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Alcohol use disorders can be conceptualised as a learned pattern of maladaptive alcohol-consumption behaviours. The memories encoding these behaviours centrally contribute to long-term excessive alcohol consumption and are therefore an important therapeutic target. The transient period of memory instability sparked during memory reconsolidation offers a therapeutic window to directly rewrite these memories using targeted behavioural interventions. However, clinically-relevant demonstrations of the efficacy of this approach are few. We examined key retrieval parameters for destabilising naturalistic drinking memories and the ability of subsequent counterconditioning to effect long-term reductions in drinking.
Hazardous/harmful beer-drinking volunteers (N = 120) were factorially randomised to retrieve (RET) or not retrieve (No RET) alcohol reward memories with (PE) or without (No PE) alcohol reward prediction error. All participants subsequently underwent disgust-based counterconditioning of drinking cues. Acute responses to alcohol were assessed pre- and post-manipulation and drinking levels were assessed up to 9 months.
Greater long-term reductions in drinking were found when counterconditioning was conducted following retrieval (with and without PE), despite a lack of short-term group differences in motivational responding to acute alcohol. Large variability in acute levels of learning during counterconditioning was noted. ‘Responsiveness’ to counterconditioning predicted subsequent responses to acute alcohol in RET + PE only, consistent with reconsolidation-update mechanisms.
The longevity of behavioural interventions designed to reduce problematic drinking levels may be enhanced by leveraging reconsolidation-update mechanisms to rewrite maladaptive memory. However, inter-individual variability in levels of corrective learning is likely to determine the efficacy of reconsolidation-updating interventions and should be considered when designing and assessing interventions.
Maladaptive learning linking environmental food cues to high-palatability food reward plays a central role in overconsumption in obesity and binge eating disorders. The process of memory reconsolidation offers a mechanism to weaken such learning, potentially ameliorating over-eating behaviour. Here we investigated whether putatively interfering with synaptic plasticity using the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitor, rapamycin, could weaken retrieved chocolate reward memories through blockade of reconsolidation
Seventy five healthy volunteers with a tendency to binge eat chocolate were randomised to retrieve chocolate reward memory under 10 mg rapamycin (RET + RAP, active condition), or placebo (RET + PBO), or they received 10 mg rapamycin without subsequent retrieval (NO RET + RAP). Indices of chocolate reward memory strength were assessed one week pre and post manipulation and at one month follow-up.
Contrary to hypotheses, the RET + RAP group did not show any greater reduction than control groups on indices of motivational salience of chocolate cues, motivation to consume chocolate or liking of chocolate. Mild evidence of improvement in the RET + RAP group was found, but this was limited to reduced chocolate binge episodes and improved healthy food choices.
We did not find convincing evidence of comprehensive naturalistic chocolate reward memory reconsolidation blockade by rapamycin. The effects on chocolate bingeing and food choices may warrant further investigation. These limited positive findings may be attributable to insufficient interference with mTOR signalling with 10 mg rapamycin, or failure to destabilise chocolate memories during retrieval.
Pharmacological treatments targeting the neuroendocrine stress response may hold special promise in secondary prevention of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, findings from clinical trials have been inconsistent and the efficacy of specific drugs, their temporal window of efficacy, effective doses and the characteristics of likely treatment responders remain unclear.
Using an experimental human model of distressing involuntary memory formation, we compare the effects of two drugs that have theoretical or empirical support as secondary preventive agents in PTSD. Eighty-eight healthy women (average age: 23.5 years) received oral propranolol (80 mg), hydrocortisone (30 mg), or matched placebo immediately after viewing a ‘trauma film’. They then completed daily, time-stamped intrusion diaries for 1 week, at the end of which, voluntary memory was tested.
While neither drug affected voluntary memory for the trauma narrative, propranolol treatment was associated with 42% fewer, and hydrocortisone with 55% fewer intrusions across the week, relative to placebo. Additionally, propranolol reduced general trauma-like symptoms, and post-drug cortisol levels were negatively correlated with intrusion frequency in the hydrocortisone group.
Overall, this study shows substantial reductions in intrusive memories and preserved voluntary narrative-declarative memory following either propranolol or hydrocortisone in an experimental model of psychological trauma. As such, despite some inconsistencies in clinical trials, our findings support continued investigation of propranolol and hydrocortisone as secondary preventive agents for re-experiencing symptoms of PTSD. The findings also suggest that it is critical for future research to identify the conditions governing the preventive efficacy of these drugs in PTSD.
Changes in cannabis regulation globally make it increasingly important to determine what predicts an individual's risk of experiencing adverse drug effects. Relevant studies have used diverse self-report measures of cannabis use, and few include multiple biological measures. Here we aimed to determine which biological and self-report measures of cannabis use predict cannabis dependency and acute psychotic-like symptoms.
In a naturalistic study, 410 young cannabis users were assessed once when intoxicated with their own cannabis and once when drug-free in counterbalanced order. Biological measures of cannabinoids [(Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), cannabinol (CBN) and their metabolites)] were derived from three samples: each participant's own cannabis (THC, CBD), a sample of their hair (THC, THC-OH, THC-COOH, CBN, CBD) and their urine (THC-COOH/creatinine). Comprehensive self-report measures were also obtained. Self-reported and clinician-rated assessments were taken for cannabis dependency [Severity of Dependence Scale (SDS), DSM-IV-TR] and acute psychotic-like symptoms [Psychotomimetic State Inventory (PSI) and Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale (BPRS)].
Cannabis dependency was positively associated with days per month of cannabis use on both measures, and with urinary THC-COOH/creatinine for the SDS. Acute psychotic-like symptoms were positively associated with age of first cannabis use and negatively with urinary THC-COOH/creatinine; no predictors emerged for BPRS.
Levels of THC exposure are positively associated with both cannabis dependency and tolerance to the acute psychotic-like effects of cannabis. Combining urinary and self-report assessments (use frequency; age first used) enhances the measurement of cannabis use and its association with adverse outcomes.
The number of people entering specialist drug treatment for cannabis problems has increased considerably in recent years. The reasons for this are unclear, but rising cannabis potency could be a contributing factor.
Cannabis potency data were obtained from an ongoing monitoring programme in the Netherlands. We analysed concentrations of δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) from the most popular variety of domestic herbal cannabis sold in each retail outlet (2000–2015). Mixed effects linear regression models examined time-dependent associations between THC and first-time cannabis admissions to specialist drug treatment. Candidate time lags were 0–10 years, based on normative European drug treatment data.
THC increased from a mean (95% CI) of 8.62 (7.97–9.27) to 20.38 (19.09–21.67) from 2000 to 2004 and then decreased to 15.31 (14.24–16.38) in 2015. First-time cannabis admissions (per 100 000 inhabitants) rose from 7.08 to 26.36 from 2000 to 2010, and then decreased to 19.82 in 2015. THC was positively associated with treatment entry at lags of 0–9 years, with the strongest association at 5 years, b = 0.370 (0.317–0.424), p < 0.0001. After adjusting for age, sex and non-cannabis drug treatment admissions, these positive associations were attenuated but remained statistically significant at lags of 5–7 years and were again strongest at 5 years, b = 0.082 (0.052–0.111), p < 0.0001.
In this 16-year observational study, we found positive time-dependent associations between changes in cannabis potency and first-time cannabis admissions to drug treatment. These associations are biologically plausible, but their strength after adjustment suggests that other factors are also important.
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