MAPS 25th Anniversary Conference Report

Originally appearing here. I attended the MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) Cartographie Psychedelica: Celebrating 25 Years of Research & Education. That bit of a tongue twister is short for the MAPS 25th Anniversary Conference. See the MAPS website for detailed information about the organization. As I mentioned previously, when you get to be my age, time seems to fly by. It is hard to believe that it was 25 years ago that I first met Rick Doblin, when MAPS was still just a twinkle in his eye. He was returning from a workshop he had taken with Stan Grof at Esalen. I had taken a similar workshop the year before and as it were, he was glowing with the kind of psychedelic enthusiasm that I experienced upon my return from a similar month living in the Big House at Esalen poised on a cliff overlooking the Pacific in beautiful Big Sur, California the year before. I had been part of a couple of groups in Santa Cruz which were also inspired by the psychedelic experience and so our paths crossed on a number of occasions including a conference we co-organized in April of 1993. As readers know, I attended MAPS last major US conference back in April 2010. I have a good time at these conferences, especially when I am a guest and not the organizer. The purpose of MAPS a 501 c 3 Educational and Research Organization is to plan and fund research into the psychedelics and marijuana with the goal of making some of these compounds into approved medicines. Once a compounds has been approved, MAPS would also act as a pharmaceutical company and market these drugs with a variety of purposes. One such purpose would be to set up psychedelic exploration centers where people could come for approved purposes such as therapy for psychological disorders and guidance during life transitions including the dying process. MAPS has grown through the years but progress in this area has been quite slow. This of course is due to tremendous resistance by the US Government and various world regulatory bodies inspired by US drug laws. MAPS has pushed hard and tried a variety of tactics to speed up the process but with only limited success. These successes include on US study in which subjects used MDMA under rigorous scrutiny. This study looked at use of MDMA in the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, there still to this very day has been no US Government sanctioned studies with LSD since the early 1970s.. Facing difficulties in getting a single pilot study at Harvard using LSD to treat cluster headaches, MAPS has had more success funding researchers in Switzerland, the country in which LSD was first discovered. MAPS facilitated the work of Dr. Peter Gasser who completed a pilot study looking at use of LSD in therapy to treat anxiety faced by individuals with life-threatening illnesses. Results from study have been presented and are being evaluated. Before LSD or MDMA could be approved for medical use, they would have to undergo several stages of US based research which would take several years to complete once approved. Currently, even the approval of pilot studies continue to encounter resistance. Phase three studies would require that thousands of subjects be given the drug to prove its efficacy for a particular use so the hopes of MAPS supplying LSD or MDMA seem almost as remote as the day when I first heard Rick Doblin describe his vision. Progress in the two and a half decades has been surprisingly slow. Doblin estimates that it may take several more decades to begin realizing the groups strategic goals. The conference was held in downtown Oakland. It appears that the choice of the locations was due to the fact that Oakland, California is where a large portion of MAPS funding comes from. For many years, they have received support from individuals there looking to show the safety of using vaporized marijuana. As many people who follow the medical marijuana story know, there has been a crackdown by the US Government on clinics dispensing marijuana for medical use. The promotion of harm reduction policy with regard to drug use is another area that MAPS has pursued. Harm reduction is based on some common sense notions. It can safely be assumed that no matter how draconian the War on Drugs gets, people will continue to use illegal drugs. So instead of focusing on punishing drug users, harm reduction looks to eliminating some of the controllable risks involved with using using illicit drugs. These risk include the lack of knowledge that people have of the effects of drugs. There is lack of knowledge with regard to the proper way to use a drug. Most serious of all the problems around the drug itself. In some cases, another drug may be substituted for the drug that people think they are taking. They have a difficult time determining the purity of the drug they take or what dosage they are taking. MAPS began looking at harm reduction in the context of the Burning Man Celebration in Nevada which takes place every Labor Day weekend. MAPS has attempted to provide safety for users of illicit drugs who chose to take drugs at this desert event. They call the approach they are taking Psychedelic Harm Reduction In refining and attempting to expand their investigation of harm reduction MAPS has again been met with the familiar stiff resistance they have encountered in other areas. Many state and federal authorities in the US equate harm reduction with encouraging the use of illegal substances. In attempting to get more data on harm reduction, MAPS again has looked out of the US to pursue their research. Doblin announced at the close of the conference that MAPS is working with the organizers of the Boom Festival, an biannual youth-oriented event which takes place annually in Portugal. Unlike the US, harm reduction is official government policy in Portugal. MAPS plans to provide extensive Psychedelic Harm Reduction services at the next boom festival which will take place next year on July 28th to August 4th 2012 (as best I can determine) .The festival is called Boom 2012: The Gathering of the Psychedelic Tribe. Author and psychologist Bruce Eisner recalls his own experience watching MAPS grow from a twinkle in Rick Doblin’s eye into the fast-growing international non-profit research organization it is today. MAPS’ 25th anniversary was an excellent opportunity to reflect on all the domains–scientific, medical, legal, spiritual–in which MAPS’ research now plays an important role.