A Map of the Falling Sky: On the Passing of Jason Molina

On March 18, I finally got a Google Alert about Jason Molina. It delivered news I did not want to hear. At only 39, Molina (who fronted the bands Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co.) had died of liver failure brought on by severe alcoholism, alone in his Indianapolis home the previous Saturday. Molina reportedly wrestled with a somewhat mysterious health issue that came to light when he uncharacteristically cancelled a 2009 tour with fellow indie-folk artist Will Johnson (who produced a collaborative album with Molina that year and remembers his friend here). Rumors and then news of rehab stints circulated across the Internet. But I hadn’t known about Molina’s struggles then. I’d been too busy battling my own body in New York, and it did not seem odd to me that the ordinarily prolific singer-songwriter hadn’t released anything in several years. If anything, I assumed he’d taken a well-deserved break. (Some of you may be understandably lost at this point; Jason Molina was not Amy Winehouse. I’ll back up in a minute. But for now, if you don’t know the incredible body of work on which you’ve missed out, use this currently-streaming live performance, recorded in 2007 at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, NC, as your reading soundtrack or download songs from Molina’s catalog courtesy of Secretly Canadian, the label that patronized Jason since its inception and calls him its “cornerstone.”)

Jason Molina (1973-2013)

Jason Molina (1973-2013)

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Remembering a Drug Activist: Siobhan Reynolds: 1961-2011

I didn’t keep up with my drug-related news over the holidays. I didn’t check Facebook or read any blogs. My mother was in town, and I was playing tourist. What could possibly happen, anyway, I thought, with legislators on holiday and courts out of session? Apparently, a lot.

Siobhan Reynolds, 1961 - 2011

I got an email last week alerting me to pain relief activist Siobhan Reynolds’ unexpected death. I couldn’t believe it; I searched the Internet wildly, hoping to prove this was just a rumor. But pieces at Time Magazine, The Logan (OH) Daily NewsDrug War Rant, Reason, TalkLeft, StoptheDrugWar.org, and the American Thinker confirmed that Siobhan had, in fact, perished in a plane crash on Christmas Eve. She died with her partner, attorney Kevin P. Byers (who was piloting the small aircraft), and his mother, Eudora Byers, during an unfortunately unsuccessful attempt to land at the Vinton County Airport in Ohio. Continue reading

In the Ether: Rick Doblin on Psychedelics and Addiction

As Rick Doblin, founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), Rick Doblin, mentioned in the second installment of his three-part interview with Points (Part I is here), the organization — part psychedelic research lab, part advocacy group, and part pharmaceutical company — has begun a slew of interesting and productive studies on the uses of psychedelic drugs like ayahuasca and ibogaine for the treatment of all manner of addictions. In this, the final piece of his talk with Points, Doblin discusses that work. He also expounds upon his and MAPS’ particular understanding of addiction and situates it within a historical context that even includes AA co-founder Bill W. 

Points: I know you’re doing some really interesting work on addiction and addiction treatment. That’s an area on which Points frequently focuses, and I think our readers would be particularly interested in hearing about it.

Aldous Huxley gave Bill W. LSD-25 in the 1950s

Doblin: Well, if we go all the way back to Carl Jung and the early part of the previous century, he had the sense that there would be a spiritual component to the treatment to addiction. And Bill W. who started AA, tried LSD when he was sober in the 1950s, and he thought that it had tremendous potential for the treatment of addiction. And it’s actually written about in the book Pass it On, which was published by AA about Bill Wilson’s life. [Ed. Note: Speaking of Jung and Bill W., the AA founder's letter to the philosopher can be read here. Jung's reply is here.] So the sense is that there is a lot of denial going on in addiction. There are a lot of things that people are not seeing. In a supportive context, psychedelics affect the membrane that separates the conscious from the unconscious. And particularly with the more classic psychedelics like LSD or psilocybin, there is a flood of material that people have tried to suppress or tried to deny, the whole denial process. People make a fuller accounting of their lives and what they’re doing. And then there’s also the potential for a spiritual connection that people have under psychedelics that they can then draw strength from. And based on that connection they can move forward in their lives and feel connected. A lot of drug abusers don’t feel connected to themselves, to others. They are separated from love and they seek support in the drugs. And with a deep spiritual experience that can come from psychedelics, people can draw strength from it. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Dealing with “Weeds”

Weeds' Drug-Dealing Protagonist, Nancy Botwin: Probably Not Calling the Cable Company

Every year, around July or August, I subscribe to Showtime specifically to watch Weeds, the season finale of which aired on Monday. I’ll call and cancel my subscription after I’ve drained the maximum entertainment value from the $15 Showtime adds to my cable bill each month by re-watching the whole season, binge-style, OnDemand. If I can do it before this billing cycle ends, I might even re-watch the entire series, which I own in its entirety on DVD. At this point, you probably think I’m a crazy person (or at least an obsessive), and you may be correct in that assessment, generally. But in my Weeds watching, at least, I’m just an ex-grad student.

The First Drug Dealing Novel (Want to Fight About It?)

Weeds played a prominent role in my 2008 M.A. thesis, and I’ve allowed it an equally prominent spot in my TV schedule (and effect on my wallet) ever since. I began my thesis by tracing the origins of what I call “drug dealing narratives” or “the drug dealing genre” from proto-generic tales of the opium-laced “white slave trade” to the genre’s first true inhabitant, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, published in 1925 (reasonable people may disagree on this contention, but I’d like to see a full-on fight in the comments section; throw the first punch, and I’ll hit back). But the jewels in the thesis’ 150 page crown are discussions of the ways in which the genre changed when it moved to the small screen with the advent of television dealing narratives: namely, The Wire (2002 – 2008) and Weeds (2005 – present).

Writing about The Wire makes for great conversation filler and arguably led to my future employment in drug law reform. But, while no doubt David Simon made the more complex, politically challenging, and intellectually stimulating series, Jenji Kohan’s Weeds was not only more fun to write about but, to my mind, suffers mainly from its frequent comparisons to its more “authentic” generic predecessor (on which Weeds actually comments in the Season 7 episode “Object Impermanence;” Pablo Schreiber, Nick Sobotka on The Wire, also played Nancy’s supplier and main love interest this season). Most importantly, though, Weeds did a much better job of proving my argument.

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The Elephant in the Newsroom: Drug Policy and Michele Bachmann’s Migraines

Ed. Note–This post originally appeared on August 1. We removed it briefly while pursuing an opportunity to speak with Rep. Bachmann about the questions posed below. Unfortunately, the Bachmann camp did not respond to our query. We welcome readers’ insights into the candidate’s stances on these issues and urge fellow bloggers and mainstream journalists to ask Bachmann about her approach to drug policy – and pain management praxis in particular – if given the chance.

Tucker Carlson: Trouble-Maker

Points has been investigating the regulation and increasing criminalization of opioid pain medications in the U.S. with posts like Siobhan Reynolds‘  on DEA meddling in pain management practices, Joe Spillane‘s on historical accounts of law enforcement interference in medicine, and Kenneth Tunnell‘s look at the first OxyContin scare. Conservative political news site the Daily Caller (run by formerly bow-tied pundit Tucker Carlson) alleged in late July that Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann takes “all sorts of pills” to deal with “incapacitating” migraines. Since narcotic pain relievers are one of several tools in many a migraineur’s survival kit (as well as that of at least one president), that story got us thinking about how the congresswoman’s experience with chronic pain might affect her approach to drug policy. The response to the allegations also illuminates the way in which media discourses work to reproduce normative representations of gender and power, even when media commentators attempt to upend those discourses.

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