by Andrew K. Arnett

I was attending the Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics conference in New York last week and had the opportunity to interview Rick Doblin, founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).

MAPS was established in 1986 with the goal of getting MDMA approval by the FDA for medicinal purposes and continues to push for legalization of marijuana and psychedelics as prescription drugs in therapy.

Rick is recognized as one of the leaders in psychedelics research and is featured in Tom Schroder’s book Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy, and the Power to Heal.

He has studied with Dr. Stanislav Grof and has conducted numerous studies on psychedelics including The Good Friday Experiment, focusing on the link between psychedelics and religious experiences, as well as conducting a follow-up study to Timothy Leary’s Concord Prison Experiment.

The Horizons conference was held over a three day period in three different locations including the New School for Social Research. Founded and directed by Kevin M. Baltick and presented by Horizons Media, Inc. in association with the Beckley Foundation, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the Erowid Center. Over 700 people attended the ground breaking event. Featured speakers included Robin Carter-Harris, MA, Ph.D., author Daniel Pinchbeck, Michael P. Bogenschutz, M.D., Draulio Barros de Araujo, PhD and Rick Doblin.

ARNETT: What is MAPS doing with marijuana research now?

DOBLIN: We got a 2.1 million dollar grant from the state of Colorado for marijuana PTSD research. We’re just getting ready to get the final DEA approval. It will be with John Hopkins, and we’re trying to break the government monopoly on the production of marijuana. The grant is contingent on all the final approvals. The state of Colorado gave away 8 million dollars for marijuana research and we got 2.1 million of that.

Rick Doblin speaks at TED20192019. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

ARNETT: It appears that we are in the midst of a psychedelic renaissance. What do you think is the catalyst for this?

DOBLIN: The failure of mainstream psychopharmacology and the fact that these drugs do so much. They’ve been around thousands of years. MDMA and LSD are new but they are still part of this tradition. But the other part is the changing attitude towards drug policy. But what really did it was a group of people at the FDA starting in 1992 where we had an advisory committee meeting, and they decided to put the science before the politics and permit psychedelics research and marijuana research. That’s the driving force, people at the FDA saying yeah, we will permit research.

ARNETT: You advocate the use of psychedelics in psychotherapy. What would the role of the psychiatrist be in this process?

DOBLIN: The way we have the Boulder study right now is that, the DEA only gives licenses for Schedule 1 drugs to psychiatrists so, in the study, the principal investigator is the psychologist. We have a psychiatrist, who has the Schedule 1 licenses, he comes in the morning, he gives the MDMA, then he leaves. He’s not even there. That leaves the psychologist and a student. So, I see the psychiatrist could be key because they’ll probably be the ones that end up, sort of, running a psychedelic clinic and have bunches of psychologists working there. We’re having this meeting coming up on Friday with Paul Summergrad. Were you at the APA conference by any chance?


DOBLIN: Well, the amazing part is the President of the American Psychiatric Association showed, well first off he presented a three hour session on psychedelic psychotherapy and then he permitted us to buy a table in the exhibit hall with all the big pharmaceutical companies to talk about MAPS. But more importantly, he showed this movie of him interviewing Ram Dass. This guy’s head of psychiatry at Tufts, head of the American Psychiatric Association and he’s right about to retire because you retire as President right after the conference and they pick a new one for the next year. So he talks about when he was 19 years old he did LSD and it totally changed his life and it led to him becoming a psychiatrist and he kind of kept that quiet and here he’s now at the peak of his credibility. More and more psychiatrists are getting into this. The last few presidents of the APA have talked about their use of psychedelics so it’s becoming more common place.

Rick Doblin (fourth from left) at Horizons Conference 2015. Photo by Andrew Arnett

ARNETT: Is there an unpredictability to psychedelics which makes them hard to manage?

DOBLIN: That’s the beauty of it, because you can’t predict it. So what happens is that you have an open supportive attitude, a non directive attitude and who knows what’s going to come up . I mean that’s the problem if you’re taking it in a recreational setting for fun because you can’t like say ‘I’m just going to have fun.’ But if you are doing it in a therapy setting, the unpredictability of it is what gets people out of their rigid patterns that they’ve used to defend themselves.

ARNETT: Does that mean you think that psychedelics should only be utilized in a clinically supervised environment?

DOBLIN: I think that it’s more dangerous in a recreational setting than in a clinical setting, but I think that it’s appropriate to use in these celebratory settings. You have to be willing to go wherever it goes, you know? So we come to people who have taken MDMA for fun at raves, and they remember trauma and then they’re with friends and they think ‘if I’m going to tell my friends about it they’re going to think it’s not fun.’ Then they try to stop their feelings and they end up worst than before. But if you’re open to what ever happens then the recreational setting can be communal. I mean, people have done that for thousands of years . Again, the ceremonies are group ceremonies .

ARNETT: What made you decide to continue the Concord Prison Experiment? Did you know Timothy Leary?

DOBLIN: Yeah, I knew him. I have a favorite photo of me and him. But the reason that I wanted to do the Concord Experiment was because that is one of the best studies in the whole scientific literature, I thought.

ARNETT: It showed psilocybin had positive results on recidivism rates amongst inmates.

DOBLIN: Yeah, but then when I did the follow up I discovered that he fudged the data. You should read the follow up I did to Concord, it’s on our MAPS website. It is in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.

ARNETT: Was Leary good or bad for psychedelic research?

DOBLIN: I think he did more good than harm. But I think he was irresponsible in a lot of ways and I felt that there’s something sacred about science and you shouldn’t fudge your science. But I think he felt that there was so much propaganda coming from the other way that was exaggerating the risks and denying the benefits, that he could exaggerate the benefits and minimize the risks. But I don’t think that that’s appropriate in science.

This story has been translated by Cannabis Industrie into Dutch @