Traditional treatment with therapy and antidepressants can take months to relieve PTSD symptoms, and can cause side effects such as impotence, weight gain, and sedation, Lipov said. But the block offers another way -- it works within 30 minutes and does not have those side effects.
The effects can last between six months and a year, and long-term results have been excellent so far, he said. One patient, he reported, has been symptom-free for a year and a half following his second shot.
Though these blocks have been used medically for the better part of a century, Dr. Eugene Viscusi, the director of Acute Pain Management at Thomas Jefferson University said that the procedure "is far from risk free -- including some potentially very dangerous complications."
The safety of the treatment would have to be tested "but these findings are definitely interesting," said Viscusi, and worthy of further research.
How can numbing part of the neck fix a psychological problem?
When a traumatic event is experienced, it leads to an increase in nerve growth factor, Lipov said, a change that leads nerves in the brain to "sprout like flowers."
In one study, he said, they studied soldiers about to take their first jump out of an airplane and found that their nerve growth factor spiked to nearly twice normal levels.
This spike causes nerves to sprout, and this sprouting results in an increased production of adrenaline in the brain, making patients feel anxious. By applying local anesthetic to block a certain nerve group in the neck, Lipov said the nerve growth factor returns to normal and symptoms subside.
In one of his PTSD patients, Lipov noted that trauma centers in the brain would light up in scans when the man was shown violent pictures. After the block, those parts of the brain no longer responded to the trigger.
Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic, said more data is needed, especially controlled clinical trials, before this treatment could be used more widely.
With his current double-blind study, Lipov hopes to work towards just that kind of data.
"I hope this will eventually become the standard treatment for PTSD. It's quick and effective, only $500 to $1,000."
With so many veterans returning from combat plagued by psychological disorders like PTSD, he said, "I think it's going to be huge in addressing the 'reverse surge' -- all these vets coming back to the country with these psychological problems."