J Med Ethics 32:74-78 doi:10.1136/jme.2005.012575
  • Neuroethics

Psychopharmacology and memory

  1. W Glannon
  1. Correspondence to:
 Walter Glannon
 Department of Philosophy, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4, Canada; glannon{at}
  • Received 20 April 2005
  • Accepted 8 July 2005
  • Revised 6 July 2005


Psychotropic and other drugs can alter brain mechanisms regulating the formation, storage, and retrieval of different types of memory. These include “off label” uses of existing drugs and new drugs designed specifically to target the neural bases of memory. This paper discusses the use of beta-adrenergic antagonists to prevent or erase non-conscious pathological emotional memories in the amygdala. It also discusses the use of novel psychopharmacological agents to enhance long term semantic and short term working memory by altering storage and retrieval mechanisms in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Although intervention in the brain to alter memory as therapy or enhancement holds considerable promise, the long term effects of experimental drugs on the brain and memory are not known. More studies are needed to adequately assess the potential benefits and risks of these interventions.