What responsibilities are borne by the creators of compounds that end up as ‘legal highs’?
Nature kicked off the International Year of Chemistry in style, with its first issue of the year containing lots of features, comment and papers on the central science. In its pages was a ‘World View’ column from David Nichols, in which he “describes how his research on psychedelic compounds has been abused — with fatal consequences.” Nichols refers to the makers of ‘legal highs’, who use his work on psychedelic drugs for treating disease in rather less academic ways. Perhaps surprisingly for a one-page opinion article, this got quite a lot of attention — even reaching the BBC website. It certainly reached Derek Lowe who blogged about it in strong terms at In the Pipeline. Lowe expressed his “disgust for the people who are making and selling these things – they show a horrifying and stupid disregard for human life”, and his sympathy for Nichols.
These sentiments were echoed by David Kroll on Terra Sigillata. In a lengthy post Kroll discussed Nichol’s work, the social responsibilities of scientists and even personal freedoms. He summed up by voicing his admiration and “respect Dr. Nichols for coming out and discussing his personal feelings about how his science is used”.
But the chemistry blogosphere was not entirely in agreement. Andrea Sella used his Solarsaddle blog to ask “Is David Nichols just a wee bit disingenuous?”. Sella had been on a BBC radio programme discussing Nichols’s article and was surprised to discover Nichols’s close links to Alexander Shulgin, author of PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story. He even goes so far as to say that Nichols’s “opinion piece strikes me as a kind of lame attempt to deflect criticism of his work”. Kroll responded in a second post acknowledging that Nichols did admit that “part of the reason” behind the article was to “distance himself from the psychedelic community”.
And finally…KJHaxton launched a new series of posts on Endless Possibilities titled ‘What Am I?’. Haxton gives some chemical clues to the ingredients of a household product and leaves the reader to deduce its identity.