Summary: The HighExistence Podcast interviews MAPS Founder Rick Doblin, Ph.D., about conducting clinical research to develop psychedelic therapy into a prescription treatment. Doblin speaks about the future of MAPS’ psychedelic research and his vision for a post-prohibition world.
Originally appearing here.
Martijn: Rick, thank you for being on our podcast. Welcome.
Rick: I’m really glad to have the opportunity to speak to all of the people who listen to your podcast. Thank you very much for inviting me.
Jordan: Thanks, Rick. To start, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Specifically, why you want to become a psychedelic therapist?
Rick: [Laughter] Yes, actually I gave a talk on Thursday night at the Harvard Faculty club to a group of international politics resolution mediators. It’s a project at Harvard Law School called “A Project On Negotiation” by a Dr. Roger Fischer, and these are his protégés. During that talk, I got that exact question, ‘why I want to be a psychedelic therapist?’ and it had to do with conflict resolution, this larger political mission and it linked to individual psychotherapy and cultural psychotherapy.
So, the decision that I made at age 18, and I am 60 now and fortunately it still makes sense to me, of becoming a psychedelic psychotherapist and the decision to bring back psychedelic research and therapy into legal mainstream was really about politics.
I was born in 1953 in the shadow of the holocaust. Jewish, and very much educated about what seemed to me to be cultural insanity and projections and scapegoating. And it seemed to me that this mental insanity was a direct risk to my life. Then I experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis when I was just a kid. The whole idea of potential nuclear warfare between the United States and Russia and how it might have consequences for the whole world, I just seemed to understand these mental problems and how we had conflict with the “other” and fear of the “Other”… and then the Vietnam war and so I was in the last year of the draft, the lottery.
I ended up feeling that I wasn’t a pacifist, that there were times that I think that it is important to defend oneself but I didn’t feel that Vietnam was one of those times. So I decided to not register for the draft and go to prison. I anticipated that would happen and my parents weren’t that upset actually. They were supportive of the decision but they felt that this was going to be a high cost. That I would have a criminal record and never be able to become a doctor or a lawyer or anything like that, which was important to them.
I felt it wasn’t worth it to go out and be willing to kill people in order to have that sort of a job so I decided to not register and thought I would go to jail. But then nothing ever happened to me. They never caught me. They never did anything. But when I was trying to figure out what I would do as a career I thought I would never be able to have a normal career and I had to figure out something. But 1971 and 1972 is when I really woke up to the value of psychedelics and they were controlled substances then and in 1970 psychedelics were criminalized and research was shut down all over the world and I felt like there is something to these ideas.
For thousands of years, people have used these drugs, used them for religious, spiritual purposes, for healing purposes. There is something deep and valid, the opposite of a hallucination or delusion. There is something about a deeper sense of reality, there is something that we can appreciate and perceive sometimes when we’re supported in proper context when people use psychedelics and so I felt that the political implications were so important that that explained the counter reaction. The crack down and then the overreaction.
I thought here was a way for me to grow. I was overdeveloped intellectually and underdeveloped emotionally. The world was like that as well. We have this incredible technology but we didn’t have the capacity to deal with it. Einstein said “Technology has exceeded our humanity”.
So it all just felt like it came together for me when I read Stan Grof’s work. I was exposed to Realms of the Human Unconscious, a manuscript copy and there it was. Science, spirituality with the underlying emphasis on therapy and healing. It all came together for me and I thought ‘Here I am, 18 years old and this is what I will devote my life to. Become a psychedelic therapist and bring it back’.
And now all these years later, I see it happening and I see a real possibility for our society to reintegrate psychedelics. I still need psychedelic therapy. It’s not something that just happens when you’re young and I think a lot of people do. I have found that these experiences are useful throughout the life span.
We’re a historical anomaly that our culture has criminalized and suppressed these experiences but in many other cultures it hasn’t been that way. They’ve been honored and these powerful energies have been used in more productive ways rather than suppressed.
I’m just really glad that as I become older and a lot more experienced that I figured it out back then and it still makes sense now and I’m happy to be talking to you about it now. [Laughter]
Martijn: I can only imagine what it would do for conflict resolution when two opposing people take some MDMA.
Rick: You know, one of the things that I said to this group of conflict mediators was that it should be like a brainstorming session where you say no decisions will be made when you are under the influence of MDMA or LSD or whatever it is that is used. It’s not a time to make decision because you don’t want people to be fearful that they will make decisions that they will later regret. So it’s just a time to explore, to empathize and listen. People are better listeners with it.
Similarly, for the first time we are doing research into MDMA and couples therapy. Couples therapy is not a disease. Having a difficult relationship or even heading for divorce or even trying to fall in love. Those aren’t diseases in the way medicine has narrowly defined them. We’d have a hard time making MDMA into a medicine for couples therapy but it came about in our work with the Veterans administration and they have a treatment approach where one of the couple is a veteran with PTSD and they do this “cognitive behavioral conjoint therapy” with both partners. With the one who has PTSD and the one who doesn’t.
So now we’re going to be modifying that a little bit and both members of the couple are going to receive MDMA and so we’re looking at measures of the relationship as well as seeing if the designated patient with PTSD has a reduction in symptoms. I think that when we talk about mediations we should think about why people all over the world use MDMA. It’s really good for lowering your defenses, increasing self-acceptance, being a better listener, more empathetic. It’s great for falling in love in relationships and also for creativity.
It’s good for a lot of people who are stuck with intellectual problems. One of our donors to MAPS was Kary Mullis, Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry for developing the Polymerase Chain Reaction regarding DNA analysis.
He gave me this fantastic qu
ote. He said, “I think I might have been stupid in some respects, if it weren’t for my psychedelic experiences”.
Rick: Someone that got a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the foundation of the 21stcentury. DNA analysis. There are all sorts of uses for mediation, creativity, couples therapy and psychotherapy and spiritual growth and hopefully these expansions that we are seeing will continue and we’ll avoid what happened in the 60’s with the major backlash.
Martijn: Definitely. We really hope so. After 28 years of running the Multidisciplinary Association, MAPS, what things are just beyond the horizon that you are really excited about?
Rick: Most exciting for me, because I believe this will lead towards cultural integration that we’ve been talking about, is this work with the military. The U.S. military. Soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We’re developing a core group of concept studies blending MDMA with existing psychotherapies. We’re going to be working with psychotherapies developed by the VA.
We have our therapeutic model that is a non-directive approach. Lasts 8 hours. Male female therapist teams. People spend the night in the facility. We do things that optimize the growth from MDMA.
Yet, there are these existing psychotherapies that since they do not have MDMA as a catalyst have highly scripted therapeutic interchanges. Meetings last an hour, once a week for twelve weeks. And nothing happens but what happens is each symptom is specifically described.
So, it’s a different approach but we’re looking to blend these existing approaches with ours to see if they can amplify the progress. There are over 6,000 therapists trained by the VA. Our model is three MDMA sessions, three to five weeks apart. There are weekly non drug psychotherapy preparation and integration. Maybe just one MDMA session will help someone connect more deeply with these existing psychotherapies. That’s one thing that I am really excited about.
The other is the harm reduction efforts. We’ve had this tragedy in the United States of prohibition where our policy has been explicitly to increase the harm of drugs so that people are scared of using them. The DEA back in 2000, went to one of these night clubs in New Orleans where people were using MDMA and partying all night.
They ended up saying that if there was a ‘chill out room’, 50 degrees cooler in temperature than the other rooms in the clubs, then that would be a sign that people knew that drugs were being used and that would be a cause to put the promoters and club owners in jail and take their assets.
You know, most of what is (street MDMA) is fake, there’s not that much actual MDMA in it. There are a lot of different drugs in the MDMA. Hopefully it’s not this bad in the Netherlands but it is in the U.S. You know there are these chemical agents that you drop on these pills and they make them turn different colors. That’s criminal and it has been happening.
This general question of prohibition is similar in sexual education to abstinence; how abstinence is the only answer. This woman whose daughter, tragically, took MDMA at a rave, got over heated, was inadequately hydrated and the temperature was too high. Her daughter died. This woman ended up feeling like it was the criminalization of harm reduction that really killed her daughter, more than the drug itself. So rather than calling for increased penalties or more police action, she called for the end of the prohibition of harm reduction.
We’re going to find out in the next couple weeks but it looks like there is going to be a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate to amend the rave act, to make it so harm reduction acts among promoters and festival organizers will no longer be a trigger for police action. That’s what we are really excited about.
The other part is we are about to make a major breakthrough in medical marijuana research. Right now in the Netherlands and in multiple countries, medical marijuana has been approved either under federal or state laws but it has been done without the research that is normally required to make a drug into a medicine. As a consequence, insurance companies don’t pay for the research. So in the U.S. there is a monopoly on the supply on medical marijuana approved for FDA research. That monopoly is held by the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA).
NIDA’s mission is to find out what’s bad about illegal drugs and study drug treatment programs. So for NIDA to have the FDA approved monopoly for medical marijuana research, it’s been tough to even look at the benefits of it. Which has been a massive obstruction to the research.
We have multiple studies approved by the FDA where NIDA has refused to supply the marijuana. Now that we have about 23 medical marijuana states and 2 legal states, Colorado and Washington, we’ve finally been able to get permission and NIDA has agreed to supply us for a study of marijuana with veterans with PTSD. It’s a drug development study and as far as we know, sadly, MAPS is the only organization in the world that is trying to get the marijuana plant approved as a regulatory approved medical prescription.
There are a lot of companies such as GW Pharmaceuticals in England that are working to trade marijuana extracts through the system but they feel the marijuana plant as competition would be generic and really inexpensive. It would be able to produce high potency trim buds for about 50 cents a gram, $14 an ounce.
It might be a little more than that, but still pretty inexpensive.
We’ve got a really good chance of getting a $1.4 million grant in the state of Colorado for the Marijuana PTSD study and that’s coming out fairly soon and then the other part is that the NIDA monopoly is doomed because the Israeli and Canadian some of these other international medical marijuana companies are moving towards medical grade and they are going to try to get the FDA to accept their product so that then we can import it and break the NIDA monopoly that way.
So we’re very hopeful for the work with MDMA, the military, challenging the prohibition of harm reduction and then medical marijuana is on the horizon and so there is a lot of work that’s been done. Very slow gradual change over the last 28 years but now things are really ramping up.
For the first time in MAPS’ history we have a senior retired DEA official working as a consultant for us. The reason this happened was that he has a son who enlisted in the military, went to Iraq and is now 50% disabled with PTSD. And so he’s taken an interest in helping us with conducting marijuana PTSD research.
I think the culture is really changing. It used to be that those of us in America would look to the Netherlands and Amsterdam and the coffee houses approach and see it as the only real challenge to prohibition in the world. We drew so much inspiration from it. I mean here was a society that had taken a different approach and it showed that the society hadn’t fallen apart and I know there has been a lot of challenges against it but now at least it is so good that the flame that was being kept alive in the Netherlands is being kindled in countries all over the world.
I’m really hopeful that probably even in my own lifetime we are going to see a post prohibition world.
Martijn: That’s amazing.
Jordan: That’s great to hear. I live here in Portland, Oregan and we’re voting on legalization in two months from now and it is almost surreal having lived in this world where all of these drugs are bad and all of these changes are happening. I’m really thankful for your work.
Rick: It’s also clear th
at even though I say we may see the end of prohibition in my lifetime, integrating it into society and really taking advantages of the opportunities that people can have with the experiences with these drugs, it will be a multigenerational process and that’s why I am really glad to be talking on your podcast too.
It’s really about educating the next generations to see the value of this and also realize that you can always win freedom in a certain generation but there is always backlash. Every generation can expand the frontiers of freedom, and they must act responsibly and acknowledge there are risks. Ending prohibition will not be the end of drug problems. There are still going to be a lot of drug problems. We just need to find different ways to address them.
I think with the movement towards legalization in Oregon, even if it doesn’t win this particular election cycle, just the fact that people are struggling for it is a victory. And there is a very good chance that it will win in Alaska, and medical marijuana in Florida. A lot of times, major movements in politics are centered around presidential elections so in 2016 we’re going to see marijuana legalization balloted in Massachusetts, California, Maine and elsewhere and I think we’ll make a lot of progress in 2016 and even more progress in 2020 and then maybe 2024 we might actually see legalization federally throughout the United States. By that I mean the same way prohibition ended where the Federal government said that is up to the states and if states want to make it legal they can.
Good luck! How are you feeling about the chances of Oregon for the initiative?
Jordan: I only moved here three weeks ago so I haven’t been able to get a great handle on people’s thoughts about it but the prevalence on it here are stronger than I’ve seen anywhere. I even saw a news story over here about how if you really wanted to buy weed and you didn’t want to drive up to Washington from here which is a twenty minute drive then there was this box that works on an honor policy where someone puts in a bunch of weed and you just go there and leave cash in it. Apparently the police don’t mess with it.
Rick: That’s fantastic! It sounds like my dorm room back in college. [Laughter]
Jordan: It’s already decriminalized here. So I think it’s got a good chance.
Rick: I guess I heard that there has been a little bit of a challenge raising the money necessary to buy the TV ads and win. But has there been any real opposition? Have you seen any groups that actively oppose it in Oregon?
Jordan: Not that I’ve seen. Not in the streets. Not in the newspapers. No.
Rick: Well, that’s good. You have to wonder, where are all of these people that have been opposing it for so long? I think some of them realize it’s a lost cause. Again this link between psychedelics and marijuana and political change, it used to be much stronger. Now it’s about parents worrying about their kids. Now I think a lot of the conservative funders are just realizing that they are losing on gay marriage, a lot of these lifestyle issues are no longer reliable ways of getting a majority of people. We know now that a majority of people are in favor or legalization and a vast majority of people are in favor of medical marijuana.
There was a $2 million donation made in the state of Florida to oppose medical marijuana by a fellow named Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire from gambling money. He’s supported a lot of right wing Republican causes and that’s the biggest organized opposition this year so far of which we are aware.
So it is hopeful. The situation is really hopeful.
Jordan: Cool. Now on a little more of a fun note. We’ve heard stories of you doing 20 hour LSD trips in floatation tanks and combining LSD and Iboga for therapeutic experiences. Do you have any more psychedelic experiences that you can share?
Rick: [Laughter] That is a little bit more fun!
Jordan & Martijn: [Laughter]
Rick: And both of those are true. It was actually 17 hours in the floatation tank or so. I did combine LSD and Ibogaine. It was LSD first. Actually, it was the Iboga root so it takes 4 hours or so to fully come on. As far as other stories, I guess there was one that I’d like share regarding MDMA. Well, I’ll share two stories.
One was the most spiritual experience of my life and the other was the most psychic experience of my life. The year before I started MAPS I was at a conference. I had started Earth Metabolic Design Lab, the nonprofit that we were using to sue the DEA. I was at a party, a bunch of us in New York City. We were doing MDMA and we were talking and it was a period in my life where I had no girlfriend. I felt lonely and so at this party I started thinking about different women that I had relationships with. I started updating them in my head and in a way I was looking at it fresh. It had been years since some of these relationships had ended and now it felt like I was updating them and they were alive and growing. Even though it was just one sided.
It was very interesting reflections. It was about 2:00, 3:00 in the morning and as I was going through the major relationships of my life I had this feeling that there was a woman’s body inside my body. It was somehow different. It wasn’t like somehow my feminine self or it wasn’t any of these particular people I was thinking about, but it felt like this sense of ‘other’ inside me. And it was a very unusual feeling inside of me. It was right around 3:00 in the morning and it last 5 minutes or so and then it went away.
Then I kept thinking about other women and eventually I went back to bed, back to the hotel room and when I got back there was this message ‘Call this person Chris’. First off, only a few people knew I was at this hotel and ‘Chris’? Is that a man or a woman? Who is this? There was no last name. I did not know what was going on. But it was too early in the morning to call.
So the next day I call and it turns out that Chris was a woman who I had been lovers with for about a year and a half. Then she had moved out of town. We hadn’t been that close and we hadn’t kept in touch and she said that the reason she called was because around 3:00 in the morning she had this dream of me. And it was so intense that it woke her up out of her dream. And she said she had to call Rick right now.
She called my house in Florida and some of the people there said I was in New York and that’s where she called me. It turned out she was only about a hundred miles away. So we thought this was really weird. I had this feeling that this woman’s body was inside my body almost exactly at the same time as she had this dream. We got together the next day and we did MDMA together. [Laughter]
Martijn: Why not? [Laughter]
Rick: Why not? Exactly, right? [Laughter] During it, near the very beginning she started feeling very nervous and also throughout. Then all of these different feelings were coming up and she started explaining that she was having a crisis. She acknowledged that she was getting addicted to opiates. She was also falling in love with her boyfriend’s best friend.
What I think might have happened, under the influence of MDMA, I was in this really deep space of mine. I was feeling particularly lonely and maybe there was some connection through my need for connection to her and her dream life. She was going through a crisis as well. We both had this need and somehow we were able to be connected. It’s either that or it&rsq
uo;s a coincidence. But it’s something that has left me thinking that there is something, maybe some reality to this idea that we are all connected, that we are all one and there is some way of communicating that is beyond the five senses that we know.
I realize that between me and the computer through which I am talking to you now there is only 20 inches of space. But through this space, there are waves that have knowledge of the whole world practically. The Internet is invisible between us and if we just tune into it, we can read it. I think that maybe it’s like how all of our consciousness is interconnected as well. Perhaps even through time and space.
The other experience was also through MDMA and I suppose we could keep this going on and on with more drug stories [Laughter] but this other one was the most spiritual experience where I was camping out by myself on the Pacific Ocean near Esalen Institute in Big Sur. Where the mountains come right down to the ocean and there was this little space of about 8 or 9 feet where the high tide didn’t come up that high and so I could camp out in the mountain and have the ocean in front of me and I took MDMA by myself. I spent the whole night there.
During this experience I was thinking about a monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast, and I was trying to imagine what its like to live a monastic life. Why would anyone want to do that? What his life was life?
I had a lot of respect for him. During this experience, that was one of the things I was thinking about. I was also trying to figure out about the DEA. This was in our early lawsuit against the DEA to keep MDMA a therapeutic drug and I was trying to think about the DEA looking at me and thinking about ways I could protect myself. I just had this very intriguing experience.
At one point, the stars were incredible. It was 3:00, 4:00 in the morning and the ocean was just awesome and big and it was roaring in front of me and the waves were crashing and I had this little perch to the universe. Open to the sky and open to ocean and mountains behind and I felt like I could just disappear. That I was so small, so tiny in the vastness of the universe that I could disappear and it was a little scary.
But then I started realizing that I hadn’t disappeared and I was still there in this vastness of the universe. Then I started realizing that there was something woven into matter that was gravity and that gravity was keeping me together. Keeping all my particles together. Keeping me on the Earth.
Then I felt that gravity here was like a woman and I was cradled in the arms of gravity. I felt the warmth of a person but it was universal. I felt this is why people try for the monastic life. That if you don’t try to have that sort of warm feeling or connection with a specific person or people that maybe then you are more open to having it for the universe and feeling it that way. I have never felt that warmth towards a forest, or gravity or space or time until then.
It just felt like there was something loving about it and loving at the core of the structure of the universe and one thing I noticed was that since then I haven’t had the sort of depths of loneliness that I had before. That I felt there was something so nurturing just by being alive and the opportunity of being a human being is so great.
Normally you would think about spiritual experiences as a more likely coming from LSD, mescaline or ayahuasca and I’ve had spiritual experiences with those drugs as well but that experience with MDMA was the clearest universal connection.
Martijn: That’s beautiful man. And your dream story reminds me of once when I did ayahuasca. The next day my sister called and she told me a really weird dream about me. She saw me sitting in this corner and she described some particularities of my ayahusaca experience which really baffled me. I can totally relate with your sense of profound mystery of just being alive and being connected.
Rick: So what does your sister think about that experience? I’m curious.
Martijn: Well, my sister has always believed in different realities, different connections so for her it was in a way this natural empathetic connection she had with me. In the ayahuasca experience I had this really difficult experience and she just came there to comfort me. She just felt that it was a really natural intuition for her. Whenever I am in a place of hurt she will come around and rescue me.
Actually it really strengthened our connection because then I knew we shared more than just genes with our parents. It’s hard to really think about it rationally. If I talk about it right now the feeling is really a sense of ease and a sense of belonging.
Rick: That’s terrific. And I do think that for me science and rationality are very strong values. They say the more unusual the experience the more rigorous the proof has to be.
So what I think are the most exciting parts that aren’t really happening yet is the use of psychedelics for studying ESP and psychic phenomenon and stuff like that.
Martijn: Do you really think the burden of proof should be measured in this objective way? For me the value is not in knowing its real or not but the fact that I experienced it and it has personal meaning.
Rick: I agree. The work with therapy is so similar in the sense that people can have past life experiences, spiritual experiences and all sorts of unusual transpersonal kind of experiences and so the question is ‘are they healing or therapeutic?’ and that is more important than was that really a past life and stuff like that.
That where I feel like my priority is really on the healing but the basic science and understanding of the structure of the universe, that’s important as well.
But when Chris called me, we could have been just focused on how amazing this is. Like ‘you’re dreaming and I’m tripping’. But we said whatever it was that got us connected, let’s take the next step and explore our connection. That was in a way more important than just going on and on questioning if it was really psychic or just a coincidence.
Martijn: Yea, I definitely agree. And it reminds me of when you decided to become a construction worker to get more grounded to really integrate your psychedelic insights. What do we do with those really intense experiences, those reality shattering experiences?
We often read that the real work starts after the trip.
Rick: Yea, well in a therapy setting that is so true. Because we are talking about what you bring back from it and how does it change your life. You can have extremely remarkable experiences that are sort of classical mystical experiences but does it really change your life? What you bring back is part of the integration process. I think that’s in some ways one of the big differences between now and the 60’s. There was a little bit of a sense where if you have these experiences that somehow is sufficient. You are ‘enlightened’, you’ve seen through the cultural myths. It reminds me of a talk that Timothy Leary gave in ’67. So this idea that it was a little more about the experience and now there is much more recognition that its about the combination of the experience and what you bring back from it and that’s what makes the difference.
What we’re trying to is influence our lives so that when we normally wake up in the morning without drugs, that we realize that something has fundamentally changed and deepened. I think that’s what keeps it safe. When people try to think of drugs just as recreational and they try to go just for the experience, ‘I’m going to do this drug at a party and I’m going to have fun&rsquo
;, that’s opening them up to the potential for being unprepared for when serious things start to happen.
At Burning Man, Boom Festival, Africa Burn, other events, when people are planning on having fun with psychedelics and then it gets more serious, they can actually start feeling like they’re dying or they’re scared or any number of things. But by taking time to focus on that and work through it to the extent that they can, which can be done in actually a brief period of time, people can go back to the party and feel like they’ve deepened their experience and their life.
The difference is with the recreational use, you are saying I am only using this drug to have a good time while I am on it. The therapeutic use says ‘I am going to use this drug to open up to whatever emerges and whatever I can bring back’.
And when I did have those experiences early on when I was 18 and 19 and had a bunch of LSD experiences that I couldn’t really integrate, I realized you couldn’t do all of the work in the altered state. You have bring it back and implement it and since I was having trouble doing that I felt like it doesn’t make sense doing psychedelics more and more. I already had so much stored up and I needed to integrate that and that’s where I thought getting grounded, through construction would give me the opportunity to see in the outer world what I was thinking about in the inner world.
I tried to get more engaged with physical reality and it basically took me ten years of being in the construction business and tripping every now and then and reading books to get prepared to go back to college and really focus on becoming a psychedelic therapist.
I don’t regret it but when I did all the psychedelics early on really quickly, I didn’t really understand enough about the need to really do the integration before you do the next trip. I was overloaded with material that I wasn’t growing from and it was making me unhappy in some ways.
I still had the sense however that there was something about the process that was true and real. That it wasn’t made up. And it took me a decade to work through that.
Jordan: What do you think about the phrase ‘when you get the message, hang up the phone’?
Rick: Well, I think that’s way simplistic. In a way that’s good. So yea, you get the message then you hang up the phone and then you integrate it. But there is an implication that there is only one message. Sort of OK, you’ve done psychedelics, you’ve gotten the message and now let’s move into a post psychedelic world and you can meditate and do yoga but you’re never going to need psychedelics again.
I think even Ram Dass talked about that and he does not believe that there’s just one message. So to the extent that the phrase highlights the integration work then I like it. Then it makes sense.
To the extent that people say ‘You’ve had your psychedelic experience, there’s no more to be learned from that now get on with your life’, I think that’s fundamentally mistaken.
Because what I have seen in my own life, history and even by examining the ayahuasca churches right now, is these experiences have a value throughout the life span. When you’re 18 and you’re trying to figure out what to do with your life, that’s a whole different kind of set of challenges. Then when you’re 60 and people you know are dying and little health things can happen and you’re starting to think about how I’m not going to be able to accomplish everything that I want, how can I train and inspire the next generation or just whose going to do it, it’s a whole different set of challenges.
When I was in my 30’s and 40’s, my wife and I took MDMA right before we decided to have kids. We knew we wanted to have kids but it was like when you’re about to go swimming and the water is a little bit cold and you can spend 20 minutes hovering on the edge before you dive in. But if you just jumped in it would take 10 seconds and you would be warm again. So you spent 20 minutes not doing it. That’s what I felt like when I was thinking about kids. I was never quite ready but it replaced the fear with excitement and the anticipation was greater.
So there are all of these different experiences and situations throughout the life span but if people think that they don’t need to do it anymore then that is their individual choices. That may be the right choice for them. But I think the generic idea, ‘you got the message, now hang up the phone’ has the implication that we should all live these post drug lives where we don’t really need drugs. It’s ridiculous. Our brains are drug factories.
Jordan: This is a question I love to ask people who have done a lot of psychedelics. Ketamine is one of my personal favorites. But it doesn’t get a lot of love. It’s known as the ‘horse tranquilizer’. You hear a lot of horror stories of people taking it who don’t really understand it and go into “k-holes”. I’m curious what your thoughts are on ketamine.
Rick: Well, when I was 18 and I was experimenting with LSD, I just mentioned how I came across Stan Grof and Realms of the Human Unconscious and how it helped me. I was also reading a book by John Lilly called Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer. John was the one who had invented the floatation tank and the book was about his work with LSD inside the floatation tank and trying to understand the brain as a computer. These were my two shining lights, my two heros, my two mentors. Stan Grof and John Lilly. You know I am still working with Stan and we are working on the possibility of a Breath Work (Holotropic) Seminar in Jerusalem in December. As a way of helping people deal with the trauma of war.
John Lilly, you know he’s no longer alive, but he really squandered his potential and that was in part due to his relationship with ketamine. He was an impatient man. He was a brilliant man. Way ahead of his time. But I think when the crack down came, when everything was shut down, Stan started Holotropic Breath Work. He found a way to go forward given the sort of fears of the society.
Whereas John Lilly used ketamine and cocaine. He used ketamine as kind of an escape. He talked about Earth Coincidence Control Offices and his highly elevated states. Ketamine takes you beyond your sense of self in certain ways. I’ve had highly therapeutic experiences under the influence of ketamine. But I feel that there is a danger to it in that it is a reliable escape from our normal conscious. Also it has either the reality or the illusion of an elevated, more spiritual state.
Of all the psychedelic drugs, ketamine is the most addictive. Not just John Lilly, but there are others that have fallen into overuse of ketamine. On the other hand, there is an incredible amount of research in the role of ketamine in refractory depression. One experience with ketamine can take suicidal people and change them around. Now that lasts about a week or two. It’s only temporary.
But it teaches us something incredible about the fine balance that our moods are on. About our biochemistry of the brain and how ketamine can take suicidal depression and banish it for a time. So I think there is enormous value in taking ketamine and researching it for depression, how to make that permanent. And I think that there is also a lot to be learned from the actual content of ketamine experiences.
For me there was this two day sequence. This was with a group of therapists. This was with Ralph Metzner, Terrence McKenna and others. And I did DMT. During the DMT experience I had this sense that you’re rocketed into this
other existence and then I just started thinking about how in my interior life, I was using the English language. And I didn’t come up with any vocabulary that people have been using for centuries and that things that were personal and deep inside me were actually shared.
I felt this enormous sweep of billions of years of history that led to the moment that I was in. It’s not like you are born then die, but our energy, our materials and everything have been here for a long time. It was enormous and blissful and wonderful. Then I realized I am just appropriating all the positive parts of history. If all of history is inside me, then Hitler could also be inside me. And that was this terrible recognition and it dropped me down like a stone in water and it shook me up the whole day. That I have these desires to control and dominate. I don’t act them out the same way but it is all within us. We cannot just focus on the good.
The next day, we were experimenting with ketamine. So during the ketamine, the same theme came that I was watching Hitler give a speech to hundreds of thousands of people and I was hovering above and behind him so I had this sense of safety. He couldn’t see me. I was at a Nuremberg Rally. It was terrifying to see the hate coming out of him and then to see the hail Hitler salute. The way he would put his arm up and then everybody would do it back to him. It felt like this volleyball game where this concentrated energy the one pushes out to the many and the many pushes it back to the one.
It goes back and forth in this sequence of building this energy together. I started panicking but then I started thinking that I really need to understand this. Try to figure out how we can build a safer world where people aren’t so vulnerable to this need for unity and connection that we are speaking of spiritually. Where it can’t be manipulated into ‘It’s Us vs. Them. And you hate Them’.
People got a lot out of being Nazis, you know. Being a part of this group and the connection and it was terrifying. I feel like the ketamine helped me to have this removed experience, so it wasn’t so terrifying. I felt the panic coming up to me like in bubbles that were going to be over flowing. But I felt that if I could just breathe then I can control it.
So ketamine is great in the sense that it doesn’t interfere with your respiration. It was the main battlefield anesthetic in Vietnam. You can just inject it into a muscle (IM) you don’t have to find a vein. You can be out of pain very quickly.
I think there is an enormous amount to be learned from ketamine. It does have a lot of potential but I do see the seductive nature of being out of your biography into these more rarefied states of consciousness. It has a dangerous quality as well.
So I am curious, have you seen this in other people or yourself? What is your view of the balance, benefits/risks of ketamine?
Jordan: It’s a very interesting drug in that aspect. I would definitely describe it as a ‘dark’ drug. It has that seductive aspect that you’ve been describing, where you can come out of it and feel very ‘transcendent’ and have this amazing experience. I think there is a good balance. I have had some of the most ‘transcendent’ experiences on ketamine and in my experience it even dwarfs shrooms or acid on how trippy and out of this world it can be.
Most of the understanding of the people who haven’t done psychedelics are like ‘oh you see a dragon flying around in your room’ or something. For me that hasn’t happened on shrooms or acid, that stuff has happened on ketamine. [Laughter]
Rick: Is it harder or easier to integrate the lessons you’ve learned from ketamine?
Jordan: Oh, yea, definitely harder. So out there. You have almost zero context for what just happened. Well depending on how deep you go. If you are just lying down, closing your eyes, it’s going to be really hard to bring it back but if you are sitting there meditating on a smaller dose and you can keep going back and forth between reality and that world , I think there is some fantastic insights that can be taken.
Rick: Yea, here’s a brief funny story about ketamine one time. You know you can take it a number of different ways. One way is inject it, IM. The other way is you can snort it. So I was actually out in California at Esalen. I had made arrangements with this woman I know and we were going to have sex together, later that night. I was like this is great. I was super excited.
But I had a bunch of hours before that. So I decided to go to a friend’s house and they proposed to do ketamine. I said alright, ketamine doesn’t last that long. Normally. I’ll be able to do ketamine, have the experience, then I’ll be able to come back down in time to go back for my rendezvous.
We snorted this ketamine and it was so strong. It took me so out of it that I missed my date. [Laughter]
So that’s one of my side effect stories. Fortunately she heard my explanation and took pity on me so we got together the next day.
Jordan: [Laughter] Very understanding woman.
Rick: Very understanding woman! So that’s how powerful it can be despite all of those intentions.
Martijn: Well, right now it is really obvious that psychedelics can be used as medicines and tools for creativity. Can you speculate what psychedelic culture would look like if it was fully legalized and integrated into our culture?
Rick: Yea. I think the model that I have is the idea of hospice centers. So these are centers for people who are dying. Instead of going to hospitals where they get all sorts of life saving preventions that prolongs their lives a short period of time or sometimes really degrades the quality of life, you go to a hospice center and you have a more peaceful death.
In 1974, that was when the first hospice center came out. In 2004, 30 years later, there were 3,500 in most cities in America of a certain. So I think that when psychedelics are fully integrated as medicine in our society we will have special centers where people go that are designed to facilitate psychotherapy. I think there will be an evolution of people going there for medical purposes. Then eventually people’s family members will also start going. I’ve already mentioned that in our couples’ therapy, where both members of the couple will get MDMA, even though only one of them has PTSD. SO it starts there.
It expands to family members and then I think that these centers can become rites of initiation where someone can go there to have their first experience, under supervision. They will understand what it is about and then they can get a license and go do it on their own. I feel like it will be a little bit like a driver’s license where you will have to demonstrate to somebody that you know how to drive and then you get a license to drive on your own.
I think the whole recreational pretense of things will change as well. There are a lot of people that are taking MDMA and other drugs in recreational settings that really don’t know about their history as therapeutic drugs or their therapeutic potential. They’re mostly taken by surprise or not sure what to do when the more serious stuff comes up. Then they can try to suppress things and that ends up making it worse.
I think that once the knowledge that these drugs have therapeutic potential is more widespread, it will have a powerful effect, even in recreational settings. People will take the time out when difficult things come up to actually focus on that and work through it.
I think there will be a lot safer recreational settings, more supportive harm reduc
tion work. Festivals will have areas that people can go if they are having difficult trips, staff there to work with them. Not just to “bring them down” but also to help them to work through things.
LSD is the quintessential symbol of the 60’s and psychedelics. We were able to finally start a study into the therapeutic uses of LSD. It was in Switzerland and it was LSD for people who had life threatening illnesses and were experiencing anxiety because of that. What we are most proud of is that study had only 12 subjects and none of the 12 had ever done LSD before. So I think what well see when psychedelics are therapeutic drugs, they are going to be used by the full range of people in our society. Even people you would never anticipate doing a psychedelic. I think the medicalization of psychedelics, when it reaches that point, will be extremely wide spread.
There is another part too, about the medicalization. If we look at what is going on in America as far as legalization of marijuana, there has been data and charts that show the percentage of people who are in favor in marijuana legalization. From 1970 to a year and a half ago. The attitudes really start to change around 1996. Just two years or so ago, more than 50% of the American population said marijuana should be legal.
So what we see is that once people fully understand the medical use of marijuana their attitudes change towards prohibition. I think we’ll see the same with psychedelics. The medicalization of psychedelics will change their attitudes and will make them rethink the whole system. And we’ll end up with a post prohibition world and we will end up with people able to use drugs for creativity, for business, for conflict negotiation, for couples therapy, for personal growth and put higher value on recreational use as well.
I think the medicalization is the open door and that’s where we are trying to go through and it will lead to a larger culture where hopefully psychedelics are one of many options that people have for experiences. Many people will be able to use them, will feel this deep connection that we have with life and others. It will really contribute, in a major way I think, to a more peaceful world and help multiple generations to deal with the accelerating constant rate of change. The way cultures are bumping up against each other.
It’s like scouts. Every culture needs people who are looking to the future. People who go ahead and scout around and come back and tell people what it’s like. So rather than seeing psychedelics as cultural rebellion or tools of the counter culture, things that can never be integrated into a static society, I think that we will be able to find a way to integrate psychedelics in such a way that people can use them and be scouting out their new interior opportunities or healing opportunities. Creativity or problem solving opportunities as well.
I think we are in a really good moment of opportunity. People listening to the podcast must realize their actions will either inspire others or scare others. We all have a roll to play in trying to bring about this new integration of psychedelics by being responsible.
This doesn’t mean not being recreational, but also being responsible. Then sharing views and opinions with parents and skeptics and others. I really think the doorway through is the medical use.
Jordan: And for someone that hasn’t done psychedelics before but is very interested do you have any recommendations as far as first substances to try? Doses?
Rick: Well, it would be really good, if you are curious about psychedelics, to pay a lot of attention to your dreams. Every night we dream even if we might not remember it. But we do have them. I think there is an awful lot of similarities between the dream experience and the psychedelic experience. And then once you can get that sense of the deep emotional logic, rather than strict linear logic, that will help to prepare people in a lot of way.
Then I think that when somebody is considering going beyond the actual dreams that ideally we would be able to have a sequence of experiences. The holotropic breath work that Stan Grof has developed. Basically just hyperventilation brings emotions to the surface in a non linear way but in an emotional manner. And I think that is helpful.
Then I think MDMA is gentler than the other classic psychedelics and so it may make sense to start with that. Then moving to the more “classic” psychedelics, such as LSD, mushrooms, ayahuasca or mescaline. I think we could have a graduated series of experiences that people have.
One of the problems that I caused myself when I was really young, 18/19, doing LSD was I really didn’t want to be who I was. I thought I had to be this perfect person. This perfectly evolved enlightened person. It really is something that people have to have patience for.
Even though these drugs are so dramatic and even though with PTSD we are able to give someone 1 experience of MDMA and that’s all they need and they have overcome years and years and sometimes decades of PTSD, that there can be this sort of one dose miracle cure situation. That does happen.
Yet I think that if people who are starting out have some patience and don’t need to become ‘enlightened’ right away, and have a series of experiences, separated by weeks or months even, I think they will have a lot benefits. I would encourage people to read. We have The Secret Chief Revealed on the MAPS website about the leader of the underground psychedelic therapy movement and he describes his therapeutic approach and various drugs and how he thinks they all have different properties and how each could be used.
Also probably the most important part from a therapeutic approach, is you can spend a lot of time ahead of time thinking about what you want to accomplish, what you think your issues are. You set your intentions. But then once you actually take the drug you throw all that away [Laughter] and let whatever happens, happen.
Jordan: That’s great advice.
Rick: And you’ve done all that work beforehand and you’ve primed yourself but you need to be open. The wisdom of the unconscious is deeper than the conscious mind. So just let it take you and go wherever it goes.
Martijn: Interesting. A while ago I supported the new MAPS crowd funding…
Rick: Oh great!
Martijn: And I just got my present sent. It’s the book called Acid Test and it’s an amazing read and I can definitely recommend it to anyone interested in psychedelics. But it got me thinking. It was the small piece about the holotropic breath work and it reminded me of this technique I learned from Wim Hof, the Ice Man. He’s a Dutch guy who can sit hours in a tank full of ice. He can control his own immune system with a breathing technique like that.
I had these really psychedelic experiences just hyperventilating with his technique but I also combined it with LSD one time. I felt like combining these spiritual practices like meditation, like yoga, like holotropic breath work with psychedelics can have this enhanced effect. It seems like being so in touch with your body and it makes integration much easier.
Like you just said, you should take all that advice and throw it away and trip but I also think that there is some value in having some structure and having some practice while tripping. Have you ever tried that?
Rick: Um… No. [Laughter]
If people were to go on to our MAPS website, on the MDMA web page and go down, we have what we call the Treatment Manual. And the Treatment Manual describes the attitude of the therapist, the attitude of our non-directive approach. I do fe
el like that is something we’ve learned in large part from Stan Grof and have developed on our own as well. But there are a lot of skills and techniques that you could use during psychedelic experience.
For me, the one that has been the most useful is to think about breathing. When there is anxiety to just breathe into and then open up and let whatever is going to happen, happen.
There was one point we were doing psychotherapy with someone who had PTSD from 9/11. He lived in New York, had worked in the building but didn’t happen to be at the building that day and a bunch of his friends got killed. He worked on the rubble pile for a month or so. He had strong PTSD progressively getting worse and worse for 7 years.
At the same time we had somebody else who was doing therapy for having been raped and felt that even though she had kind of overcome it and had a new relationship that she couldn’t fully let herself go or engage. There was this deep distrust and she didn’t feel healthy. So we had another team working with her and it was in one big room.
I was focused on the person I was working with and again it’s male female co-therapist teams and every once in a while I’d hear this other co-therapist team and they were doing guided imagery. Which was directly in contrast to our method of non-directive method. And they had an excellent outcome. The person did great!
So I am not saying that our non-directive approach is the best approach and the only way to do it. There’s about to be a study that is going to be conducted in Switzerland with life long meditators who are going to get psilocybin. They are actually going to get it at a meditative retreat with their instructions being to just meditate.
Maybe it will deepen the meditation. Maybe at some point they will stop the meditation, we don’t know. But I think that there is a lot to be learned and there are different approaches for different people. If people like a certain kind of structure, you could plan to have it.
Here’s one other point though. There was some research done at Yale with ketamine. They had somebody that had flipped out during the ketamine experience and they didn’t quite understand it. There was a doctor, Kupinski from Russia, who was doing an internship at Yale and he was an expert and he was doing ketamine research in Russia for the treatment of alcohol and heroin addiction. He and I are friends and MAPS was supporting his work. We went to Yale and we were watching his work. We watched this tape of the person who flipped out under the influence of ketamine.
It was immediately clear to us that it was the experimenters that flipped this guy out because here he was, trying to answer all of these questionnaires and they had all of these procedures that they were doing for the experiment. Now, here he was, losing his sense of self. He was going into the cosmos, he was wanting to just let himself go and see what happens but they just kept pulling him back and pulling him back into being rational and filling out these questionnaires and that just caused him to have a panic reaction. He wanted to stop the research.
I would just caution people that if they do have some kind of system or practice that, just be careful not to impose it so strongly if you have this feeling to just explore.
For me, there is this moment when I am tripping, where I know I am tripping and I get lost. I think ‘who am I, why am I doing this, where am I’? And that feeling of getting lost is actually a good sign and I really like that. But it is really scary. But there is this way where your system or practice can keep you grounded and found you can learn more sometimes by letting go and getting lost. Just something to keep in mind.
But it very well could be that practices during the session itself could be very helpful.
Martijn: Right. Are there any specific things that we as the audience can do to support MAPS? Of course, donating would help. But could we volunteer? Would coming out of the psychedelic closet help? Or just trip a lot?
Rick: [Laughter] One way to help is to find the people in your life, if you found psychedelics to be helpful to you, find the people who are most frightened by that. And try to speak with them and try to explain to them. Search out the people in your world who have different views and try to engage them in a discussion.
That’s a major way to help out. Another way to help out, as you mentioned is to read Acid Test to sort of get a better understanding of what we’re doing. That book is about the work we are doing with veterans. Volunteering is really good too. There are all sorts of ways in terms of harm reduction events. Try to organize harm reduction at events so that we don’t have these stories of tragedies. Not even tragedies but also people who had an experience and didn’t really integrate and now they feel unsettled. So if you have friends who are maybe getting into ketamine too much, share that with them.
I think the crowd sourcing thing on Indiegogo is a way for people to help because people can donate $10, $25. It doesn’t need to be a lot of money but people can look at that page.
We tried to raise $50,000 but were up to about $107,000 now which is amazing and we only have a couple more weeks to go (read: as of September 30th, the ‘Legalizing Psychedelic Therapy’ Campaign on Indiegogo has raised over $117,000). And people will look at the 1300-1400 donors. It’s incredible! So it doesn’t have to be large amounts of money.
For people who are thinking about careers, being a psychedelic psychotherapist or being a neuroscientist or anything like that, go for it. Right now the door is opening and I can imagine that there will be thousands and thousands of people working as psychedelic therapists in the decades to come. Tens of thousands of therapists. There probably already are in terms of shamanism and other underground things like that. So take the leap of faith, have the courage and if that is your passion, your interest, try to make it happen.
We’re about two years away from moving from Phase II drug development, which means your small pilot studies to Phase III, which are the large scale studies that will prove safety and efficacy. So we are going to want to set up treatment sites all over the U.S. and around the world so if there people you are aware of that are interested in doing something like this you can get them in touch with us.
The other thing is we have these psychedelic conferences and this is probably really good for people to help out in a big way. In Psychedelic Sciences 2010 and Psychedelic Sciences 2013, we had these big international conferences with most of the psychedelic researchers around the world coming together and sharing their results. We video tape them and these are incredible resources for learning about what is going on in this world.
On the other hand, Google doesn’t search audiotapes so there is a software that people have donated for our use which is crowd sourced transcription and translation. So if people were to go to the MAPS website and take a look at the videotapes that we have from the psychedelics conferences. These are under ‘Media’, you go to the Psychedelic Science 2013 video and if there are any that you are particularly interested in then you can start transcribing them.
You can do 5 minutes of work, 10 minutes of work and you can also translate them. That would be terrific. Because then once these happen, these will be searchable by Google. These are tremendous sources of information and if we can get more of them transcribed and if people know Dutch and other languages and translate them that would be fantastic too. It’s a way to both learn and contribute to others. You’re learning as you’re listening and you’re transcribing so other peopl
e can appreciate it as well.
Jordan: Well this has been a fascinating podcast. Thank you so much for coming on. I’d like to end with a story that’s really reciprocal to yours about taking MDMA and trying to figure out why someone would try to pursue a monastic lifestyle.
I believe the guy in this story is Timothy Leary, I’m not really sure. It’s been a while since I’ve heard it. Well, let’s assume it was Tim. And he was talking with a monk. And he was talking about MDMA, and psychedelics but MDMA in particular and how a lot of youth, or just people in America were using MDMA as a substance in the party way.
The monk couldn’t understand why people would ingest this substance. Timothy Leary’s response was to take him to a house party where people were taking MDMA and the monk went around the entire night and just observed people and at the end of the night said ‘Ah, now I understand. You are doing the same thing as I am here. You are seeking God’.
Martijn: That’s amazing.
Rick: Yea, that is amazing. And there is a similarity. I’ve worked with various monks with MDMA in the monastery. In small doses or half doses to help deepen their meditation and it works. It’s about the search for truth, the search for love, the search for connection that unites us to the monastic life.
That was a great story. Thank you for sharing that.
Martijn: Rick, we really want to thank you for coming on. You’ve been a hero of mine for I don’t know how long and thank you for your answers and your time and I hope to see you soon.
Rick: I look forward to it. And you know public education is even more important to me than the research so I am really happy about what you are doing with the podcast.