ISLAMABAD: You’ve tried everything to overcome your fear of spiders.
You swallow your screams when you see the eight-legged arachnids– and even try to summon the courage to kill the one crawling up your wall.
And yet, nothing has worked – the mere thought of the creepy crawlies is still enough to send you reeling.
Luckily, a team of researchers have discovered a quick cure for your debilitating fear.
And all it takes is two minutes with a tarantula, combined with a single dose of a beta-blocker.
Researchers from the University of Amsterdam found that people 'forgot' their fear of spiders when they were briefly exposed to a tarantula and then given a dosage of the beta-blocker propranolol
Researchers from the University of Amsterdam set out to build on the concept of ‘reconsolidation’ in finding a cure for arachnophobia.
That is the theory that when memories are activated, they can be modified in fundamental ways to strengthen or weaken them.
The theory was identified 15 years ago by a neuroscientist – Dr Joseph LeDoux – who found that administering a drug upon activation of a fearful memory induced amnesia for that learned fear.
However, until now, pharmaceutically-induced amnesia was only convincingly demonstrated for fears created in the laboratory in animals and healthy participants.
Researchers recruited 45 volunteers – each with a fear of spiders – for the study.
The participants were randomized to either receive a single dose of propranolol – a beta-blocker used to treat heart conditions and high blood pressure – or a placebo.
The drugs were administered following a brief exposure to a tarantula.
Participants who received propranolol displayed ‘drastically reduced avoidance behavior and increased approach behavior’ to spiders – an effect that lasted for one year.
Dr Merel Kindt of the University of Amsterdam said: ‘Here we show for the first time that an amnesic drug given in conjunction with memory reactivation transformed avoidance behavior to approach behavior in people with a real-life spider fear.
‘The new treatment is more like surgery than therapy.’
According to the researchers, patients with anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder typically receive multiple sessions of cognitive behavioral treatment or daily drug intake.
The study's participants were randomized to receive propranolol or a placebo - and those who received the drug displayed 'drastically reduced avoidance behavior' to spiders for a year
Those treatments lead to a gradual (and often temporary) decline of symptoms.
Dr Kindt added: ‘The proposed revolutionary intervention involves one single, brief intervention that leads to a sudden, substantial and lasting loss of fear.’
The researchers said that further investigation is necessary.
They said other should extend these findings to patient populations and more severe phobias, in addition to testing the outcome with other variables.
The findings may ultimately lead to a new treatment strategy that erases the emotional impact of ‘intensely fearful memories’.