Anesthetic kills the pain … of traumatic memories.

New Scientist reports on a novel possible treatment for PTSD – a common anesthetic that helps take the sting out of painful memories:

Bryan Strange at the Technical University of Madrid in Spain and his colleagues found that when volunteers received an injection of the sedative propofol immediately after recalling a story, they remembered the story’s distressing elements less well 24 hours later.

The participants learned the stories from slide shows that began and ended neutrally, but had upsetting content in the middle. One story was about a boy involved in a traffic accident, while the other was about the kidnapping and assault of a young woman.

Immediately before being sedated for their medical procedure, each volunteer was shown the first slide of one of the stories and asked several questions to “reactivate” their memory of the tale.

Straight after the procedure, half the participants were tested on how well they recollected the stories.

The rest of the volunteers were tested 24 hours after their procedures. Propofol did seem to have an effect: these participants were 12 per cent worse on average at remembering the emotional parts of the reactivated story compared with the non-reactivated one. They remembered the emotionally neutral parts of both stories equally well.

You can read the original research here, in Science Advances.