VCUPharmacology and Toxicology
Virginia Commonwealth University
Department Video Graduate overview Pharm-Tox news VCU School of Medicine
Pharm-tox news

Dr. William Dewey

Dr. William (Bill) Dewey, Ph.D. receives Virginia’s Life Achievement Award in Science


Dr. William Dewey, Prof. of Pharmacology & Toxicology, was awarded Virginia’s 2004 Lifetime Achievement Award in Science. This award, given by Virginia’s Science Museum, is part of an annual awards program in which Virginia’s leading scientists and industrialists are recognized and honored. Virginia Commonwealth University Pharmacology and Toxicology Professor and Department Vice Chairman, Dr. William Dewey has devoted his career to understanding the mechanisms through which drugs alter brain function in order to produce analgesia, respiratory depression, cardiovascular alterations and addiction. Dr. Dewey’s findings that the manipulation of the cholinergic nervous system alters pain pathways established a major research agenda for academia and industry that continues today.

Dr. Dewey proved that opioids produce their direct effects on pain pathways by stimulating the release of endogenous opioids such as endorphins. He observed that endorphins reflected the status of the opioid system under different physiological states: strenuous exercise, sleep or respiratory distress. This resulted in the discovery that infants with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) had an overactive endorphin system. This breakthrough led to the introduction of naltrexone, an opioid-antagonist, as a treatment for SIDS.

Dr. Dewey also contributed significantly to our understanding of the actions of the active constituents of marijuana. By the mid-1970s, more than 50 percent of high school seniors had tried marijuana at least once — one in ten students used it daily — yet little was known about the health consequences of marijuana and how it produced its complex array of behaviors. His laboratory was the first to prove that the tremendous tolerance to marijuana following chronic exposure was due to the brain's adaptive mechanisms. This and other clinical evidence aided science in ultimately identifying an endogenous cannabinoid system and a new field of study. Dr. Dewey continues to pursue the biological basis for the development of tolerance and dependence to marijuana and heroin-like drugs such as morphine.

Dr. Dewey earned his undergraduate degree in biology at St. Bernadine of Sienna College, his master’s at The College of Saint Rose and his doctorate in pharmacology at the University of Connecticut.

Pictured, Dr. Dewey receiving the award from Virginia’s Lt. Governor Timothy Kaine.


Virginia Commonwealth University   |   School of Medicine   |   Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology
1112 East Clay Street, Suite 100, P.O. Box 980613, Richmond, Virginia 23298-0613   |   Phone: (804) 827-0375
E-mail:   |
Updated: 9/9/2013