David Nichols studies the way psychedelic drugs act in the brains of rats. But he’s haunted by how humans hijack his work to make street drugs, sometimes causing overdose deaths.
Nichols makes chemicals roughly similar to ecstasy and LSD that are supposed to help explain how parts of the brain function. Then he publishes the results for other scientists, hoping his work one day leads to treatments for depression or Parkinson’s disease.
But Nichols’ findings have not stayed in purely scientific circles. They’ve also been exploited by black market labs to make cheap and marginally legal recreational drugs.
“You try to work for something good, and it’s subverted in a way,” Nichols said. “I try not to think about it.”
Now the 66-year-old chairman of the Purdue University pharmacology department is speaking out in one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals to describe an ethical struggle seldom discussed by brain researchers.
“You can’t control what people do with what you publish, but yeah, I felt it personally,” he said in a phone interview, explaining that his struggles are probably somewhat similar to those faced by the inventor of the machine gun, although not as severe. The journal Nature published his essay online Wednesday.
It is ludicrous to even suggest that this man is responsible for the misuse of information leading to the illegal drug manufacturing and abuse by others.