Letter from Rick Doblin, MAPS President – Autumn 2002

Autumn 2002 Vol. 12, No. 3 Vision

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Visions sustain and guide us through the most difficult times by virtue of their power to generate inspiration and hope. Yet visions need to become more than just ideals in order to be fully realized. At MAPS, our core vision is of the tremendous value that can flow to individuals and cultures from the creation of legal contexts for the full range of beneficial uses of psychedelics and marijuana. This vision, however, is so far-reaching that it can’t by itself serve as a plan for action nor is it self-evident why this vision is so compelling or worth sacrificing to bring about.

In order to more fully explain MAPS’ vision, we’ve created this special “Vision” issue of the MAPS Bulletin featuring just two articles, one focused on therapy and the other on spirituality. In contrast, the next issue of the Bulletin will be focused in large part on operational details. It will offer a comprehensive explanation of MAPS’ income and expenses over the Last two years, [inked to a discussion of MAPS’ myriad research and educational projects and the costs of operating the organization.

The first article in this issue offers a strategic rationale and an implementation sequence for the relatively limited and circumscribed vision of transforming MDMA into an FDA-approved prescription medicine for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This drug development program, which I’ve conceived of as a $5 million, 5-year plan, is where much of MAPS’ staff time and most of its financial resources are being directed. As a result, MAPS is on the verge of becoming, in practice as well as in theory, a non-profit psychedelic pharmaceutical company. Therefore, it’s appropriate and necessary to offer to MAPS members a detailed justification and specific plan for evaluation, comment and, hopefully, endorsement and support. A similar plan for the transformation of marijuana into an FDA-approved medicine is in the early stages of development, pending resolution of MAPS’ effort to obtain our own independent source of high-potency marijuana for research purposes.

The other article in this issue is a sweeping discussion of the mystical experience illuminated by science, informed by politics, and endowed with a compassionate and courageous cat[ to action. The article is the text of a speech by U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) focusing on the political implications of the mystical experience of unity. Rep. Kucinich’s speech, which we have embellished with related images, is a rare attempt to trace the Links between the mystical experience and personal and social change. It’s not at all intended to be a psychedelic manifesto. Nevertheless, since psychedelics are arguably the most powerful and reliable catalysts of mystical experiences, the speech provides one of the clearest explanations I’ve ever read of how helping to create legal contexts for psychedelic experiences is potentially so transformative and life-affirming. It’s no accident of history that the oldest and most continuous use of psychedelics has been in religious/spiritual contexts. Yet as Prof. Huston Smith astutely observes, spiritual experiences aren’t the same as a spiritual life, which requires constant work grounding the insights of the unitive experience into daily life through incremental steps.

At MAPS, our work towards incremental change has long encountered substantial obstacles and, more recently, reversals in almost every project, highlighting the essential contribution of MAPS’ vision in providing motivation to persevere despite a challenging environment. Despite this cataloging of woes, progress is being made. The resistance to research and reform that we’re witnessing seems more like the thrashing of a dying dinosaur than a permanent situation.

For example, MAPS has for the last three years been sponsoring Jose Carlos Bouso’s efforts to conduct a pilot study in Madrid, Spain exploring the use of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of PTSD. This has been the first double-blind, placebo-controtted study of the therapeutic use of MDMA ever approved and has been the world’s only ongoing study of any kind into any therapeutic use of MDMA. In May 2002, a series of favorable media articles about the study appeared in Spanish newspapers and television news shows. Shortly afterwards, the Spanish Anti-Drug Agency and drug police pressured the hospital where the study was taking place into shutting down the experiment even though the Ministry of Health has not withdrawn approval. We are working diligently to find a way to resume this project and are engaged in a classic struggle between scientific freedom and entrenched interests.

Back in the US, we reported in the last Bulletin that Dr. Michael Mithoefer, the principal investigator of MAPS’ MDMA/PTSO project, had sought approval for our FDA-approved study from an independent Institutional Review Board (IRB). On July 10, 2002, we were informed that the Western IRB (WIRB) had approved the study. The WIRB approval also meant that the Israeli MDMA/ PTSD study was now ready to be implemented, since the Israeli Ministry of Health had indicated it could begin only after the US study was approved by both the FDA and an IRB. I promptly organized a seminar about MDMA/PTSD research for officials from the Israeli Ministry of Health and the Israeli Society of Addiction Medicine, to take place near Tel Aviv on November 14, with a smaller protocol design meeting on November 17.

On September 6, 2002, we were totally shocked to hear from the WIRB that its approval had been revoked, based on conversations (not on data) that a WIRB staff person had sought with some outside researchers. We weren’t even given a chance to respond to these conversations before a decision had been made to revoke the approval. I was initially heartbroken, since after working for 17 years to start MDMA psychotherapy research, I had believed we were finally able to begin. Fortunately, after a series of discussions with both the outside experts and the Executive Director of the WIRB, there is a very good chance that we can reverse the reversal, but only after a meeting in person with the WIRB that is tentatively scheduled for the end of October.

Another shock took place in mid-September, when I learned that a paper to be published in Science claimed that even a single night’s recreational use of MDMA could cause Parkinson’s. In response, MAPS issued our first press release, offering a critique of this paper’s claims. Articles from the Washington Post and New York Times, in which MAPS’ perspective was reported, are included in this mailing.

For almost a decade, MAPS has funded Dr. Evgeny Krupitsky’s research in St. Petersburg, Russia into the use of ketamine-assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of heroin addiction and alcoholism. In mid-2002, Russia tightened the regulations controlling ketamine and other scheduled drugs. Permission for Dr. Krupitsky’s research was withdrawn three years into a fiveyear study, after he had treated 59 heroin addicts out of 80 initially planned. Dr. Krupitsky continues to conduct follow-up evaluations on those subjects treated before the study was stopped. Encouragingly, he was told that permission would probably be restored around the end of 2002.

Regarding MAPS’ medical marijuana agenda, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is still delaying responding to the application by Prof. Lyle Craker, UMass Amherst Dept. of Plant and Soil Sciences, for a license to grow highpotency marijuana under a grant from MAPS. We expect a decision after the election.

On a more personal note, Bob Wallace, one of MAPS’ most idealistic and generous supporters, has died an untimely death from pneumonia. In order to honor Bob’s memory, and to remain true to the vision that has animated MAPS since its founding in 1986, we wilt continue to persevere. I hope you continue to journey with us in bringing shared visions to reality.

– Rick Doblin, Ph.D. MAPS President