Psychedelics: From pharmacology to phenomenology
Interviewed by Leor Roseman & Christopher Timmermann
psychedelics, pharmacology, consciousness
In this interview, David Nichols – the acknowledged psychedelic pharmacologist - discusses a range of topics about psychedelic research and its relevance for consciousness science. He covers novel findings about psychedelics and their key mechanisms at the receptor level, while debunking old myths and criticize unproven speculations. At the pharmacological level, Nichols expands on two findings that suggest that receptors are not simply on/off switches. The first finding is of a lid shaped structure which sits on the top of the receptor and traps a molecule inside. This lid works differently based on the structure of the molecule. The second topic is of functional selectivity, a concept that suggest that different molecules can activate receptors in separate ways by activating specific intracellular pathways. Both of these notions are used to explain why different psychedelics - which are only slightly different in structure - can lead to diverging experiences.
Furthermore, Nichols criticizes the speculative approach of some researchers in the psychedelic community. More specifically, he argues that ‘magical thinking’ is common in the psychedelic research community, and suggests that some scientists tend to come up with unproven speculations which later become folk theories in the larger psychedelic community. Finally, Nichols – a respected scientist with decades of experience in the field - calls for psychedelic scientists to behave responsibly towards a community that is thirsty for answers.