Research Supports Benefits of Psychedelic Substances

Originally appearing here. On Feb. 24, representatives from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies presented their organization’s mission and research to a full house in the Warch Campus Center Cinema. The speakers discussed the application of psychedelic substances for addictions and illnesses and focused on their advances in MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD. In the presentation, Executive and Clinical Research Assistant Linnae Ponté and Clinical Intern Josef Kay ’12 discussed MAPS’ goal to make psychedelic substances available through prescription administration at clinics around the country. MAPS is currently working on their vision to make MDMA legal for clinical use in 10 to 15 years. Ponté defined a psychedelic substance as being “mind-manifesting” and shared a quote from Humphrey Osmond (who coined the term “psychedelic”) “To fall in hell, or soar angelic, you need a pinch of psychedelic”. The speakers categorized MDMA as a psychedelic and emphasized the difference between MDMA and the street pill ecstasy, which often contains MDMA with other adulterants. Ponté and Kay presented various studies initiated by MAPS that support the use of psychedelics as medication. They illustrated that ibogaine can help treat nicotine and opiate addictions; that ayahuasca can treat for alcohol and opiate withdraw; and that LSD and psilocybin can treat end-of-life anxiety. They also compared the symptoms of LSD with the subjective effects of MDMA. “The effects of MDMA kind of work directly on the symptoms of PTSD—symptoms such as hyper-vigilance, when you’re hyper-aware of what’s going on in your environment. MDMA decreases defensiveness so it works directly on that symptom,” said Kay. The therapy that MAPS uses for MDMA is a non-directive approach that is meant to support the patient’s emerging experience. In a follow-up study of the therapy that the speakers presented, 58 percent of all patients reported large benefits with none reporting any harm. “One of the worries is that ‘if you give people drugs, are they going to turn into drug addicts?’ Well, only one person did ecstasy since the study, and they said they wouldn’t try it again. None of the subjects developed drug dependency after the study,” said Kay. The speakers also discussed the uses of psychedelics for creativity and problem solving. They gave examples of renowned individuals that have reported LSD being influential to their success, such as Steve Jobs, Francis Crick and Aldous Huxley. After the presentation ended at 10:00 p.m., students were invited to stay in the Cinema for a Skype session with Founder and Executive Director of MAPS, Rick Doblin, Ph.D., to discuss the policy side of the research. Students appeared to be very engaged by the presentation and a substantial number stayed until the end of the Skype session at 11:00 p.m. According to junior Julia Kaczmarek, the presentation showed “that psychedelic drugs have lots of clinical potential and that criminalizing them is just a needless process and seems to be harming more people than its helping.” Sophmore Samhita Nagaraj said, “This is definitely one of the most influential things that has happened in the last decade or so, and it is very important that studies are actually done about psychedelics.” Kay began his internship at MAPS after graduating from Lawrence last year. A relationship with a sufferer of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder influenced his motivation to work for research for medicating the disorder. “For me, personally, I am interested in the psychological treatment aspect of the cause. I personally have someone close to me with PTSD and am interested in helping that person, in addition to the population that also suffers,” said Kay. He also added “I think that a lot of stereotypes about MAPS is that we are just interested in making drugs legal just so we can have mystical experiences, and I do want to rid that stereotype.” The President of Students for Sensible Drug Policy at Lawrence, senior Evan Johnson, was thrilled to bring MAPS to campus. “I figured that if we could bring them in we could enlighten the campus, not only of the uses of these chemicals but how science can trump policy, especially if it’s fear-motivated policy,” said Johnson. MAPS is a non-profit research and educational organization founded in 1986, based in Santa Cruz, California. Studies conducted by MAPS can be found on their website The Lawrentian reports on how a discussion about the benefits of treating PTSD with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy was hosted at Lawrence University. The conversation also touched upon the use of psychedelics for creativity and problem solving, and was led by MAPS Executive and Clinical Research Assistant Linnae Ponté, featuring an appearance from MAPS Founder Rick Doblin via video teleconference.