Summary: “MAPS sets a high standard for other psychedelic institutions, not just by way of their achievements in research, but by their desire to educate the public in an inclusive way that avoids sensationalism, and their ability to appeal to an increasingly diverse demographic,” says The Artifacts Project in an introduction to an interview with Bryce Montgomery, Associate Director of Communications and Marketing at MAPS.
Originally appearing here.
More than being a remarkable person to know, Bryce Montgomery is an indispensable steward of the psychedelic message. He represents a pillar of education, community building, and clear messaging in the psychedelic renaissance, and his work with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has helped broaden the outreach of psychedelic education everywhere, especially online. As the Associate Director of Communications and Marketing at MAPS, Bryce is instrumental in helping to coordinate efforts including crowdfunding, multimedia presence, and conferences.
MAPS is one of the most influential psychedelic institutions in the world: from pioneering the first FDA approved trials on MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, to their outreach programs like The Zendo Project, whose focus is on harm-reduction at events where consumption of psychedelics is likely to be high. Just recently, the executive director and founder of MAPS, Rick Doblin, gave a Ted Talk on the main stage at the Ted conference. MAPS sets a high standard for other psychedelic institutions, not just by way of their achievements in research, but by their desire to educate the public in an inclusive way that avoids sensationalism, and their ability to appeal to an increasingly diverse demographic.
Arthur C. Clarke once said that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I think psychedelics are sufficiently advanced technologies, undoubtedly so. What distinguishes psychedelics from magic is how we understand them by way of the scientific method.
In this interview, Bryce gives us an under-the-hood perspective on how to market what is understood about psychedelics, and what is still under investigation, thereby removing the ‘magic’ from the message. It was a pleasure interviewing Bryce, and a pleasure transcribing it for you, reader. Enjoy!
M.K: Has anything changed since you started, as far as the direction you take in social media and branding?
Bryce Montgomery: A lot has changed at MAPS in the past 8 years. In June 2011, I started as an intern with social media, and since then, social media has changed quite a bit, not just for MAPS but within the whole internet sphere. One good example of that is the growth and decline of different platforms. At one point, MAPS was at around 16,000 followers on Facebook, and 2,000 on Twitter when I joined, that was the extent of our social media outreach. Eight years later, we have grown our Facebook audience to 240,000 followers and our Twitter audience to 74,000 followers.
Since then, we’ve joined Instagram, Reddit, Pinterest, LinkdIn, Tumblr, and Google plus which is now no longer in existence, which is a good example of social media changing. Our Instagram following has skyrocketed in the last year or two…last year, MAPS increased our total number of Instagram followers by 50%, which was a major increase in engagement. Through the significant help of MAPS Multimedia Marketing Associate Renee Rosky, we doubled our total amount of Instagram followers in the past year, with an increase of 115%, bringing us to a total of over 91,500 Instagram followers. For additional context, we have more new followers on Instagram this year than we had on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter combined. So we’ve seen that engagement skyrocket on what is now possibly considered the most popular and engaging social media platform (Instagram) is inspiring. Especially for something like MAPS, where we’re sharing content that’s focused on psychedelic education, highlighting clinical research, highlighting prominent media mentions about our work. It’s an honor to be able to share our content with so many people, and it’s delightful to see so many people join us on our path to continue our work.
M.K: So I wanted to ask you about censorship. How does censorship deter you from moving in certain directions, or semantically hinder you?
Bryce Montgomery: In my specific work, censorship, fortunately, doesn’t come up too often. We’re at a time now where there are more positive media mentions about psychedelics and psychedelic research than there are negative, whereas in the ’60s, ’70s and 80’s there were frequently articles that slandered psychedelics and psychedelic research, leading to the cultural ban of research for a matter of decades. I think that the most applicable reference to censorship in my work is based on the banning of certain hashtags. For example, Instagram recently banned the MDMA hashtag, and our big focus is trying to make MDMA assisted psychotherapy into a treatment for PTSD, so many of our posts mention MDMA within them. The inability to add the hashtag to MDMA is a very blatant form of censorship, and it disallows people to follow the hashtag or to click on it to see more information about that topic. Most people using the MDMA hashtag are usually posting photos of pressed pills or MDMA experiences they have, and there are much smaller amounts of psychedelic education in connection to references of MDMA on social media or Instagram. Though there are quite a bit of positive anecdote’s or people sharing our work, or other MDMA research happening around the world.
So, that was something that happened in the last year or so, but there are some clever workarounds to Instagram censorship of psychedelic-related hashtag’s. For example, we can do the MDMAPTSD hashtag, or MDMA research, though, MDMA as a hashtag on Twitter is still prominent and active.
One other form of censorship is an obstacle that we face using Facebook or Instagram ads. At one point Facebook had disabled our entire advertising account because they thought that our work was promoting illegal activity, although we were paying Facebook [so that we could] make our content about our research, education, or fundraising more prominent. While MDMA is an illegal drug, our research is not illegal. We’re working with the FDA, the DEA, the NIDA, institutional review boards; everything we do is strictly legal. We aren’t saying, “Go take MDMA.” we’re saying, “Learn about MDMA, or learn about MDMA research, or make a donation to support MDMA research.”
Having to get around that has been something that’s affected our ability to spread our message prominently, and a lot of it is due to these social media platforms enabling an A.I. algorithm that kind of says, “Look for these Schedule 1 drugs, don’t allow any ad that mentions them.” Often we are able to get around that, but when a human review comes into play, sometimes those humans have no idea, they get alarmed. They see a non-profit organization talking about illegal drugs, so they flag it and tell us there’s no hope that we can get the ad approved. We’ve had to go through a few back, and forth processes appealing ad’s.
Right now our ad account is active, so I have no ill will at this point, but it is something that’s been a bit of a struggle, especially when we’re trying to launch an ad tomorrow where we have to go through a week of discussion justifying and clarifying that our work is indeed allowed by the government.
That’s the biggest way that I experience censorship in my work at MAPS, other than that, there’s not anything that is disallowing us from sharing our work. Most of our treatment protocol’s and manuals and investigator’s brochure’s are freely available on our website. We like to think of our work as open-source, and we want to inspire, and encourage, and lead others into doing their versions of this work, or learn about it without hiding anything. I think that it would be a disservice to the psychedelic research community to hide that content.
M.K: The issue I see with it is, if you’re shadowbanned while you’re also running a crowdfunding campaign, then that results in a significant reduction in the people who see and can support your campaign.
But it doesn’t seem to last long when they do that, right?
Bryce Montgomery: I don’t think we’ve been shadowbanned on Instagram, the main thing is having our Facebook advertising account disabled entirely, we got a message back saying, “This decision is final.” and we were like, “This can’t be final.” Also, Facebook owns Instagram, so that disallows our Instagram ad’s from being seen on that platform as well.
I don’t know if we’d know that we were shadowbanned unless we did some incognito testing within browser’s or phone’s to see if our posts exist or if our profile is findable. It’s mostly the hashtag ban that gets in the way. We did get shadowbanned on Reddit once before, but that wasn’t necessarily due to the psychedelic nature of MAPS, it was more so due to having too many links in a single post.
We shared our Tri-annual Bulletin, which has a series of original articles that feature educational content about psychedelics. I think we did one Reddit post where it had a link to every article thinking it would be a better user experience. I think it’s just seen as too self-promotional to add more than one link to your entity. Thankfully we’re able to appeal those things, and we haven’t had much of an issue since then.
M.K: What I also like about what you guys do at MAPS, is that you use inclusive language. It only makes sense because there are multiple demographics generating this conglomerate that is the psychedelic community, from users to supporters. Do you actively work to make sure that everybody feels included and supported on your platforms?
Bryce Montgomery: The inclusivity of our work is something that, not just the communications and marketing departments address, but we also have our policy and advocacy team, and our reserach team all making active efforts to make sure that we’re representing the full population that could possibly benefit from psychedelic medicine. In photos of our staff, or a group of researchers, we have a very clear majority of white people largely; though we’ve made strides to represent inclusivity in psychedelic research and education by hosting events that are focused specifically on training therapists of color, and treating communities of color. For example, on August 11th we have an event in Kentucky where it’s intended to train more therapists of color so that they can help treat populations that are closely aligned with their indentity.
In communications and marketing, we have a new standard that we operate with for photoshoots, so if we’re selling a new book or shirt, we make sure that we end up with diversity in our models, not just by race but by body type and gender. Also, for staged photography or video, when I go to study sites and interview researchers, or document what it looks like to receive MDMA assisted psychotherapy; we get old people, young people, women, men and all races and ethnicities from diverse demographics; I attempt to represent everybody so that when people are browsing social media, they can see our posts and think, “Oh, that could be me.” as opposed to feeling left out because you don’t identify with the people in the picture. It helps them to put themselves in their shoes, and that’s something that I’m proud of, that we’ve done over the past few years, and hopefully we can do a lot more of that, not just through multimedia documentation but through the events we host, through making it easier for participants of color to enroll in our studies, and having specific focuses of different study sites to allow more people to feel comfortable requesting this medicine that could possibly heal them. I should clarify, it’s not a medicine yet, but it may have medical attributes that we’re working to prove.
M.K: Yeah, MAPS is very focused on the medical aspect, but do you all do anything also to support or reach out to the community of people who don’t necessarily use it medicinally, and perhaps even use it ‘recreationally?’ Although the word ‘recreational’ doesn’t necessarily apply.
Bryce Montgomery: It’s important to acknowledge that psychedelics have been around for decades and they’ve sometimes been used starting in therapy, like in the case of MDMA which was originally used as a therapeutic tool for treating PTSD and providing couples with counseling as well as many other applications. After therapeutic was introduced, sometimes those things, like MDMA, can be widespread into recreational use or non-intentional use or self-growth outside of a medical, clinical setting. One way that we approach that is through our harm reduction program called The Zendo Project (@zendoproject), which is a psychedelic peer support initiative where we travel to large events and festivals and create safe, tranquil, comfortable spots for people to work through their difficult psychedelic experiences or even difficult experiences that aren’t related to psychedelics. Often, at events like Burning Man (@burningman) or Lightning in a Bottle, or Envision Festival there are people having an experience with psychedelics for their first time, and there are also people having experiences with psychedelics where they’re pushing their boundaries, or mixing substances, which can exacerbate the risks associated with psychedelics. It’s important to note that there are risks when taking psychedelics, and Zendo Project is an effort to reduce or mitigate. We want to find people who are having a difficult or overwhelming experience, and we want to help transform that experience into something that’s positive, something that they can learn from.
One thing we do in the Zendo Project is to try to reframe “bad trips,” which is a popular phrase associated with a difficult psychedelic experience. To call something, like a psychedelic experience that was difficult, bad, implies that there’s nothing good that could’ve come from it, and I think that the difficult psychedelic experiences often show people that there’s something to learn from there; why was it difficult? What part was difficult? Was it the substance itself, or was it the people you were with, was it something that the person was holding onto?
M.K: Right, where exactly did the challenge come from?
Bryce Montgomery: A large amount of people are resurfacing past trauma or processing something difficult with their community, or just being alone at an event, or losing their friends. (Those experiences) Get heightened on psychedelics. Stan Grof has called psychedelics “non-specific amplifiers,” and I think that in a psychedelic experience that’s spiraling downward, you have those elements of your consciousness amplified. Sometimes it’s difficult to be confronted with that, and you can’t turn it off, there’s no off button to it. So, when something difficult comes up, the Zendo Project is there with compassionate volunteers who listen and attempt to provide support. They’re there to acknowledge that you’re having a difficult experience, but it will end soon, the drug will run out, but the past and current experiences being processed will be with you forever, and maybe there’s a way to reframe it out of the psychedelic, abstract, overwhelming sense, and allow them to integrate the experience so that they can be reconnected to themselves, what happened, in a possibly more responsible or long-term, positive way.
M.K: A lot of that is just education-based, right? Teaching people to even think differently, to think to say, “That was difficult,” and not necessarily, “That was bad.”
Bryce Montgomery: Absolutely, I’m very thankful to have learned that myself, and, as somebody who’s been working with the Zendo Project since 2013 as a volunteer, I’ve learned that there are so many more compassionate ways to communicate with people that I didn’t have in my toolkit yet. Working with the Zendo Project, along with MAPS, and being around therapists, in general, has reshaped the way I engage people and think about my own experiences. Reframing things for myself or for others is a very powerful tool, and at the Zendo Project, we say, “Talk through, not down.” So if somebody is saying they’re having the worst time at this festival or had the worst day ever, we would say something like, “There’s still tomorrow.” or “Wow, that sounds really difficult.” and we just allow for them to reflect upon what’s happening as opposed to trying to take them out of it. We want to acknowledge that there’s truth to their experience and not just say, “Oh, it’ll be okay.”
I’ve been a guest at the Zendo Project a handful of times, because I’ve had my own difficult psychedelic experiences at festivals, and I know that there’s a supportive, compassionate community of people that are there to support me with no judgements.
I wouldn’t be at MAPS if I didn’t have my own difficult psychedelic experience. At Coachella, in 2011, I had my second experience with LSD, and it was so vibrant and overwhelming. When I got back, I started searching for psychedelic education, and that’s where I discovered MAPS. It’s really rewarding to be able to provide a service that I wish I had during my own psychedelic experience. Since then, I’ve learned that there’s no shame in seeking help. That’s why I feel very comfortable working with the Zendo Project as a volunteer and also as a guest. I don’t go there everytime, but if I’m bored or lonely, or if something’s coming up like paranoia, I know that I can go to the Zendo Project and be supported. That’s one of the highlights of my work with MAPS, is having that opportunity.
M.K: Once you start learning those tools, even having a conversation with your friends becomes different, and you learn to interact with them in better ways. The Zendo Guide was that authored by Sara Gael?
Bryce Montgomery: Sara Gael is the Director of Harm Reduction at the Zendo Project, and she’s been an integral part to the manual that we work with. The Zendo Project Manual is the: How we operate, how we train volunteers. There’s also the manual of psychedelic support, which is a book that you can download for free on psychsitter.com, you can also buy a large, beautiful, colorful version of it in physical form from the MAPS store.
M.K: It’s just a way to speak that facilitates momentum in conversation where it wasn’t there before. And it helps to hold space between people, which, I think, is what you help to do in the online world. You figure out the right way to say things so that people can generate an understanding of where you’re coming from as an organization.
Bryce Montgomery: On social media, sometimes people will offer angry comments or misguided assumptions about our work, and sometimes they’re attacking us! They’ll be like, “The Communications and Marketing team needs to learn more, or do a better job.” and that’s somewhat triggering because I’m closely connected to that work and instead of coming from a place of anger or dismissiveness, we acknowledge their perspective. “Thank you for engaging us on social media.” and then we politely point them towards what we understand as the correct information.
It’s challenging sometimes, but thankfully we have a strong community of commentors that are often creating discussion threads when people are being accusational in an unfounded way.
M.K: What do you all do to help push that education? I know that there’s a lot of information on your website, and on social media, you post links to articles. So, how do you seek that out, how do you decide that it’s right for you to post? That it’s the correct information.
Bryce Montgomery: We have a set of communications guidelines that we’ve developed over time, and even written out in the past year or so. A lot of it was just internalized by myself or other members of the team, and as we bring new people on we need to be able to point them to something so that they understand as the voice of MAPS.
With regards to the content that we share, a majority of it is either news about MAPS; research updates related to the progress of our work or mentions in mainstream media.
Like if the New York Times writes an article about MAPS we make sure to share that, and frame it in a way that’s neutral and unbiased. We’re not saying, “Wow this amazing awesome article shows how special MAPS’ work is.” We say that, “The New York Times reports on the progress of MDMA research.” We try to eliminate any spin or glorification of what’s actually happening and being reported on, and we try to present it as neutrally as possible. We do try to add some excitement here and there, but in general, our framing is strictly educational. We often get requests from other organizations or researchers that are hosting an event or have a new article out and if they’re following a general, responsible approach to framing their work then usually we will help promote it. We get a lot of requests and there are a lot of media mentions about our work constantly, on a weekly basis we probably have five media mentions, sometimes way more, especially if there’s a new story.
So, referencing our website in the media and everything else, that is educational in its own right, and we sometimes even highlight criticisms about our work, and offer a point of clarification, or a public comment.
Our website has well over 5,000 articles on it, and it’s kind of easy to pick around articles from there and highlight content we haven’t shared recently or ever. One of the approaches we have for psychedelic education is instead of showing photos of pressed MDMA tablets or substances that are often considered recreational, we share a photo of the MDMA that’s used in clinical research that’s actually pure MDMA and tested, because MDMA found in recreational environments is sometimes not MDMA at all. It can have a lot of adulterants in it, and I think that the reframing of what MDMA looks like; a pure substance used in a clinical setting, you know the couch with two therapists, I think that’s a really important subversive reframe.
If there’s a media article that is writing about our work, more often than not they’ll just search Google or whatever stock photo websites for MDMA where all the results are just pressed MDMA pills. So we’re working with our Director of Strategic Communications, Brad Burge, we have this media kit, so that when there’s an article about our work we send them a collection of actual research photos, and that helps to reduce the amount of possibly adulterated substances being associated with our work.
M.K: I’m really interested in that. I’m curious about how you guys were able to build so much trust in what you do. MAPS is celebrated; the research, the outreach, everything from social media to Zendo.
Bryce Montgomery: Yeah, I think that one of our other methods to gain trust is to point to the rigorous aspects of our work. To note that we are working with all these government agencies to do this in a legitimate way. In the 60’s, when the psychedelic counter-culture was in its prime (or at least, at that time, maybe it’s of equal caliber now), there was exaggeration about psychedelics and their benefits. The encouragement to just take something and not have any education about it, like Tim Leary was often telling people to, “just take LSD” that led to a lot of difficult experiences that may have been possibly avoided if it came with some education.
I don’t think that approach necessarily helped the whole field in general, so I think that, as a counterpart to the early psychedelic research field, this new renaissance that we’re experiencing is fueled by legitimacy. Not to discredit any of these people or their past work, but we’re doing things in the FDA drug development approval process, and we’re the first organization that’s really been on this route. As one of the leaders in this field, we make all of our stuff freely available online so that people can take it and move with it for their own projects.
So, I think highlighting the legitimacy of our work through government permission, being very clear about where we are with the progress of all of our projects, reframing depictions of our work through our social media kit, and trying to reduce the use of ecstacy as the predominant phrasing of MDMA.
One of the relevant facts about ecstasy is that, I think over half the MDMA tested over a certain period of time did not actually contain MDMA, or contained adulterants. So to suggest that ecstasy, which is kind of just a brand name for MDMA, that framing of it was eventually co-opted and used for more nefarious purposes, like cutting purity for profits.
So if you have MDMA, call it MDMA. Don’t call it Ecstasy, don’t call it Molly, that’s why there’s drug testing or drug checking organizations that offer test kits, like Dance Safe or Bunk Police, where you can order a kit online. If you put a little bit of a substance in there it will tell you what’s in it or what’s not in it. We never use the word Ecstasy unless we’re acknowledging that MDMA is not Ecstasy or Molly.
M.K: I’m curious now, because there’s a lot of controversy around ideas like: genetic modification, organic, earth-based medicines vs synthetically derived substances. Is there any pushback against you guys, as far as the nature of the substances that you all are working with?
Much of what you’re working with is MDMA and LSD, right?
Bryce Montgomery: To clarify, yes we’ve done MDMA research and that’s our big focus: going through the drug development process and making MDMA assisted psychotherapy into a perscription treatment, but we’ve also studied LSD assisted psychotherapy to treat end-of-life anxiety, and our most recent completed study was medical marijuana to treat PTSD in veterans. We’ve also studied Ayahuasca as a treatment for addiction, as well as Ibogaine as a treatment for addiction, and we’ve helped support a bunch of other projects. We were one of the supporters and partial funders of the first DMT study in the 1990’s with Dr. Rick Strassman, and that was kind of the launching point for psychedelics to be studied again after being banned for a large amount of years. The MDMA and LSD research is definitely promising and it’s intrinsically psychedelic, and I wish we were doing the level of work that we’re doing with MDMA with every other substance, but I think a lot of that stuff’s gonna have to be put on our back burner until we finish this main project with MDMA because we believe that it’s gonna have the most possible growth and positive effect on the people who elect to take it if it is approved.
M.K: So, in a laboratory setting, Psilocybin, Psilocin, DMT and all other primary active compounds are synthetically derived, right? It doesn’t bother me, because a molecule is a molecule regardless of where it was derived from in my opinion, but does it bother anybody else?
Bryce Montgomery: Psilocybin used in research is synthetic. They’re reproducing the original chemical synthesis that was discovered by Dr. Albert Hoffman. One of the reason they use synthetic substances for these studies is because, if you were to use regular, raw psilocybin mushrooms that were picked in a forest or something, there’s less of a standardization that’s possible with that because there are many mushroom variations and each grow cycle and setting produces distinct results.
So we focus on just the pure compound, Psilocybin, and try to point to positive or safe results that may enlighten people to know that there are safe contexts that can be held for psychedelic experiences with things like Psilocybin, the active ingredient in “Magic Mushrooms.”
That reminds me of another reframing tool: we try to avoid saying ‘Magic Mushrooms’ when we’re reporting on Psilocybin research because ‘Magic’ implies a whimsical, unknown framework that is kind of exaggerating. So we call them either ‘Psychedelic Mushrooms’ or ‘Psilocybin Mushrooms,’ and when the media says ‘Magic Mushrooms’ we often will tweak the headline a little bit to avoid the use of the word ‘Magic.’
M.K: So, I’ve been going nuts at the fact that the only emoji that there is for mushrooms, is the Amanita Muscaria. Everybody’s had to use that, and it’s not the actual substance that was being focused on, and it’s been driving me insane. Ultimately, there’s no other mushroom that you can use, but I do think that whoever’s making the emoji’s is obviously biased.
Bryce Montgomery: Yeah, I think the popularity of the Nintendo Mario series also effects that too, there are just constantly red and white mushrooms floating around and that’s what people associate with.
M.K: And Crash Bandacoot!
Bryce Montgomery: It’s sort of built into our cultural framework, and it’s fascinating to think about how that became the reality that we’re working with. There are a lot of interesting articles about how Santa Clause may be a depiction of those red and white Amanita Muscaria mushrooms. The clothing, the gifts under the tree (mushrooms grow under trees), I even think there’s a New York Times video on it.
Right now I think cultural awareness of mushrooms that do things to you beyond nourishment is framed by that and I think your point about emoji’s is really spot on. There’s also an opportunity to kind of flood the market in areas that promote user-driven content. An ambition I have for MAPS that I haven’t been able to execute due to lack of priority and resources is creating GIF’s. If we were able to create GIF’s that are actually of real Psilocybin as opposed to Amanita Muscaria, and other psychedelics; I think it’s a major opportunity for any organization doing anything. To put your logo on the right GIF’s and upload it to Giffycat or whatever website allows such things for your project. Anybody searching for keywords associated with you can find relevant material and associate it with your cause.
I think it’s a unique opportunity for marketing, education, etc.
I’m recalling one of your original questions, about pushback around synthetic, and genetic modification and stuff.
One of the common concerns about MDMA research is the incorporation of Sassafras or other plant-based possible methods to creating MDMA. I was fact checking that topic, and one of my colleagues was in a previous communication about an article voicing concern around environmental impacts of MDMA production. One of my colleagues was saying that the main issue for why manufacturing MDMA using rare tropical plants is not becuse the FDA banned saffrol in food production, it’s because saffrol is now a watched chemical. Saffrol’s within Sassafras which is not as rare, but the Saffrol aspect of it is.
The environmental damage for creating MDMA is not due to FDA regulations as much as Drug regulations.
One other change that we’ve experienced with the production of MDMA is that, our original batch of MDMA that we used for phase 1 and phase 2 trials for over a decade was created in like 1986 or something, by Dr. David Nichols, one of the smartest psychedelic chemists and researchers around.
But, to do phase 3 research, where we’re at now, which is a larger scale iteration of our phase 2 studies, we have to use MDMA that’s considered GMP (made under Good Manufacturing Practices.) So a batch of MDMA that’s fully tracked, and eligible for that designation of GMP has cost us a lot more. I think our original batch of MDMA was purchased for like, $4000 dollars for a Kilogram in the 1980’s; and in contrast, to make MDMA for the phase 3 trials it cost like 400,000 and then more, due to additional testing and things like that. That massive scale increase of price is a further sign of the legitimacy of our work. The reason we had to have a new batch of MDMA for the third study is because, if MDMA succeeds in becoming a prescription treatment in association with therapy for PTSD, the MDMA that we study has to be the MDMA that we’re going to allow therapists to use with their clients in controlled clinical environments. We can’t use our old batch of MDMA and then have to create another one because the FDA is like, “How do you know that batch works?” so we had to get the medicine ready for large scale distribution and access.
In terms of the chemical, genetically modified aspect of it: in the MDMA we’re using now, everything’s tracked, there’s so much paperwork. We know where every ingredient comes from, there’s the drug product and then there’s the drug packaging, encapsulation process, etc.
M.K: The whole rigorous tracking aspect reminds me of cannabis a lot. Cannabis is strenuously tracked, and then it goes into a little bottle that goes into a box that has to be in a stapled bag before leaving its point of sale location. It’s so much.
Bryce Montgomery: Yeah the child-proof packaging, sometimes it’s hard to figure out the sequence of events that need to happen in order to open it.
M.K: How does one define child in that circumstance? (Laughs)
I just imagined the world of MDMA being somewhat like that…
Bryce Montgomery: As a point of clarification for our MDMA work that we’re trying to legitimize. MDMA wont be a take-home drug, it’s always something that’s administered in a controlled clinical environment, with the guidance of a therapist or two.
M.K: Right, not recreational or anything.
Bryce Montgomery: It’s possible that in the future research and decriminalization efforts lead to MDMA becoming decriminalized or even legal, but in that case it would be outside of the legal sphere that we’re working closely to legitimize, and do in a responsible way.
For the purpose of our work, it’ll always be in a DEA-apporved, safe. It’s not something that somebody can just take and report back on later. It’s like, “Alright. We’re gonna get this out of our secure location, we’re going to hand it to you in a delivery bowl method, where the patient has to opt into taking the drug. It’s on the patient to make the choice to ingest the substance.”
M.K: I didn’t realize the bit about the bowl and why that’s so significant.
Bryce Montgomery: I don’t think it has to, but I just think that’s one extra intentional, mindful step that a lot of the therapists I’ve spoken to have implemented. I don’t know if it’s standardized, but it’s just adding an extra layer of consent, essentailly, and giving more agency to the participant in the study.
M.K: Consent is a really interesting concept. This idea that you guys get to curate these posts that are partially educational and inclusive, and are exactly the right hue for MAPS. Then, the people who follow you get to consent to seeing it, or they can choose not to see it if they decide to block you guys. So social media is actually a wonderful tool for you because you get to monitor the people who are interested, and you get to interact with them directly. You have the opportunity to change minds, from the comfort of people’s households.
Bryce Montgomery: Opportunity to allow people to consent to recieve psychedelic education is really important, and I think it’s also worth noting that people do block, unline, or stop following us. They choose not to see our content and I think a large part of that is due to the kind of repetitive nature of our framing.
So, with an unbiased summary of whatever’s happening, people may get tired of us saying, “The New York Times reports on promising results for MDMA research.” We do switch it up, and we do add variety, but I think people feel like they’ve already heard about it, they know we’re doing MDMA research, but they follow us because they want cool trippy art or whatever, which is not what we’re providing.
At the same time we get plenty of new followers so, while it is unfortunate for people to discontinue or elect to unfollow MAPS on social media; at one point they were following us, and we know that they got a little bit of psychedelic education. Their choice to not receive content from us is their own right and we encourage people to do what they please, we aren’t forcing anybody to like or see our content.
The same thing happens with our research, we have to go through a very rigorous screening process and make sure that all of our participants are active in informed consent. We don’t just say, “Hey, you wanna enroll in our study? We’re not gonna tell you much about it.” We have to go through a whole process, there’s a lot of preparatory sessions and integration sessions, and we’re very up front with it. That’s an important aspect of clinical research, from what I’ve learned, so I’m glad that we’re able to support consent in that aspect as well.
M.K: You’ve curated a safe space inside these different social media platforms, to learn and to choose whether or not you want to block or follow, read links that are in the bio, and participate in the community.
You don’t do the DJ Khalid thing, where you’re like, “Yo yo yo, this is us and we’re great!” You more or less just expose the details.
Bryce Montgomery: It’s not like “Another one and another one” the DJ Khalid thing that he would say if he were doing our social media. We could put MAPS in every post very explicitly, but as far as I know we’re the only ones doing FDA and DEA approved research in this realm, more often than not I feel like it’s just implied that it’s us. And I think it further highlights the importance of not exaggerating the work, or being humble. We’re not saying “This is the best thing ever!” we’re saying, “There are risks and benefits, so far our research results are promising but we need to do more reserach, and we need to raise more money in order to continue doing this research.”
M.K: You’re incredible.
Bryce Montgomery: Thanks. Well, our next Psychedelic Science conference is going to be in 2022 at some point in April, save the month, or the relative dates. I wish we could do it more often but there’s a lot of work that goes into producing conferences like that, and there’s also not enough new psychedelic research to do something where it’s like a four stage, multi-day event.
There are also a lot of other great Psychedelic Conferences that i’d like to mention: The Horizons Perspectives on Psychedelics Conference happens every year in New York. MAPS often sponsors an event during that conference and we’ll be there this October. Breaking Convention happens every two years in London in August. Plus there are a lot of other new conferences popping up, and they’re all prominent opportunities to be among community and meet people who have similar interests, and meet researchers that are actually doing the work.
You mentioned the MAPS website, it’s MAPS.org, so if you want to learn more about psychedelic research that’s one of the best places to do so, as well as keeping track of all the media mentions, and if people want to check out our social media pages they’re listed at the bottom of our website.
Youtube.com/MAPSMDMA (or search for psychedelic science to see the videos from conferences that we’ve held.)
We also have an email newsletter that goes out at least once a month to highlight news.