Drug-induced amnesia

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Drug-induced amnesia is amnesia caused by drugs. Amnesia may be therapeutic for treatment of psychological trauma or for medical procedures, or it may be a side-effect of a drug, such as alcohol or rohypnol, commonly known as the date rape drug.

Medical usage[edit]

Researchers are currently experimenting with drug-induced amnesia as a treatment for psychiatric disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and memory related disorders, such as dementia and Alzheimer's Disease. By understanding the ways in which amnesia-inducing drugs interact with the brain, researchers hope to better understand the ways in which neurotransmitters aid in the formation of memory. By stimulating rather than depressing these neurotransmitters, memory may improve.[1]

The use of a drug to erase traumatic or unwanted memories is often referred to as "science fiction," but advanced therapies are currently being developed in the United States and Canada. In the process of remembering, the memory needs to be restored in the brain. By introducing an amnesia-inducing drug during this process, the memory can be disrupted. While the memory remains intact, the emotional reaction is dampened, making the memory less overwhelming. Researchers believe this drug will help patients with post-traumatic stress disorder be able to better process the trauma without reliving the trauma emotionally.[2]

Researchers at New York University claim they can completely erase a memory from a mouse’s brain, while leaving the rest of the memories unchanged. The implications for erasing memories are controversial. Some worry that this will become a quick fix for those without true emotional trauma.[2]

The amnesic effects of 2 benzodiazepine drugs, diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan), have been investigated. Some of the effects were similar to those of certain clinical amnesic syndromes. The effects were more extensive than previous work has indicated.[3]

In popular culture[edit]

In the 1970 science fiction TV series UFO, amnesia drugs were given to anyone who had contact with SHADO operatives, or witnessed their covert activities.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. Both characters attempt to erase each other from their memories, due to a failed relationship. As the memory erasure begins, they attempt to hold on to the memories.

In an episode of the TV series Private Practice, a patient requests an propranolol in order to forget a sexual assault. The drug is never used because of possible side effects and its experimental status.

The characters in The Hangover (2009) deal with the aftermath of amnesia after taking roofies.

An episode of Arrested Development called Forget-Me-Now discusses the use of drug-induced amnesia for those who have figured out the magician's tricks (or illusions).

In the PC Game Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010) a character by the name of Daniel wakes up self-induced with amnesia, in the terrifying Castle of Brennenburg to discover the truth about his memories.

In Mythology[edit]

Nepenthe; literally named anti-sorrow, is a substance mentioned in the Odyssey given to Helen of Troy; said to originate from Egypt. Consumption causes sorrowful memories to be forgotten.[4][5]

Alcohol related[edit]

Alcohol can cause both long-term and short-term memory loss.


  1. ^ Curran, H. Valerie. "Psychopharmalogical Perspectives on Memory." Oxford Handbook of Memory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  2. ^ a b Gray, Richard. "Scientists find drug to banish bad memories." The Telegraph, 2007 Jul 1.
  3. ^ Brown, J. %A Lewis, Vivien Amnesic effects of intravenous diazepam and lorazepam Experientia Vol 34.4 1978:501-502http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/BF019359541978
  4. ^ πένθος. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  5. ^ Homer; Murray, A.T. (translator) (1919). "4.219-221". Odyssey.  "4.219-221". (in Greek).  At the Perseus Project.