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A Dutch study has revealed that a widely available blood pressure pill could one day help people erase bad memories and maybe even treat some anxiety disorders and phobias. The researchers found that the generic beta-blocker propranolol significantly weakened people's fearful memories of spiders among a group of healthy volunteers who took it.

Since fear response went away, the researchers believe that the memory was weakened.

This is an important finding because the drug may offer another way to help people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems related to bad memories.

Currently, such disorders are treated by therapists trying to teach patients how to build new associations and block bad memories. The problem is that the memories remain and people often relapse.

However, some animal studies have shown that fear memories can be change when recalled, in a process called reconsolidation. At this stage, the patients are also vulnerable to beta-blockers like propranolol, which target neurons in the brain.

The researchers included 60 men and women who learned to associate pictures of spiders with a mild shock. This experience created a fearful memory. Other participants saw the same picture but did not receive an electrical shock. For these people this established a "safe" association without a fear response or bad memory.

A day later, the study participants were given the drug that had a greatly decreased fear response compared with people on the placebo when shown the picture and given a mild shock.

There was no difference to the fear spider and the safe spider, which shows it is possible to weaken the underlying memory by interfering with it.

The researchers’ next steps would be to look at how long the drug's effects on memory will last, and to test the treatment in people who are actually suffering from some kind of disorder or phobia.

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This medication would save a lot of people a lot of troubles.
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