Ethical Dilemmas of Pharmaceutical Research

Originally appearing at A leading international researcher at Purdue University who has studied how psychedelic drugs act in the brain is the featured speaker at the next Science on Tap event Thursday (May 19) in downtown Lafayette. David E. Nichols, the Robert C. and Charlotte P. Anderson Distinguished Chair in Pharmacology, will speak at 6 p.m. in the upstairs of the Lafayette Brewing Company, 622 Main St., in downtown Lafayette. His talked is titled, “Psychedelics 1943-2011: Boon or Bane?” The Science on Tap event is free and open to the public to those ages 21 or older. “Timothy Leary, the summer of love and the turbulent 1960s were fuel for a media frenzy that presented psychedelics only as dangerous mind-bending drugs of abuse,” said Nichols, who has studied psychedelic drugs for more than 40 years. “Of course, they are not substances to fool around with. But they have the potential to tell us a lot about how the mind works and potentially to provide new cures for psychiatric disorders that presently are intractable.” In his research, Nichols makes chemicals similar to ecstasy and LSD that are supposed to help explain how parts of the brain function. He then publishes the results for other scientists in academic journals, hoping the work leads to treatments for depression or Parkinson’s disease. But for years, Nichols has found himself in an ethical dilemma because of the overdose-related deaths that have stemmed from those who hijack his work to make cheap and marginally legal recreational street drugs. In the past year, the 66-year-old Purdue professor has been speaking out about the ethical struggle stemming from his work as a brain researcher. “It seems there are people out there willing to try just about anything to get high,” Nichols said. His research concentrates on the basic neurochemical serotonin. Nichols estimates that at least five of his compounds – out of hundreds he has developed over four decades – have been turned into street drugs. Since he began his graduate studies in 1969, Nichols has focused on how the structure of a molecule affects its biological activity. He has published more than 280 scientific papers and has been invited to present seminars at numerous national and international meetings. Sponsors for Nichols’ Science on Tap talk are Discovery Park, Purdue’s College of Pharmacy, and the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, which is providing funding for food at the event. Science on Tap, led by Purdue postdoctoral students John Paderi, Patrick Dolan and Kate Stuart, provides faculty from Purdue the opportunity to share their research activities in an informal setting, touching on subjects and providing presentations that are designed to appeal to a more general audience. Attendance at the monthly event has averaged 80 during the program’s first year. An upcoming talk (to take place Thursday, May 19, in Lafayette, IN) sponsored in part by Purdue University will feature renowned pharmacologist and psychedelic researcher David Nichols, Ph.D. Nichols has studied how psychedelic drugs work in the brain for over 40 years, and his research is an excellent example of how psychedelics aren’t just therapeutic tools but also powerful technologies for discovering the fundamentals of the human mind.