26 July 2023
Becoming More Than a Dream
Becoming More Than a Dream
By Charleen Justice, M.S.
MAPS Bulletin: Volume XXXIII Number 2 • 2023
On June 30, 1985, the last day MDMA was legal, Rick Doblin was visiting Julie Holland, a college student exploring the possibility of medical school who was also a lead singer in a band. She had read about the DEA Administrative Law Judge’s hearings to criminalize MDMA and reached out to learn about its therapeutic uses. Exercising their legal freedom before they no longer had the option, they ingested MDMA. Near the end of the day, Rick was pondering an article published in Business Week magazine a few days prior that discussed the pending criminalization of MDMA and reported that a group of psychologists and psychiatrists were arguing it should remain legal for medical uses. He wrote a letter to the editor on his Macintosh computer, appealing to the community to invest $10 million to develop MDMA into a prescription medicine. Of three paragraphs, one sentence stated, “It is my hope that the business community will critique and advise in the development of the company so that it can become more than a dream.”
Something went haywire when he printed the letter, and out came an almost completely empty page with just five words printed on it: “become more than a dream.”
The next day, he was looking more closely at his ImageWriter II dot matrix printer and noticed a small piece of LSD blotter paper in the dot matrix part of it. He laughed, “As the saying goes, ‘Only users lose drugs.’” Then contemplated, “Could my printer have been tripping and sending me an inspirational message?” Forty weeks later, MAPS was born. Rick framed that page, and it’s been on his desk for over 38 years inspiring him to persevere on the path of transforming his hope into reality. Julie is now a psychiatrist, medical advisor to MAPS PBC, and author. She served as a medical monitor on some of MAPS’ MDMA protocols and regularly performs with her husband, Jeremy, in their duo, The Rivals. During the pandemic, they played a song a day for over 500 days with their children, Molly and Joe, on the Family Mojo Forced Reunion Tour.
This year, thanks to millions of dollars in donations, ranging from grassroots to major gifts, MAPS successfully completed the first set of Phase 3 studies of any psychedelic-assisted therapy. Soon, a New Drug Application (NDA) will be filed seeking FDA approval for the prescription use of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD. If approved, the treatment will be available for clinical use, and Rick’s aspiration will become more than a dream.
In 1985, artists Allyson and Alex Grey also consumed MDMA and shared an altered state that shaped the focus of their lives. During their experience, they simultaneously envisioned a contemporary public chapel that would house the Sacred Mirrors art series, which was nearing completion (de Cadenet, 2021). The collection invites viewers to explore mind, body, spirit, and interconnectedness through reflection and introspection. They formed the non-profit Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (CoSM) in 1996. In 2004, they began publicly displaying the 19 paintings and two etched mirrors alongside other pieces of their visionary art and fostering an environment for creative and social gatherings in New York City. Four years later, they secured a wooded 40-acre property in Wappinger, New York, intended to be a center for art, culture, and the interfaith Church of Sacred Mirrors they established in 2008. It is a place of contemplation and worship for community honoring the practice of art as a spiritual path. In 2013, they kickstarted a fundraising campaign to reconstruct a three-story carriage house into a 12,000-square-foot sanctuary of visionary art with an architectural design that unifies all religions and sacred paths. It was given a name offered by Alex for a Burning Man camp the Greys initiated with MAPS and Matt Atwood seven years prior: Entheon, meaning a place to experience the Creator within (Sayej, 2013). The name was inspired by the word pantheon, defined as “a temple dedicated to all the gods,” combined with the prefix “en,” meaning “within,” and “theo,” “a combining form meaning God”. Art from Alllyson, Alex, and numerous other visionary artists is featured in the temple with the Sacred Mirrors.
This year, backed by thousands of donors and supporters, Entheon opened to the public with the purpose of empowering the evolution of consciousness and advancement of the worldwide visionary art movement. The Greys prioritized building Entheon first because they felt it was important to utilize the existing structures. The final chapter of their vision will be fulfilled upon completion of the dome-shaped Chapel of Sacred Mirrors they intend to build in the meadow on their property.
In 1985, a few months before Rick and the Greys embarked on their life-changing MDMA journeys, I was born. Growing up, I was surrounded by stories of psychedelic experiences from my parents, grandfather, and others in our community. I took my first trip in 2002 and spent the next decade delving into various states of consciousness. My friend Roa introduced me to MAPS in 2012, and in 2013, driven by the desire to help others by learning and sharing research, I enrolled at Lane Community College. While exploring bachelor’s options, I learned of the Planning, Public Policy, and Management (PPPM) degree at the University of Oregon (UO), which focuses on addressing important problems facing society. During a search for career options in that field, Rick Doblin’s name appeared. I knew of Rick and how he founded MAPS, but I wasn’t aware he had earned a doctorate in public policy from Harvard. It was extra meaningful because I had been diagnosed with PTSD around that time, and Rick’s life work revolves around developing a treatment for the condition. There was a sense of serendipity that seemed spiritual.
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I was accepted at UO as a first-generation student on a full scholarship in the fall of 2016. A week before my first term I attended a leadership retreat. One of the exercises was identifying a mission based on our core values. I knew I wanted mine to involve healing trauma and fostering resilience. Unresolved trauma is associated with incarceration and other unfavorable behaviors and outcomes (Dierkhising et al., 2013; Felitti et al., 1998; Marotta, 2017; Wolff & Shi, 2012). Four-out-of-four men in my immediate family are currently or formerly incarcerated. And having an incarcerated parent is an adverse childhood experience (ACE). So, I made my goal more specific by starting with those affected by the carceral system. When I envision this endeavor, it involves a plethora of trauma-informed education, care, and services, not only for those currently or formerly residing in prisons and jails but also for victims, the people who work in these systems, and family members on all sides. This is aligned with MAPS’ first principle, Healing for All.
Upon my admission to UO, I restarted their chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). Through them, I began volunteering for MAPS. I told Rick about my desire to assist those affected by the carceral system in accessing healing resources and the Inside-Out course I had taken inside a men’s prison. The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program operates internationally, bringing incarcerated (inside) and non-incarcerated (outside) students together to foster transformative learning experiences. When I shared with him that I had been printing out educational materials, including TED Talk transcripts, and sending them to institutions for several years, he invited me to help him prepare for his upcoming TED Talk. Two weeks after graduation, I was offered a paid position as a Community Engagement Assistant at MAPS. After my first 80 hours, I received an offer letter to become Rick’s Executive Assistant. I spent two years in that role before being promoted to his Executive Manager.
During the pandemic, I was selected for the Enneagram Prison Project (EPP) Guide Training Program. EPP is a nonprofit offering trauma-informed programming in jails and prisons around the world. In 2021, still employed by MAPS, I returned to the University of Oregon on a full scholarship after being accepted into the second cohort of their newly formed Online Master in Psychology program. It offers a unique combination of courses focused on the neuroscience of trauma, adversity and resilience, intervention science, and innovative approaches to program development. I completed my capstone project with data from EPP courses conducted in California correctional facilities.
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This year, Rick and I were invited to Iceland to speak with the Minister of Justice regarding his curiosity surrounding the potential approval of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD. He believes it is a responsibility to learn about innovations that can support citizens suffering from PTSD, including those transitioning from prison back into society. It was a fruitful discussion emphasizing the delicate nature of working with people who have been impacted by trauma and the carceral system, the importance of involving the communities they intend to serve, the need for wraparound services, integrating trauma-informed principles, treating eligible victims, staff, and family members, the results of the trials, potential risks, and the fact that in MAPS’ first Phase 3 trial, 12% were non-responders, highlighting that this potential treatment does not work for everyone (Mitchell et al., 2021). I graduated with a Master of Science in March. The final product of my degree was an implementation guide to assist Iceland in exploring their consideration.
Two months later, I completed the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program instructor training. In June, my formerly incarcerated friend, Jaron Riddle and I were invited to speak in Dr. Bronner’s Deep Space. We also co-hosted a community meetup for those affected by the carceral system with Sia Henry, Rudy Maldonado, and Seth Ferranti at MAPS’ Psychedelic Science 2023 conference. I have been added to the volunteer list for the Compassion Prison Project (CPP), a nonprofit whose main focus is childhood trauma and how it affects the lives of people living and working in prisons. Additionally, I am currently volunteering for Red Lodge Transition Services, a nonprofit serving Native Americans affected by the carceral system, at a series of Pow Wows taking place in prisons across Oregon. I am also advancing my goals by supporting the efforts of the MAPS Policy and Advocacy team, who has initiated a literature review to explore, identify, analyze, and propose solutions to the challenges and opportunities that emerge when considering access to psychedelics in medical, therapeutic, adult-use, decriminalized, ceremonial, and other community settings for people impacted by the criminal legal system.
Throughout history, countless people’s lives have been and will continue to be fundamentally shaped by their experiences with psychedelics. This is particularly true for me and my visionary allies. 2023 has been a pivotal year in the journey of our missions becoming more than a dream. On December 2, in honor of Alex’s and Rick’s life’s work, Allyson Grey, John Ciccone, Deputy Director of CoSM (who was also born in 1985), and I will be facilitating a virtual birthday celebration for them as they both turn 70, one day apart, in the final days of November. Stay tuned for more updates from MAPS and CoSM. With becoming more than a dream in mind, we invite you to explore how this theme may be showing up for you or the steps you can take to support its manifestation. As Theodor Herzl wrote, “If you will it, it is no dream.”
CoSM, Chapel of Sacred Mirrors Vision. (n.d.). CoSM, Chapel of Sacred Mirrors. Retrieved May 19, 2023, from https://www.cosm.org/vision
de Cadenet, A. (2021, April 29). ENTHEON: A SANCTUARY OF VISIONARY ART. Awakenedartists. https://www.awakenedartists.com/single-post/entheon-a-sanctuary-of-visionary-art
Dierkhising, C. B., Ko, S. J., Woods-Jaeger, B., Briggs, E. C., Lee, R., & Pynoos, R. S. (2013). Trauma histories among justice-involved youth: Findings from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 4, 10.3402/ejpt.v4i0.20274. https://doi.org/10.3402/ejpt.v4i0.20274
Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., Koss, M. P., & Marks, J. S. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4), 245–258. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0749-3797(98)00017-8
Marotta, P. L. (2017). Childhood Adversities and Substance Misuse Among the Incarcerated: Implications for Treatment and Practice in Correctional Settings. Substance Use & Misuse, 52(6), 717–733. https://doi.org/10.1080/10826084.2016.1261899
Mitchell, J. M., Bogenschutz, M., Lilienstein, A., Harrison, C., Kleiman, S., Parker-Guilbert, K., Ot’alora G., M., Garas, W., Paleos, C., Gorman, I., Nicholas, C., Mithoefer, M., Carlin, S., Poulter, B., Mithoefer, A., Quevedo, S., Wells, G., Klaire, S. S., van der Kolk, B., … Doblin, R. (2021). MDMA-assisted therapy for severe PTSD: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase 3 study. Nature Medicine, 27(6), Article 6. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-021-01336-3
Sayej, N. (2013, June 15). Alex and Allyson Grey’s Visionary Art Temple, Entheon, Will Be Built. Vice. https://www.vice.com/en/article/wdpvgb/alex-grey-will-build-his-visionary-art-temple
Wolff, N., & Shi, J. (2012). Childhood and Adult Trauma Experiences of Incarcerated Persons and Their Relationship to Adult Behavioral Health Problems and Treatment. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 9(5), 1908–1926. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph9051908
Charleen Justice M.S.
Charleen was born and raised on Klamath Tribes land. As an Oregonian with the bona fide spirit of trailblazer, she has worked diligently to break the cycles of addiction, abuse, and incarceration set forth by the generations who preceded her and transform her diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) into post-traumatic growth. She is passionate about assisting and empowering people from all walks of life to gain the knowledge, skills, and strength to heal (intergenerational) trauma and foster resilience. In addition to being Rick’s sidekick, Charleen earned a M.S. in psychology with a focus on translational neuroscience and program development, and a B.S. in planning, public policy, and management, with a minor in leadership and administrative skills from the University of Oregon as a recipient of the Ford ReStart and Diversity Excellence Scholarships. Her personal and professional goals are in alignment with MAPS’ first Principle, Healing for All.