked about her research, Professor Miller remained hopeful. She said,
“We now have a viable target and by blocking that target, we can disrupt, and potentially erase, drug memories, leaving other memories intact…The hope is that, when combined with traditional rehabilitation and abstinence therapies, we can reduce or eliminate relapse for meth users after a single treatment by taking away the power of an individual’s triggers” (Gizmag).
What do you think? Let us know on social media!