On Sunday, Nov. 7, an eclectic group of students, therapists, artists and health care practitioners gathered at the Draft House in downtown Boulder for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) fall gala. The crowd of roughly 100 people listened as Rick Doblin, founder of MAPS, discussed the potential of psychedelic drugs to treat conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), drug dependence, and anxiety and depression associated with chronic disease and end-of-life issues.
“It’s not that psychedelics are the only way,” Doblin said. “They’re tools that speed things up and allow a person to make changes in a supportive context that they haven’t been able to make before. We’re hoping that we can acknowledge the risks and honestly discuss and prove the benefits as well.”
Since Doblin founded MAPS in 1986, the nonprofit has developed and funded clinical trials with different psychedelics, such as MDMA, ibogaine and LSD. They are currently focusing their efforts on MDMA for its potential as a treatment for PTSD, especially among war veterans.
“The most senior psychiatrist in the army from the Department of Defense called me to find out about MDMA for PTSD,” Doblin said. “Things do change over time. If you can at least engage in a dialogue, people may start to listen.”
According to Brian Wallace, director of field development, MAPS functions mainly as a pharmaceutical development company in accordance with the guidelines of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“Our relationship with the FDA is more like a collaboration than anything else,” Wallace said. “There’s no resistance on their part; they just want to see the science.”
During the weekend, MAPS, based out of Santa Cruz, Calif., hosted numerous events in an effort to educate and inform the public of their mission. The events included a talk by Doblin at CU Boulder, the MAPS Mile High Marijuana Summit in Denver, and an MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy Workshop in Boulder. MAPS also partnered with the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), an international network of students working to end the war on drugs.
“There’s a huge shift happening right now, and MAPS has a very special niche in the greater drug policy reform movement,” Wallace said. “We like to say that we’re in the midst of a psychedelic research renaissance. There’s more research going on currently with psychedelic drugs than there has been in the past 40 years.”
Doblin is hopeful that within the next 10 years, MDMA will be a legal prescription drug for use by licensed medical practitioners and therapists.
“We’re now in a place where our society is in some ways increasingly desperate,” he said. “Last year the government spent $5.5 billion on disability payments to 275,000 veterans and it’s growing every year. That’s an enormous financial and emotional burden. It’s up to us to be more compassionate and understanding of the concerns of people who are resisting drug reform. We have to really reach out to them and to the enormous reservoirs of fear that have been produced by the massive drug war propaganda machine.
Momentum is building, and I think things are more ripe for change than they’ve ever been.”