Summary: Thump interviews Brad Burge of MAPS to discuss how MAPS’ Global Psychedelic Dinners initiative is helping raise funds to buy one kilogram of pharmaceutical-grade MDMA and reduce stigma surrounding psychedelics. "Our goal is to have FDA approval for MDMA as a legal option drug to be used only with therapy by 2021," says Burge.
Originally appearing here.
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), an American nonprofit organization, is raising $400,000 to buy a kilogram of pure MDMA for clinical trials. The organization is entering Phase 3 trials, which is the final testing period before review and approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). MAPS is aiming for to have MDMA legalized for use in psychotherapy in the United States by 2021.
The organization is now raising funds for their trials through a combination of crowd-funding and hosted “psychedelic dinners” that they hope will encourage people to open up conversation about drugs and help reduce stigma. The project allows people all over the world to host dinners, talk about psychedelics, and collect donations for MAPS’ current MDMA research.
With their campaign underway and their 30th anniversary coming up (the organization was founded in 1986—the year after MDMA was criminalized in the US), THUMP spoke to MAPS’ communications director Brad Burge about their latest initiative.
THUMP: I think the question that every THUMP reader wants to know is, where do you buy a kilo of pure MDMA?
Brad Burge: You can go to any organic or synthetic chemical manufacturer that manufactures drugs for pharmaceutical companies. The only thing is, you need a Drug Enforcement Agreement [DEA] license and at least one approved study. In MAPS’ case, we have regulatory approval from the FDA, the DEA, and ethics boards. The place where we are requesting [the MDMA] from, UK pharmaceutical company Shasun, also has a DEA license.
The $400,000 price tag, is that the the quoted price that the lab gave you for a kilo of pure MDMA?
That’s approximately the cost. About half of it’s the actual manufacturing cost. The other half is just straight-up licensing—paperwork costs, which are especially exorbitant because it’s a Schedule 1 drug—meaning it has “no medical use and high potential for abuse.”
So at some point there is going to be a big shipment of MDMA coming to the US from the UK and a customs officer is going to be like, “yup, this checks out.”
Exactly. The reason we have to get a new one is not because our existing batch, which was originally manufactured in 1985, is not pure, it’s totally pure. We have about 900 grams left, but we’re trying to get regulatory approval for legal pharmaceutical use, so it has to be what’s called “good manufacturing practices” certified. That means that every step of the way—all the way to where the original chemicals came from—has been documented for this entire kilo.
Manufacturing guidelines have changed since the 80s—is that batch just not certifiable by the same qualifications that exist today?
It’s as pure as current measuring practices can tell, so, above 99 per cent pure. It’s just that it doesn’t have the documentation. Essentially what we are paying for is the documentation.
This research that you’re doing with the FDA is to put MDMA on the medical market for patients?
Absolutely. Our goal is to have FDA approval for MDMA as a legal option drug to be used only with therapy by 2021.
MAPS focuses on the study of psychedelics, whether it’s mushrooms or LSD or ayahuasca—categorically-speaking, do psychedelic drugs have something positive to offer?
We’re a response to the war on drugs in some ways, which “categorically” says that LSD, marijuana, MDMA, ayahuasca, ibogaine, DMT, all of these substances, belong in the same category, which is to say illegal, totally criminalized, stigmatized, and therefore dangerous. We’re focused on that categorization and, rather than just lumping them all together and saying we don’t even want to look at these compounds, we want to bring them all together and say we do want to explore them.
Does criminalization by the DEA affect researchers’ access to certain drugs?
Even if the drug is Schedule 1, researchers can still legally get access to it. The challenge comes when regulators don’t approve research protocols. Regulators are still people and they are still exposed to the same stigmatization and negative propaganda.
[Criminalization] creates challenges both in the minds of regulators and then also in the minds of funders. Also, psychedelics don’t have much profit potential in them because many are out of patent.
Could you explain that?
If you can put a patent on something, you can profit from it. But LSD and MDMA, for example, are too old to have active patents on them. LSD was first synthesized in 1938 and MDMA in 1912, so those patents have long since expired and you can’t re-patent them. Similarly with psilocybin mushrooms and cannabis, you can’t patent a plant or a fungus. Although you can patent different methods of processing them. There’s not a lot of profit potential there.
There were other crowdfunding efforts for drug research before our campaign, but as far as I know, ours were the first crowdfunding campaigns for psychedelic drug research. We’ve done four campaigns on Indiegogo. The global psychedelic dinners donations are being processed through [crowd-funding website] Razoo. Our last [campaign] through Indiegogo raised $141,000 for MDMA research.
My reaction seeing something called a “psychedelic dinner” is that it’s preaching to the choir, for people who are already interested in the value of MDMA. It’s more the outside people who are going “What’s that? Are they doing drugs?” that will be hard to reach.
Well, it’s a strategic consideration. There’s so much stigma surrounding psychedelics. To say “psychedelic” already turns a lot of people off. To say “psychedelic” and dress it in rainbows will also turn a lot of people off. We’re not trying to connect with people who absolutely want nothing to do with psychedelics. Who we’re really encouraging to participate are the people who aren’t maybe 100 per cent sure but are willing to explore a little bit.
It’s kind of like using the term “marijuana” rather than “cannabis” to reduce the excitement that happens around it—and make psychedelics less of a Woodstock-associated term and more of a therapy-associated term. So far we have 150 people who have signed up in 24 countries.
That number is up from what I saw previously.
Yes and 40 per cent of those are people we’ve never heard of before. We could say that almost half of people who are saying “yes I want to gather people in my home and raise funds for MAPS” are people who are not the choir. They have not donated to us regularly. So in that sense it’s been a success so far.