PT458 – When Science, Society, and Policy Collide

November 7, 2023
Featuring: Imran Khan

In this episode, Joe interviews Imran Khan: Executive Director of the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics.

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In this episode, Joe interviews Imran Khan: Executive Director of the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics.

Khan shares his journey into the world of science and policymaking, beginning with science journalism and inspired by David Nutt’s famous ‘Equasy’ paper and subsequent firing for telling the truth. Realizing how strong the disconnect was between political and science worlds, his goal became to represent science when it comes under attack; using campaigning, lobbying, advocacy work, etc., and essentially becoming a translator between science and society – bringing these overly complicated concepts down to a level every day culture can understand. At UC Berkeley, he’s focusing on research, training scientists to be better communicators, educating the public on the benefits of psychedelics, and trying to make research more trustworthy.

He discusses the word “science” and how it’s used to describe lots of things; the hard problem of consciousness; color constancy, perception, and the influence of priors; the risk of abuse in all therapies; trust and why people don’t always “trust the science”; the risks of putting too much faith in experience insights; the word “sacred”; and more. He concludes by discussing the findings of the first UC Berkeley psychedelic survey, which revealed public sentiments and attitudes towards psychedelics, and, while mostly positive, truly proved the need for people like Khan to be out there educating the public.

Notable Quotes

“They fired [David Nutt] from his role as Independent Advisor and Chair of this Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs. So I’m sitting there as this 20 year-old that all I’m there to do is care about how science works, and how do we protect the voice of scientists in policy-making, and how do we ensure that policy is informed by the evidence rather than going in the face of it, and right in the middle of that, this very high profile scientist basically gets sacked by the government for basically just saying what the science says, which, as far as I can see, was all he was being asked to do.”

“It’s really hard to look at the experience of being human and this amazing, vivid, technicolor experience we have of walking around and doing everything from drinking coffee to walking a dog to looking at a sunrise, and not being totally bemused that that experience can be generated by this two pound lump of mostly water with a bit of fat and protein mixed in in our skulls. That just seems like an insane proposition to me. So I remember when I was learning about that in my undergraduate and kind of trying to figure out the basic principles of neuroscience, it just seemed like this amazing question of: How can this ever be possible? This doesn’t seem like it should compute.”

“Experiences with psychedelics later as well, I think lead you to a similar place in that if you disrupt ordinary waking consciousness, you can almost start to see the way in which your brain changes its production of consciousness. And the idea that that dramatic change can be induced by chemicals that we know the structure of and we can characterize and we can understand how they interact with the brain, again, just feels like an interesting kind of chink in that bigger question of: What is consciousness and who are we, and how do we relate to the rest of the world?”

Links Equasy – An overlooked addiction with implications for the current debate on drug harms Psychedelics and the Mind: Deepening Understanding of the Science, History, and Culture of Psychedelic Substances

I Feel Love: MDMA and the Quest for Connection in a Fractured World, by Rachel Nuwer

Apollo Neuro: Click here to get $50 off an Apollo wearable!

EP 000773 - Public Engagement Team

In this Episode

Imran Khan

Imran Khan is Executive Director of the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics (BCSP). The BCSP exists to explore the potential of psychedelics, through independent and rigorous research, training, and public education at one of the world’s foremost public universities. Imran has spent most of his career working at the nexus of science & society. He was previously the CEO of the British Science Association, and ran grants programs for the Wellcome Trust – the world’s third-largest charitable foundation – as well as advising lawmakers in the UK Parliament. He has presented at fora ranging from the Aspen Ideas Festival, the World Economic Forum, and SXSW. His writing has appeared in the Financial Times, the Guardian newspaper, and BBC News. Imran has degrees in biology and in science communication from the University of Oxford and Imperial College London, respectively, as well as an MBA from City University, London. He now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and enjoys trail-running, many forms of nerdery, and trying to cook the perfect daal.

Socials: Twitter
BCSP socials: Twitter / Instagram