Professor Amanda C. Pustilnik continues her scholarship on neuroethics

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Neurotechnologies, i.e., technologies that provide greater insight into brain and central nervous system (CNS) activity and function, have been described as the next technology frontier. One professional society boldly asserts that “[t]he implications of neurotechnologies for society are vast. From pharmaceuticals [and other “treatments”] that improve quality of life, to brain imaging that revolutionizes our conception of human consciousness, neurotechnologies stand to change our understanding of ourselves and harness the power of the brain and nervous system’s myriad functions to promote human thriving.”[i] Whether or not these claims are overblown, the technology is raising new and complex legal and ethical issues.

Professor Amanda Pustilnik, who teaches Neuroscience and the Law, is addressing a number of these issues in her recent and current scholarship. Professor Pustilnik’s most recent article, “Beating pain with psychedelics: Matter over mind?”, co-authored with Igor Elman and David Borsook, was published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews in March 2022. This piece highlights the potential for certain psychedelics to meet the vast need for adequate chronic pain treatment and the need for rigorous scientific study of this potential new treatment. The review article first explores the psychedelic hypothesis for pain by discussing: new opportunities for psychedelics as CNS-acting analgesics; psychedelics as a new therapeutic venue for brain dysfunction; current evidence in the literature on the use of psychedelics to relieve pain; ketamine and insights into putative analgesic actions of psychedelics; putative mechanisms of action of psychedelics on pain systems; and the potential for psychedelic analgesics to fill the therapeutic gap through the mechanism of synaptic plasticity. Finally, the article focuses on psychedelics as analgesics in practice and the role of the DEA, the FDA, and the law in limiting access to these substances. Exploring the current legal restriction on psychedelic drugs globally, the authors note some potential paths forward, including a dual registration system recognizing the multiple uses of such compounds. Finally, they note that “in pain research, specifically, research into and use of psychedelic drugs involves several further considerations relating to equitable access, enrolling subjects in trials, and opportunities for patient-centered collaboration.”

In February 2022, Professor Pustilnik, with co-authors Karen S. Rommelfanger and Arleen Salles, published “Mind the Gap: Lessons Learned from Neurorights” in Science & Diplomacy, an online publication from AAAS’ Center for Science Diplomacy In their article, the authors make the case that additional rights and regulations may be needed in light of emerging neurotechnologies and a gap in the current data privacy framework. They expose the potential gaps in existing law that leaves much “neurodata” vulnerable to exploitation. Professor Pustilnik and her fellow scholars present arguments for and examples of neuroprotection in the law, showcasing Chile’s nascent “neurorights” proposals and the implementation challenges they present as well as the often overlooked perspectives of community members. They conclude that “[n]ow is the time to achieve conceptual clarity on what neurorights are or should be, and what they are intended to protect, and to begin a participatory dialogue among all relevant stakeholders.”

In addition to those pieces, Professor Pustilnik applies her unique scholarship in the field of neuroscience and the law to criminal law. Her book chapter, “Neurodisability: A Criminal Doctrine that Is Not Pure Insanity,” was published in Neurodisability and the Criminal Justice System: Comparative and Therapeutic Responses (Gaye T. Landsdell, Bernadette J. Saunders, and Anna Eriksson eds.) in late 2021.

In addition to her scholarship, Professor Pustilnik continues her presence in this area through her work on the Advisory Boards of Paradromics, a neuroscience company specializing in microelectronic engineering of medical devices, and The Institute of Neuroethics, the first think tank wholly devoted to neuroethics. Professor Pustilnik’s compelling application of neuroscience and neuroethics to the law has especially grave ramifications in the area of criminal law and disability. Her chapter entitled “The brain in the courtroom: from neuroscience revolution to neurodata upgrade” is forthcoming in, edited by Rebecca Hollander-Blumoff.

[i] Neurotechnolgies: The Next Technology Frontier,,mental%20illness%20or%20sleep%20patterns.