'Courage Pill' could inhibit fear and anxiety

If all goes well, a single pill can fight panic and anxiety (Image source: Reproduction / Thinkstock)

Fear is one of the most common feelings of human beings, constituting an important area of ​​survival instinct. However, in some more extreme cases, it can become a bigger problem than it should, developing syndromes and disorders.

But all of this may well be close to changing: scientists at Duke University and the National Institute of Health in the United States say they have found a way to calm fearful mice through a drug that alters brain chemistry.

For humans, the researchers say such research is a breakthrough in understanding the brain circuit of fear - something that could in future be used in particular to treat people with anxiety disorders, including those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. (PTSD).

The basis of the study

The cornerstone for the possible “courage pill” is fatty acid hydrolase - an enzyme that breaks down in our brain a natural chemical called endocannabinoid.

This enzyme-impaired substance provides a pot-like sensation in the process of decreasing anxiety. Thus, the basis for the study is the suggestion that blocking fatty acid hydrolase would decrease fear and anxiety - as blockage would consequently increase endocannabinoid levels.

The tests performed

To evaluate this theory, a team led by researcher Andrew Holmes used a drug that blocks enzyme activity in mice - which were conditioned to be afraid of foot shocks. The ability of mice to overcome bad experiences was determined by the drug that allowed for faster overcoming of fear due to higher levels of brain endocannabinoids.

Scientists are now working to translate the results obtained with mice into human neurobiology - and, consequently, human behavior, creating a possible new therapy for fear-related disorders.

Source: EurekAlert and io9