Candace Pert: a flawed genius whose scandals and neuroscientific breakthroughs shaped history (2024)

In this podcast (episode #577) and blog, I talk to journalist, producer and bestselling author Pamela Ryckman about the amazing discoveries of researcher Candace Pert, the mind-brain-body connection, what it means to be a female scientist in a male-dominated field, why public health is not so healthy, and so much more!

Pamela is a screenwriter, producer, and business executive with a focus on women in the workforce. She is the author of STILETTO NETWORK: Inside the Women’s Power Circles That Are Changing the Face of Business, which received a starred review fromPublishers Weekly. Pamela is also a thought leader and speaker who consults on diversity to global corporations. With Shaquille O’Neal and Credit Suisse, Ryckman launchedMomentum: Black Men’s Leadership Retreat, which convened 50 of the nation’s most high-powered African American men in 2015 to focus on job creation and economic empowerment in the Black community. Additionally, Pamela has written forThe New York Times,Financial Times, andWashington Post, among other publications.

In her most recent book, Candace Pert: Genius, Greed, and Madness in the World of Science, Pamela talks about the life and career of one of the leading researchers of the mind, brain and body connection, the renowned neuropharmacologist Candace Pert. As Pamela notes, she played pivotal roles in major movements in both science and politics.

Unfortunately, she was sabotaged by mentors and colleagues keen to profit from her brilliance. But, as Pamela discusses in her book, Candace also became tainted, “believing that her noble ends would justify devious means.”

Nevertheless, Candace deserves all the accolades she received before and after her passing. She changed the course of medicine, opening our eyes to how connected the mind, brain and body are truly are. The ideas Candace began researching and talking about in the 80s are now woven into the way we do science and how our healthcare system functions, even though she was ridiculed when she started her research.

But her work did not stop there. Candace stood at the crossroads of three different cultural events:

  1. The mind-brain-body revolution. As late as the 1980s, no one thought that stress could cause disease, or that our emotional state could influence our physiology. Candace’s studies showed, however, that the brain was more than just a control center; the brain works in concert with the body. Our thoughts and emotions shape our entire reality, showing us that the mind is distinct from the brain, impacting our biology in ways we are still trying to understand. She discovered that consciousness resides in our bodies! With her research, Candace wasn’t just pushing the bounds of her field; she was refusing the reigning philosophical paradigm that saw the body as a kind of meat sack rather than somewhere where our consciousness, or mind, could reside and change, that started with the French scholar Renè Descartes’ writings in the 1600s. <- Was Descartes responsible for the former or the latter opinion? It’s not clear. Needless to say, Candace stepped on a lot of toes, challenging the entire Cartesian way research and healthcare functioned at the time, which was very siloed and discouraged collaboration, rather than integrative, holistic and functional.
  2. The opioid crisis. Candace discovered the opiate receptor (the mechanism by which opioids function in the brain) in her desire to help people who battled with drug addiction. Her methods pioneered the technique that helped scientists discover additional receptors in the brain for caffeine, cannabis and other substances, which led to a massive boom in the pharmaceutical world, that, unintentionally for Candace, contributed to the current opioid crisis.
  3. The AIDS revolution. Candace created Peptide T (the underground AIDS drug featured in the film Dallas Buyers Club) in an effort to help people battling with this devastating syndrome and its effects on the brain and body. Unfortunately, she then decided to go rogue, becoming a linchpin in the black market for her drug after meeting bureaucratic resistance to her non-toxic discovery.

Candace Pert’s life story is far more complex than a hero’s journey. She struggled, made mistakes, didn’t always follow the rules, but also changed the way we understand the mind, brain and body today. If she was a man, we may see her story differently, and praise her independent, “Marlboro Man” personality. As a woman in the world of science and medicine, she not only struggled with her own mental health and choices, but also with prevailing misogynistic views of how society treats complex, multifaceted women who do great things AND feel like they are forced to break the rules, which makes her story so much more than just that of a famous woman scientist.

For more on Candace Pert and the mind-brain-body connection, listen to my podcast with Pamela (episode #577) and check out her incredible book. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).

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Podcast Highlights

3:00 How our understanding of the brain has changed since the 1980s

6:22 Pamela’s amazing work

10:55 Why Candace Pert is an important part of the story of the mind & brain

32:00 How pharmaceutical companies starting taking over independent scientific research

42:00 The double standards in science

43:30 Candace Pert & the opioid crisis

51:00 Why Candace Pert was wary of “a pill for every ill”

52:20 Candace Pert’s struggles as a female researcher

58:01 Candace Pert & the AIDS crisis

1:06:00 Candace Pert’s mental health struggles

1:10:00 Women in science & medicine

Switch On Your Brain LLC. is providing this podcast as a public service. Reference to any specific viewpoint or entity does not constitute an endorsem*nt or recommendation by our organization. The views expressed by guests are their own and their appearance on the program does not imply an endorsem*nt of them or any entity they represent. If you have any questions about this disclaimer, please contact

This podcast and blog are for educational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional.

Candace Pert: a flawed genius whose scandals and neuroscientific breakthroughs shaped history (2024)


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