Why morphine prevents PTSD

Morphine, in other words, suppresses adrenaline and noradrenaline, and it's the memory of an overdose on these "fear or flight" substances that can imprint a lifetime of fear in a victim of violence.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a commonplace in the military, but it also affects civilians.

If you've been shot during a robbery, if you've been in a really bad car wreck, if you were in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans during Katrina or in this week's Haiti earthquake, you might wind up with PTSD.

(The picture is from a very fine article on morphine addiction at Wellsphere.)

PTSD involves re-living the moment of trauma, often with catastrophic results. The flashbacks, hyper vigilance, anxiety and anger can destroy your life.

As with other conditions, like ADHD or bi-polar disorder, severity can vary. Some victims are unable to care for themselves. Others exhibit symptoms only privately.

One of my best friends, a Vietnam vet, still avoids crowds 45 years after his service. His is a mild case.

So a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, advocating the use of morphine in trauma care as a way to possibly prevent PTSD, is good news.

An editorial accompanying the article talks about the search for a "morning after pill" following traumatic stress, and while the analogy is strained it may still be apt.

The editorial says the finding in this latest study is consistent with current theories about "adrenergic mediation of fear-induced traumatic memories."

Morphine, in other words, suppresses adrenaline and noradrenaline, and it's the memory of an overdose on these "fear or flight" substances that can imprint a lifetime of fear in a victim of violence.

The editorial also recommends that more studies be done on drugs like propranolol and clonidine,
which are adrenergic antagonists, in hopes of finding better PTSD treatments.

After all, not all wounds that result in PTSD require the use of morphine.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com