Course: Neuroscience Perspectives on Drug Policy

HC 441H

Professor: Christina Karns

Check the headlines: Opiate abuse epidemic. High rates of stimulant use by college students. Marijuana legalization. Privatized prisons and non-violent drug offenders. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of abstinence to addiction, these issues affect you and the people you know. 

In this course we explore the impact of science on policy -- and the impact of policy on science --through the lens of controversial psychoactive drugs. Students will learn foundational neuroscientific principles of psychoactive drug mechanisms, potential harms or benefits, addiction potential, and the intersecting implications for policy. 

We will grapple with hard questions such as the potential public health impacts, positive and negative, of the pervasive roles of drugs in our society. Through learning the neuroscientific basis of commonly used and abused psychoactive drugs, we will challenge the logic of existing drug policies and analyze their downstream effects, such as restricted medical research and high incarceration rates for minority groups. 

A range of interdisciplinary sources will be used, from scientific sources, to documentaries, to analytical written arguments, and contemporary news events. Through a critical gaze on the past, as a class we will look toward the future reforms that could lead to a healthier and more just society.