Down to Earth: Rick Doblin on MAPS’ Day-to-Day Operations and Basic Philosophies

During the first installment of our three-part interview with Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) Founder and Executive Director Rick Doblin, the visionary nonprofit head explained that his organization’s “mission is to conduct scientific research into psychedelics and marijuana and their therapeutic potential, to develop them into legal prescription medicines.” Points wanted to hear from Doblin more about MAPS’ unique purpose and how Doblin and staff set about fulfilling it on a daily basis. Doblin can’t help launching into explanations of the historical context that informs that work, so we managed to get another dose of psychedelic oral history out of him, as well. We spoke further about the kinds of drugs into which MAPS is looking, their promising potential uses, and what exactly “prescription psychedelics” look like. The second installment of Points’ engaging interview with Doblin appears below.

Points: We touched briefly on MAPS works to fulfill its mission earlier, but I know there’s a lot more to be said. If the bulk of your work is researching clinical and therapeutic uses for psychedelic drugs, can you talk about some of those uses?

MDMA shows promising results in PTSD treatment.

Doblin: Well, our top priority project is MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. MDMA reduces fear: it reduces activation in the amygdala, the fear processing centers of the brain. It increases activation in the prefrontal cortex, where people put things in context, so people can tell then from now, and can overcome the fear that has blocked them from integrating the traumatic experience. We have an international series of Phase II pilot studies: In the United States we’ve completed one; in Switzerland, we’ve got one on-going; [we have one in] Israel; [and] another study in the US underway with veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. We’re trying to start a new study in the US to evaluate our female/male co-therapist team, that would include a graduate student intern as one of the two therapists. We’ve got a study in Canada, and we’re working to start a study in Jordan. We’ve got other projects in Australia and England in the early stages of development.

There have also been projects with MDMA for cancer patients with anxiety. There’s been a study at Harvard to help people deal with fearful emotions around dying. We have a study with LSD with people who are dying that we have just completed in Switzerland, the world’s first therapeutic study of LSD in about 40 years. We’ve got projects that are about to start with MDMA where we are going to put out a request for proposals for protocols for MDMA for Aspberger’s and autism. There are a lot of reports on the internet of people with Asperger’s who have done MDMA recreationally and found it to be helpful for them.Read More »


The Points Interview: Christopher Snowdon

After a bit of a break, the “Points Interview” feature returns this week.  Christopher Snowdon becomes the eighteenth author to face the relentless grilling for which this feature has become so well known.  Christopher joins us to discuss his book, The Art of Suppression: Pleasure, Panic and Prohibition Since 1800 (2011) [an arresting cover design, by the way!].  He’s also the author of Velvet Glove, Iron Fist (2009), which examines the history of anti-smoking activity from the 15th century to the present day.  He’s a blogger as well, and those of you interested in seeing more should check out his Velvet Glove, Iron Fist blog.

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.
The Art of Suppression seeks to draw a character profile of The Prohibitionist. It offers five Cover of The Art of Suppression bookcase studies – two about alcohol, two about drugs and one about tobacco – spanning 200 years and covering various countries, but particularly the USA and the UK. I wanted to see how substances—which is to say ‘drugs’ in the modern sense of the word: narcotics, stimulants, alcohol and tobacco—get demonised and become illegal. How does this happen? More importantly, who makes it happen?

There is something fascinating and mildly comic about people who dedicate their short time on Earth to stopping other people doing things. This is not an impulse I can relate to—although maybe I’m in the minority in that respect—and I’m intrigued by what compels them. There are a few cranks and oddballs in the book, as you might expect, but more often they’re well-meaning monomaniacs who have a very rigid sense of morality and a heightened sense of idealism.

What the book does is bring these different types of prohibition together to find common themes. It’s not really a book about the substances themselves, nor even the people who take them, but about the moral entrepreneurs who believe they can eradicate them. There are differences between them, of course, but I would say there are more similarities than differences, and whether the subject is opium-smoking in 19th century China or alcohol prohibition in Finland, there are lessons that can be applied to our circumstances today.

Read More »

Far Out: Psychedelic History with Rick Doblin, Founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is not your typical drug policy reform organization. Since 1986, MAPS has worked as a nonprofit pharmaceutical company to turn psychedelic drugs into prescription medicines to treat afflictions — including postraumatic stress disorder, pain, depression, and even addiction — for which conventional therapies offer little relief. The term “prescription psychedelics” may sound like something out of a 70s science fiction story — politically impossible and culturally strange — until you hear it explained in context by Rick Doblin, MAPS’ founder and executive director.

Points is pleased to have had the opportunity to speak with Doblin about his organization’s relationship to past psychedelic research efforts, its major goals and day-to-day operations (Part II), and the philosophy of addiction and recovery that informs its work (Part III). We proudly present below the first installment of a three-part interview we will showcase over the next week in celebration of MAPS’ 25th anniversary this year. Today, we’ll hear about Doblin’s thoughts on the organization’s first 25 years and MAPS’ place within the larger context of psychedelic movements past and present.  

Points: Hi, Rick. We’re really glad to have you here. First, could you explain a little bit about MAPS’ work and its mission? In other words, what does MAPS do on a daily basis and what do you want that work to accomplish in a larger sense?

MAPS Founder Rick Doblin

Rick Doblin: MAPS’ mission is to conduct scientific research into psychedelics and marijuana and their therapeutic potential, to develop them into legal prescription medicines. A lot of our work is trying to design studies, get permission for studies, raise money for studies, and then conduct them. And then our broader mission is to educate the public honestly about the risks and benefits of these drugs and to establish a network of psychedelic clinics whereby these substances would actually be administered to patients. What we’re finding is that unfortunately, because the drugs are controversial and because the drugs are illegal, there’s a lot of difficulty, particularly with marijuana, in getting permission to do the research. And though we can get permission with psychedelics, there are challenges with funding. But the most important thing to say about this is that the FDA has decided to put science before politics unlike the DEA, NIDA, or the drug czar’s office. So we have the opening, and our mission is really to try to take the fact that all drugs have risks and benefits and develop contexts whereby the benefits of psychedelics and marijuana can be taken advantage of to help people in a wide range of uses.Read More »

CFP: Addiction: What is the Added Value of the Concept Today?

The Colloquium of the University of Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies announces a Thematic Meeting of the Kettil Bruun Society, Conference Hotel Majvik, Helsinki, Finland 14-17th October 2012

The Writing's on the Wall

Background: Addiction is a concept that has relatively recently – within two or three decades – become a common expression that covers no longer only traditional substance use but a wide and growing range of behaviours like gambling, gaming, internet use, even eating disorders, shopping, shoplifting, sexual behaviour and others. The increasingly widespread use has been observed in the public media, in expert discourses, in popular culture, in the world of commercials, and even in everyday talk. The concept of addiction is being introduced in the international classifications of diseases, and addiction is the topic of many research and prevention programmes today.

There is no consistent and commonly agreed neurobiological theory of addiction, although recent brain research has made great progress  identifying some of the mechanisms that make people behave in ways they recognize as harmful and would rather stop. There are well-known similarities in the brain functions concerning the satisfaction of very different types of desires, but the evidence is far from convincing to prove that from a biological point of view harmful repetitious behaviours could be lumped together as a singular disorder.

The issue is further complicated when we account for cultural factors. Addiction can be said to be caused from culture in the sense that addicted behaviours are transformations of culturally modified desires. We do not call dependence on proper nutrition, clean air and water an addiction unless their object is a pleasure that results from cultural practices, like preparing food, raising endorphine levels by physical exercise, or getting intoxicated in one way or another. A third complication arises from the fact that treating excessive behaviours as a syndrome of an underlying disorder individualises the problem and medicalises societal reactions to it. This is why public health experts were cautious of the concept “combined approach” when it was part of the World Health Organization discourse on drugs, tobacco and alcohol in the 1970s, while at the same time recognizing the need to include alcohol in the policy agenda on illicit drugs and psycho-pharmaceuticals. Instead of
paying attention to the supply side, policies framed as prevention of addictions focus on identifying high-risk individuals and preventing their harmful behaviour. Also the conditions of prevention and treatment are very different concerning different types of
behaviour. Preventing obesity involves measures that are very different from those that arise in substance use prevention, for example.

Moral, Philosophical, Behavioral

The most extensive body of research exists for alcohol and alcohol dependence. The next large research area will most likely concern gaming, especially gambling. In this developing area the lessons learned from alcohol studies are particularly relevant, because we need new understanding of the pathways from non-problem use to problems and addiction. Alcohol research experience is of great methodological and theoretical help in this area. Also the policy issues are relatively similar, with wide public and private economic interests involved in both the alcohol trade and in the gambling business. Moral and philosophical issues are also similar, concerning individual freedom of choice and the public good.

The Colloquium and Thematic meeting provides a platform for discussing the usefulness of framing consumption risks as addictions, or even as different aspects of a singular phenomenon. Critical and careful analysis of evidence, reflexion on the moral and practical implications of the concept in different contexts, and the way forward need to be given a proper and free space of interchange between different points of view. It might be envisioned that some sort of consensus emerges that could be useful for policy-makers, but this CFP is not foreseeing that as necessary.

Size and Structure of the Meeting
We aim to attract about 30 – 40 interested experts from several fields to participate and papers will be pre-circulated. We aim to keep the number of presentations moderate, hoping that participants will read as many papers as possible in advance of the occasion. Presentations will be organised in sessions of 1.5 hours with two or maximum three papers per session, chair and a discussant will be assigned to each session.

Time and Venue
The meeting will start on Sunday evening October 14th and last until lunch on Wednesday October 17th. The venue will be a conference centre near Helsinki.

The conference will be organized by the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies in collaboration with The Kettil Bruun Society, The Finnish Foundation for Alcohol Studies and the National Institute of Public Health.

Programme Committee
Pekka Sulkunen, chair (CEACG, University of Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies)
Franca Beccaria (KBS President, Eclectica, Turin)
Matilda Hellman (CEACG, University of Helsinki)
Mikko Salmela (University of Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies)
Kerstin Stenius (National Institute of Health and Welfare, Helsinki)

Conference Fee and Registration
The conference fee covers meals, the conference tour and dinner and conference services.
Conference fee for early birds is 300 euros payable before 30.6.2012
Conference fee (regular) is 400 euros payable 01.07-16.09.2012.

Accommodation in the conference Hotel Majvik (Helsinki/Kirkkonummi, Finland) will be reserved by participants and paid directly to the hotel. Majvik is on the shore of Espoonlahti, only 25 kilometres from downtown Helsinki, Finland. Single room in Majvik is 103 euros/night and double room 83 euros/night/person (breakfast included). Detailed information will be issued together with the letter of acceptance of the registration.

View from the Hotel Majvik (Avyalake,

Limited amount of support for conference fees and travel is available for researchers
who otherwise would not be able to participate. Requests should be submitted together
with the abstract and registration.  More details:


  • 16.04.2012 Registration and abstract submission (
  • 01.05.2012 Letter of acceptance of the registration
  • 30.06.2012 Payment of early bird registration fee 300 euros
  • 16.09.2012 Payment of regular registration fee 400 euros
  • 16.09.2012 Free cancellation ends

Thanksgiving Tip from the American Chemical Society

Break it Down

Just when you wondered what Points could possibly have to say about Thanksgiving, our good friends at the American Chemical Society (many Points authors have done research under their fine auspices) have weighed in with an important message about drugs– or drug lore– related to the holiday.  Turns out it’s not the tryptophan in the turkey that’s making you sleepy, it’s the total tonnage of calories and the preponderance of fat and carbohydrates.  The possibility that you may be bored by the conversation around the table and in front of the game (go, 49ers!) is not discussed in this informative little video–

— but it may give you some fun facts to discuss while you help with the dishes.

You are helping with the dishes, right?

Welcome Home: A Journey to Dr. Bob’s House

"Welcome Home": 855 Ardmore Avenue, Akron, Ohio

“Welcome home,” said the man who greeted us as we stood on the sidewalk in front of the Craftsman-style house.  After a long and rainy drive that had begun early that morning, I was grateful to hear those kind words.  Along with a group of graduate students from the University of Michigan, I had driven to Akron from Ann Arbor to visit the home of Robert and Anne Smith.  As many readers undoubtedly know, Dr. Bob, as he is affectionately called, co-founded the Alcoholics Anonymous fellowship with Bill Wilson.  We had come to see the house as part of a public history class I am teaching this semester, focusing on a proposal that Dr. Bob’s Home be designated a National Historic Landmark (NHL).  For me, this course has been a terrific opportunity to bring together two long-time interests, addiction history and the role of historic places in shaping public memory.  It has also been a wonderfully collaborative enterprise, and some of the reflections I offer below come out of conversations with students.

Students in the class have been learning a great deal about drinking practices, alcoholism, and the treatment of alcoholics in American history.  They have also had to become familiar with federal historic preservation programs—a steep learning curve all around.
Read More »

Update: Occupy Oakland


The Spiritual Monkey has a post today on a new development in Occupy Oakland’s “war on tents”– the takeover of a vacant lot that is in foreclosure proceedings, the status of which will make eviction and camp destruction more complex legally than at the various other Oakland sites.  Of interest to Points readers, however, is the explicit statement that

The occupiers have voted to be a no-alcohol camp. They saw what it did to the energy of the last camp at OGP [Oscar Grant Plaza]. Reefer? This is Oakland. The herb is not to source of problems in these parts.

This is an interesting allusion to a participant point of view on the drug dynamics in the Occupy movements, about which I wrote last week. Occupiers who want to shed light on these issues, your comments are most welcome.

Forgotten Drugs of Abuse I: T’s and Blues

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.  It’s about a new drug, a killer, raging through a major American city filling ERs and morgues and leaving a trail of wrecked lives.  Just a year ago heroin was the big problem, but now this new scourge accounts for three-fourths of drug busts and a third of all addicts seeking treatment.  Experts are saying there’s no way the drug will stay in one city: “similar to an infectious process,” it will inevitably spread across the nation.  It’s already surfaced in a handful of cities, and who knows where it will strike next.

Scourge of Our Cities

The year is 1978, and the Talwin panic is in full swing.

Wait, you don’t remember the great Talwin terror of 1978?  Maybe haven’t even heard of Talwin?  Don’t feel bad.  Despite the promising start, the Talwin scare never really got off the ground.  There were a few headlines here and there, a TV documentary, and a day of testimony in Congress, but in the annals of anti-drug crusades it was small potatoes.

Why?  1978 was a great year for drug crusades, and this one seemed to have plenty going for it:  Talwin really was causing major public health problems in Chicago; it had a hip, media-friendly street name (“T’s and Blues”); and most of its abusers were nonwhite, urban poor—classic drug-war boogeymen.  More:  one of the largest sources of Talwin in Chicago was a Medicaid clinic, where, Congress was told, the drug was “handed out literally like M&Ms.”  The headlines could have written themselves.  “Hard Working Taxpayers’ Dollars Going to Give Dope to Junkies!”  And if that wasn’t enough, how about this sound bite from the Congressional hearings:

Thank you indeed!  “Grandmothers are buying Talwin on the street”:  does it get any better than that for an anti-drug crusader? It wasn’t supposed to end up like that for Talwin.  Read More »

Dry Pushback Against Mann’s Alcoholism Movement and Robert King Merton’s Manifest and Latent Functions: A Perplexing Combination

Cross’s church in Berkeley

My thinking on this post started off in one direction and then suddenly veered into another direction entirely.  As you’ll see.

My original plan was simply to recount a triangular correspondence involving Laurance L. Cross, Harry Emerson Fosdick, and Marty Mann that occurred in 1947. 

Their letters to one another captured a telling instance of pushback against Mann’s then-fledgling alcoholism-is-a-disease campaign from a disgruntled dry. 

Laurance L. Cross was pastor of the Northbrae Community Church in Berkeley, California and, from 1947 to 1955, that city’s mayor as well; he was also apparently a staunch and diehard dry sympathizer and as well (sans any hint of mutatis mutandis) chair of the local unit of Mann’s National Committee for Education on Alcoholism (NCEA).  

Harry Emerson Fosdick was a nationally prominent Protestant theologian.  His controversial advocacy of a modernist position on biblical interpretation landed him on the cover of Time magazine in 1930.  Fosdick was also a member of Mann’s organization’s advisory board and as well brother of Raymond Fosdick, chief of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s philanthropic establishment.   According to Wikipedia, H.E. Fosdick’s 1939 favorable review of  Alcoholics Anonymous (i.e., “The Big Book”) is still regarded in that fraternity as “significant in the development of the AA movement.” Read More »

Pharmaceutical Suspicion

Michele Bachman’s implosion on the campaign trail back in late September is now widely accredited to her suggestion that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation. In an earlier post, I argued that pundits should think twice before dismissing Bachman due to her position on this topic, and while Bachman’s campaign collapsed a lot more quickly than I expected, I continue to think that her arguments about vaccination were potent ones.

"La Vaccine Mort en Avortant de Son Dernier Monstre," ca. 1800

There is a deep distrust of the pharmaceutical industry running through much of American culture – indeed, a Harris Poll last year found that just 11% of Americans consider pharmaceutical companies “honest and trustworthy,” a remarkable finding given that virtually all of us place the products of these companies in our bodies and many of us literally depend upon them for our lives. The idea that the drug companies are deceitful and, perhaps, predatorial is widespread, stretching from the halls of academia to the claims of Scientologists, from right wing populists to the Rainbow Family, from alternative health care practitioners and their allies in the New Age and health food movements, to patient advocacy groups, anti-psychiatrists, and more. Even libertarians, who usually trust just about anyone able to make gobs of money, exhibit a certain skepticism of the pharmaceutical industry when they start talking about legalizing marijuana and other drugs. So what’s going on here?Read More »