October 1, 2022

The future of memory-altering drugs

Give memory-altering drugs a chance, argues the editor of the well-regarded Neuroethics & Law blog. Adam Kolber, of Brooklyn Law School, writes in Nature that drugs could be of immense benefit for people who have experienced traumatic stress, such as rescue workers or victims of assault. The use of memory altering drugs is looking “increasingly promising”.

Give memory-altering drugs a chance, argues the editor of the well-regarded Neuroethics & Law blog. Adam Kolber, of Brooklyn Law School, writes in Nature that drugs could be of immense benefit for people who have experienced traumatic stress, such as rescue workers or victims of assault. The use of memory altering drugs is looking “increasingly promising”.

“…excessive hand-wringing now over the ethics of tampering with memory could stall research into preventing post-traumatic stress in millions of people. Delay could also hinder people who are already debilitated by harrowing memories from being offered the best hope yet of reclaiming their lives.”

Opposing Professor Kolber is the widespread view that it is more ethical to cope with bad memories through personal struggle with one’s emotions. One of the most prominent voices has been George Bush’s US President’s Council on Bioethics. In a 2003 publication,  Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Human Happiness, its authors argued that “Memory- and mood-altering drugs pose a fundamental danger to our pursuit of happiness”. Kolber claims that this attitude is crippling the development and application of useful drugs.

“Fear that the potential fruits of research may be prohibited or heavily regulated could deter researchers from pursuing studies on memory manipulation or funders from supporting them. Instead, researchers should be encouraged to explore pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical methods of helping people cope with trauma.”

Nature Comment, Aug 18

Michael Cook
memory altering drugs
neuroethics