Could anesthesia be used in the treatment of PTSD, depression and related conditions? It’s certainly possible.
A new study from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid found that when administered under specific circumstances, the anesthetic propofol can help alter traumatic and debilitating memories. The study included 50 patients who were undergoing procedures (like endoscopies and colonoscopies) and would be treated with propofol. A week before surgery, patients were shown a slideshow of emotionally charged images and a slide show of neutral images. Immediately before the procedure, the researchers “reactivated” the memories of both slide shows by asking the patient to recall the images.
Twenty-four hours after the procedure, researchers found that the memory of the emotionally charged slide show had been impaired—but not the memory of the neutral slide show. It’s important to note that the propofol did not make the memory disappear, it just made the recall of that memory a less emotional, disturbing experience.
A Scientific American article reporting on the research notes that in this study, propofol “functioned exactly as a PTSD drug should—impairing the disturbing memories and leaving the others alone.”
This study’s small sample size certainly does not prove that propofol or any anesthesia can treat PTSD, depression or related conditions—much more research will need to be conducted before anesthetics are used in this capacity. But this small study is an excellent illustration of how the medical community at large is continuing to learn about the far-reaching benefits of anesthesia.
At Allied, we specialize in all aspects of anesthesia, but as doctors and scientists, we are always interested in developments that could ultimately help our patients. Our priority, first and foremost, is to responsibly use anesthesia and other measures to help our patients.