A psychological therapy that doctors use in PTSD treatment is prolonged exposure (PE) treatment, exposing people with a traumatic memory to that memory over and over again, in hopes they’ll eventually stop responding with fear.
But some people with PTSD who are treated with PE show no improvement, and some who do benefit return to their original state over time.
Finding a way to make PE more effective could be crucial in helping the 8 million people living with PTSD cope with traumatic memories. It might also help minimize the sleep difficulties and avoidance that come hand-in-hand with their condition.
Researchers at Linköping University in Sweden figured that a drug that positively affects the endocannabinoid system could be key. They zeroed in on a drug that blocks the fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) enzyme and boosts the levels of anandamide, which is an endocannabinoid in the brain linked to fear and anxiety. The FAAH inhibitor had been developed originally as a pain reliever, although it wasn’t effective for that purpose. The researchers reported the results of a small, placebo-controlled study that involved 45 healthy people in Biological Psychiatry. All the volunteers took the medication or placebo for 10 days, after which they underwent psychological and physiological testing.
One test focused on the fear extinction principle used in PE. It involved associating the sound of fingernails scraping a blackboard with the visual image of a blue or red lamp. After the volunteers demonstrated a fear response to the lamp, the researchers repeatedly showed them the image without the fingernail sound. The aim was to remove the fear associated with the lamp. A day later, the participants underwent another test to see if they still felt fear when seeing the lamp. “We saw that participants who had received the FAAH inhibitor remembered the fear extinction memory much better,” said lead investigator Leah Mayo.
The researchers also deemed the drug as safe and noted no significant adverse side effects.
The next step is to study the drug in people with PTSD to see if it has the same positive effect.
Source: Medical News Today, Sept. 8