The Acute Effects of Psychoactive Drugs on Emotional Episodic Memory Encoding, Consolidation, and Retrieval

This preprint (2022) explores the neural mechanism underlying the effects psychoactive drugs such as MDMA have on processing emotional episodic memories. One process discussed is the increased retrieval of false memories under the influence of MDMA. Considerations for future work and how these effects may contribute to drug use and abuse are discussed.


“Psychoactive drugs modulate learning and emotional processes in ways that could impact their recreational and medical use. Recent work has revealed how drugs impact different stages of processing emotional episodic memories, including encoding (formation of memory traces), consolidation (stabilization of memory traces), and retrieval (accessing memory traces). Drugs administered before encoding more selectively modulate emotional (negative and/or positive) vs. neutral memories with preferential impairments (e.g., GABAa sedatives like alcohol and benzodiazepines, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, ketamine), enhancements (e.g., dopaminergic/noradrenergic stimulants), or both preferential impairments and enhancements (i.e., ±3,4-methylenedioxymethylamphetamine or MDMA) of emotional memories. GABAa sedatives administered immediately post-encoding (during consolidation) preferentially enhance emotional memories, and the specificity of this effect declines as the delay between encoding and retrieval increases. Finally, retrieving memories under the effects of THC, dextroamphetamine, and MDMA increases false memories, with some evidence for preferential distortions of emotional (especially positive) memories. We propose neural mechanisms underlying these effects, methodological considerations for future work, and how drug effects on emotional episodic memory may contribute to drug use and abuse.”

Authors: Manoj Doss, Harriet de Wit & David A. Gallo

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Study details

Topics studied

Study characteristics
Theory Building

0 Humans


Authors associated with this publication with profiles on Blossom

Manoj Doss
Manoj Doss is a researcher at Johns Hopkins University where he studies the cognitive, emotional, and neural mechanisms of psychedelic drugs.

Harriet de Wit
Harriet de Wit is a Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on the physiological, subjective (i.e., mood-altering), and behavioral effects of drugs in healthy human volunteers.

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