Eternal Sunshine of the Fearless Mind

In a study conducted by Michael Davis, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, Georgia, a drug already on the market for tuberculosis helped people who were terrified of heights get over that fear with only two therapy sessions instead of the usual seven or eight.

Davis based his work on research that had found the transmission of a certain protein to a brain receptor was critical to overcoming fear. He found that the TB drug, D-cycloserine, aids the transmission of the crucial protein. The drug, sold by Eli Lilly and Co. under the brand name Seromycin, doesn't dissolve fear, but in rats, it helped unlearn fears faster.

Since it was already approved for use in people, Michael Davis and Barbara O. Rothbaum, director of the school's trauma and anxiety recovery program, tested it on 28 acrophobics, people afraid of heights. Each received a pill just before their two virtual reality therapy sessions, in which computerized goggles are used to simulate going up a glass elevator in a hotel lobby. Nobody knew whether the pill was a placebo or one of two doses of D-cycloserine, the 500 mg used for TB or one-tenth that dose.

Note: One participant dropped out of the study, thus results are based on the 27 remaining participants.

“When checked one week after and three months after the second session, the 10 patients who had received placebos did slightly better than they had at the start. But the 17 on the drug -- the dose didn't seem to matter -- did as well as or better than people who had finished the usual course of eight treatments,” Davis said. “And, those who had taken the drug were twice as likely as those on the placebo to be going up in elevators, driving over high bridges and doing other things that fear of panic attacks had kept them from doing before the therapy.”

"That's pretty powerful stuff…pretty convincing," said Alan Steinberg, associate director of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress at UCLA.

Hmm…taking a pill to overcome fear. I guess the 2004 movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, in which a couple undergo a procedure to erase each other from their memories when their relationship turns sour, isn’t so far-fetched after all. Considering heartache is so very painful, I’m sure researchers will have an abundance of participants should this come to pass.


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Bonnie Morét is an award-winning photographer recognized by The Georgia Council of the Arts as "an exceptional representation of contemporary Georgia art work." Her photography is featured on Georgia Public Broadcast's Georgia Traveler. Her exhibitions include Fifth Annual Exposure Awards at Musee du Louvre in Paris, France, Art Takes Miami at Scope Art during Art Basel Miami, Metro Montage XIII at the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art, World of Water at the Georgia Aquarium, Open Walls at Black Box Gallery in Portland, Oregon, Wholly Georgia: A Look at the Effects of Southern Religious Culture, sponsored by the Art History League and Georgia State University, at Mint Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia, 6x6 at the Rochester Contemporary Arts Center in Rochester, New York, @Phonography: Dialogue in the Wireless Age, at 3 Ring Circus in New Orleans, Louisiana, and About Lands and Lives of the Civil War at the 6th Cavalry Museum in Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia. Her photography appears in Modern Luxury/The Atlantan, Jezebel Magazine, and hangs in the executive offices at the Georgia State Capitol as part of the Art of Georgia exhibit. Corporate clients include Atlanta Ballet, Atlanta History Center, Chanel Cosmetics, Christian Dior Cosmetics, Sharp Mountain Vineyards, PM Realty Group, Granite Properties, Road Atlanta, Patrón Tequila, StubHub, CBM Records and The Washington Auto Show.