Thursday, February 27, 2014

Author Question: Drug Induced Amnesia

Amie Asks:

I was so pleased to find your blog. I have a medical question and I'm hoping you can help me. What I'm wondering is if there is a way to induce memory loss. Could a villain cause someone to have amnesia by drugging them or fiddling with their hippocampus?  (I plan on my character eventually getting their memory back.) Even if all you have is a theory, I would love some advice.

Jordyn Says:

Well, we know that there are drugs that affect memory as we give these to help patients forget painful procedures. These would be drugs like Versed (a short-acting benzodiazepine), Ketmaine (a general anesthetic but doesn't wipe out your respiratory drive), Propofol (which was what Michael Jackson was using to help him sleep-- allegedly) and GHB (the date rape drug).

Wikipedia actually provides a *nice* list of memory altering substances that you can find here.

As far as a surgical procedure-- sure, you could destroy those brain cells but there would be no bringing them back. My guess would be the damage would be permanent.

I think it would depend on what length of time you'd want your character to be amnestic for. For a short time (several hours) I'd probably pick a drug to use on the character. A longer time-- some sort of injury with perhaps a *hope* the memory came back or, perhaps, the villain wants there to always be a memory loss but the character recovers.

Brain injuries, unlike other types of injuries, do not follow a straight and narrow path so there is a lot of leeway for the author here.

Other than that-- maybe you'll be the one to dream up some sort of way to temporarily injure memory cells that no one else has thought of.

Best of luck!

Amie Johnson graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University with a bachelor of science in Christian education, and is a member of the Bryant Wesleyan Church. The Valley Without Her is her first novel, written in small installments during nap time and after little boys went to bed. Ideas were scribbled on little scraps of paper, and her efforts were often interrupted by diapers, drinks of water, and requests for impromptu puppet shows starring plastic coin pouches. Amie lives in rural Indiana with her husband, Keith, and their two small sons, Jesse and Samuel.


  1. On Days Of Our Lives they did that very thing with a priest.....gave him a sophisticated drug that lowered his inhibitions and blocked part of his memory out.

    You could also use psychological trauma/manipulation to cause them to forget. Someone who is trained in hypnosis, etc, can block real memories and plant false ones in their place that never happened.

    1. Good idea, Laura. This was a main plot point in Poison!

    2. I read James Scott Bell's "Try Dying" a couple months ago where it was also a plot device. That's what made me think of it, but you're right. Always murky water to swim in for characters.