Imagine a spider: Eight beady eyes and eight gangly legs that leave goose bumps as they crawl up your skin. It’s easy to see why so many people are afraid of the creepy crawlers, but spiders don’t have to stay the stuff of nightmares.
Researchers have found that propranolol, a medication traditionally used to treat heart disease, reduces or eliminates even the strongest phobias: heights, spiders, flying, public speaking—all gone. It’s not exactly as simple as popping a pill and kissing your fears good-bye. First the fear has to be triggered—for example, people with arachnophobia are handed a tarantula. Then they take a dose of propranolol and go to sleep. When subjects wake up, they are able to pet and hold the tarantula they couldn’t even look at a day ago.
This news sounds like something out of science fiction, but it has to do with the principle of memory consolidation. (While studies have recently confirmed the drug’s effectiveness on humans, scientists have known about its memory altering capabilities for decades.)
The treatment is a potential godsend for the nearly one in three people who will suffer from an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. The New Republic has a full story that dives into the research on this wonder drug.