Treatment with cortisol can reduce phobia-associated fear and anxiety, according to findings by researchers from Switzerland, Germany, and the United States (Soravia LM et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006;103:5585-5590).
Because fearful situations can trigger the release of cortisol in the brain and cortisol is also known to impair memory retrieval, the researchers reasoned that giving cortisol before exposure to a phobia trigger (such as a spider) might reduce anxiety by blocking fear memories associated with that stimulus. In studies of 60 volunteers with social or spider phobia, participants were given a glucocorticoid (cortisol or cortisone) or placebo 1 hour before facing their particular fear (either giving a speech and performing an arithmetic task before an audience or looking at a picture of a spider). Those given the hormone felt less fear during these challenges than those given placebo. In addition, volunteers with spider phobia who were given cortisol experienced a progressive reduction in fear during each session over a 2-week period, which was maintained during the final session, when they received no drug treatment.
Stephenson J. Reducing Phobias. JAMA. 2006;295(19):2240. doi:10.1001/jama.295.19.2240-b