Psychedelic Research at MAPS: An Interview with Rick Doblin, Ph.D.

Psychedelic Research at MAPS: An Interview with Rick Doblin, Ph.D.

What follows is a transcript for the podcast HomeGrown Humans - Rick Doblin, Ph.D. - MAPS - Hosted by Jamie Wheal

Topics within the interview include the following:

  1. The Problem of Collective Madness
  2. How Do You Find a Sense of Connectedness While Maintaining Agency in Psychedelic Experiences?
  3. How Do We Create Meaning?
  4. How Can MDMA Therapy Help PTSD?
  5. Rick Doblin's Work in Big Sur
  6. How Do Psychedelics Influence Our Sense of Meaning?
  7. How Do We Help Foster Expansion of Human Dignity and Liberation From Using MDMA as a Tool?
  8. Psychedelics: Empowerment and Consciousness
  9. How Optimistic Can You Be About the HomeGrown Humans Ability to Counteract Negativity?

The Problem of Collective Madness

Jamie Wheal: There's a problem of consciousness and it's our inability to wrap our heads around these things and do the right thing, that is fundamental to that. And then at the same time, you're describing specific clinical medical health. I mean, that's obviously where the trials are going, it's very focused on individual disease. And on the other hand, you're talking about kind of cultural or collective madness for lack of a better term. Help me understand how you see those two intertwining or informing each other, because one is a globally scaled project of how do we wake up humanity to go forwards, and the other is, is how do we help individuals who have experienced trauma in the past, looking backwards? How do you hold those?

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Well, maybe I think I'll go back to 1985. One day I had a DMT experience, my first one, the next day ketamine, and it'll illustrate our strategy and then this connection between the individual and group mental health. Under the influence of DMT, and this was with Terence McKenna and Ralph Metzner, and a bunch of people, we were all sitting in this circle, each one would smoke DMT while the others would sort of hold space and take 10, 15 minutes, then you come back and you share what happened, and then you pass the pipe to the next person. It was a whole evening of sort of sharing and it was my first experience smoking DMT.

The first thing that I felt was I saw it as vertical line, and then I saw a horizontal line, and then I saw it turn red, and then I saw it built into three-dimensional cubes. And then I saw it turned into like an MC Escher painting, where it no longer made sense, and then I was blasted into sort of hyperspace, you could say, or the universe. All of that is a fraction of a second. And then all of the sense I had of this connection with all of evolution, and sort of going back to the big bang, the moment of creation. Then I had this sense that even the words that I was using to talk to myself, sort of my deep interior narrative, that I didn't develop any of the words, that it wasn't mine in the sense, that it was only me building on all these billions of years and all these millions of people. I'm a part of everything and everything's part of me, and it was this glorious, beautiful thing. And then something about my psyche, I think, which I appreciate.

Then I said, "Well, okay, if everything's a part of you and you're a part of everything, then Hitler is a part of you too and you have to own it." It was just, what a shock. It cut the high, let me just say, and it was like sinking of a stone. It was really sobering. I really just had to deal with it the whole rest of the evening while I was kind of listening to other people's stories. And then the next night-

Jamie Wheal: Just you had to metabolize the problem of evil.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Yeah. That it was not always out there, in other words. That it wasn't me as an angel, and the devil is out there, and I'm good and Hitler's bad, and that we all have ownership of these things. What we implement is a different thing, but it's part of our heritage, it's part of our capacities. Under certain circumstances, who knows, we could be pressured in certain ways. During the next day, I was dealing with it, and then the next evening we got together to do ketamine.

Jamie Wheal: Sounds like a rowdy boys weekend.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Jamie, it was great. Well, and the other thing is that all of this was in the context of planning our lawsuit against the DEA, to try to block them from criminalizing MDMA. We'd have these group meetings during the day and these experiential things at night. Somehow with the ketamine, I was flung into another situation with Hitler. I was above and behind Hitler as he was giving these mass speeches to large numbers of Germans. And so somehow or other, I was there, but not quite there. So I wasn't threatened, so I could kind of watch. And I was watching Hitler do this speech and the crowd being in rapture. It just was really increasingly frightening. I felt like, "How do I get inside his head?" If you can take Hitler and say, "Why are you doing this? Maybe there's a better way. How do we therapize on Hitler to avert this thing?

While I'm trying to think about this, I saw near the end of his speech, he does the heil Hitler salute. And I saw it in a different way than I've ever saw it before, in that he was pushing the energy from him out to the masses. And then the masses were pushing the energy back to him, but it's concentrated. 100,000 people or whatever are giving him this energy. And then it goes back and forth, like this vibration that's increasing and increasing and increasing. The one and the many are sort of merging into this kind of ecstasy, you could say even, of this sort of blending. It was terrifying.

I felt like if I couldn't look at it, I wouldn't be able to pursue my mission. I realized with ketamine, that you can breathe, that if you breathe, you can help metabolize fear, or so, it grounds you. And so I was able to see this. Then I came to the conclusion that there was actually no way for me to get into Hitler's head because he had to be willing. If somebody is willing... The same is true in therapy. If somebody is not willing to do the work, they're not going to get better. They're the ones that have to do the work. You create a safe environment, and hopefully that will motivate them, and hopefully their suffering also motivates them to try to do the hard work. What I realized was ironically, that easier than changing the mind of evil dictators, it will be easier and more important to change the mind of the masses, who don't get as much from it. They're giving away their power, he's accumulating it.

That led to this idea that we need mass mental health as the solution. We need millions, hundreds of millions, billions of people to be more spiritualized, to have this sense that we're all in it together, not to have all these different groups fighting each other, but that we're all in it together. And that that kind of, "We're all in it together," can be something that cherishes and appreciates individuality, that it's both the mass and the individual, and both are enhanced at the same time, that you can become more fully yourself in this kind of embrace of the group. That it's not that everything is homogenized into one thing, that we are joined together, but we've become uniquely who ourselves are.

Let's look at our bodies. All of our cells are joined together, but they're highly specialized. People are listening with their ears, they're seeing what their eyes, this dialogue that we're having now. Our bodies become highly specialized, but they're all united in one thing together, and then our bodies united in culture and all of that.

What that means is that the individual work that we do to help people heal their trauma and to help them become more fully themselves, if we can reach enough people, we can have an impact on mass consciousness. That also means that we need to be on the one hand, working to medicalize as a key tool in our society. If there's any kind of religion you could say, of the West, it's science, although we have so much science denial going on now. But so we have folk between the irrational and the rational.

I felt like we need to medicalize through science. That's the way to counteract all the propaganda people that we've got about psychedelics. But at the same time that we're trying to do that, we need drug policy reform. We need people to be able to access these drugs without going to their doctor, or without going to a religion for religious freedom, just as personal growth, similar I would say, but a different approach I think then with alcohol or with tobacco. There are limitations, there's regulations. I think we should have a licensed legalization system where you've got a license to do psychedelics, you go to a psychedelic clinic paid for by the tax money, and you have an experience under supervision, and you know what you're getting into, then you buy it. You can get a license to buy a whole bunch of different kinds of psychedelic.

Jamie Wheal: So you should get your psychonaut's learner's permit, and then you get the real deal and you can keep going from there.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Exactly. Exactly. Timothy Leary gets a lot of criticism and rightly so. He also gets a lot of praise. But this idea was an idea that Timothy Leary talked about in the '60s, that there should be a license-

Jamie Wheal: ... which one?

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: ... to do things.

Jamie Wheal: Oh, the licensing. Yeah, for sure. You've actually taken it further, with your idea of decriminalization and sort of open access, and the sort of libertarian cognitive liberty perspective.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Well, I wouldn't say libertarian. Yeah, sort of libertarian. Libertarianism, I think goes too far on the individual rights and not enough on collective responsibility.

Jamie Wheal: So maybe we can call it cognitive liberty versus the connotations of libertarianism. In all that, I mean, again, you're touching on so many. I mean, by the way, that was a humdinger of an explanation as to the relationship between individual therapy and collective consciousness, going down the K-hole, into hyperspace, weaving in Hitler, and then throwing in open-access and learner's permits for interspace.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: [inaudible 00:20:58] take me a while to figure out how to articulate that.

How Do You Find a Sense of Connectedness While Maintaining Agency in Psychedelic Experiences?

Jamie Wheal: Yeah. Well done. Now, in that, you were talking about this idea of how do we find our sense of connectedness, and at the same time preserve our autonomy and agency, right? Because obviously, whether it's Third Reich, or whether it's development of spiritual cults, or any of those kinds of things, the merging or union, and the disillusion of boundaries often leads people to make bad choices.

Where do you see is the tightrope or the royal road, depending on how wide you think it is, of being able to experience cosmic union or some other form of merging or oneness, while maintaining agency via the psychedelic experience, divorced from the two areas that you described, religion and a therapeutic context? Because they certainly both have limitations, but the upsides of them is they do have accumulated cultural best practices, right? They say, "Go here. Don't go here. Try these things in this order. Definitely stay away from that neck of the woods," versus leaving everyone to their own recognizance with very powerful tools, in what is fundamentally a antinomian experience.

One of the classic signs of the psychedelic experience is sort of, "I realize a lot of rules, structures, codes, maxims that I used to take as socially defined truths, I now realize are maybe relative or irrelevant." How do we strike this balance between just giving people all the matches and hoping to God, they build a fire to cook with and don't burn the forest down?

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Well, let me say that that's the key question, how do we do that? Trial and error. But I think that the main point I would like to say in that sense is that we need to recognize that people have to do their own work. So in a therapy setting, it's the power dynamics. A lot of times Shamanism in certain contexts, the shaman does the healing, through the Ikaros, or through blowing smoke, or sometimes through kind of magic tricks that they try to do to marshal the placebo effect or whatever.

What we've tried to do is shift. Our whole therapeutic approach is based on, we are not doing the healing. We're not doing the hard work. We meaning, the therapists, but people heal themselves. What we want to do is to empower the individual to learn the tools and techniques of self-healing, so that they're not giving away their power to others to do that. Eventually I would say, maybe even 20, 30, 40 years, we're going to be learning a lot about the placebo effect. We already know that you trick your mind, different things that you can do, healing. You can do amazing things with your mind if you're believing certain things. But how do we do that voluntarily, knowing what we're doing, in manipulating our own immune systems, or motivating our own immune systems or whatever?

I think we have to have empowerment of the individual to make their own free choices. Also, to recognize that in this collective kind of nonmedical, non-religious freedom arguments, that in recreational or celebration or Burning Man, or these other things, that there are elements of spirituality and medicine going on, as well as just having fun. So that we need to have this ability to move in and out of the group, of feeling more voluntarily. Let me just give you an example of problems I've had with the Native American Church, peyote ceremonies, which are beautiful.

Jamie Wheal: Or Santo Daime or UDV, or something.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Yeah, and all religions. I'm not just wanting to say this, that most religions, they prioritize the group over the individual, so that in a Native American Church ceremony, you're not supposed to leave. You're supposed to keep it within the container of the group. What I'm finding with some of the Santo Daime or modified sort of UDV ceremonies is that they'll have the group setting, but they'll have a little area off to the side, where if you want to leave the group, you can lie down on a mattress, have your own experience and...

... want to leave the group, you can lie down on a mattress, have your own experience and not be with the whole ceremony. So I think that we need to build these group settings where there's an individual escape valve if you want to go off on your own. And again, there's risks of that, you're high, so it makes sense to say that you shouldn't be leaving the bigger container and wandering down the street, but that you don't have to stay with the group.

And so I think this individual escape valves, that's legitimate, that it's you don't have to prioritize the group over the individual. And with the individual, and this is where I think we were talking about it with libertarianism, to recognize that we're never doing anything on our own. We're always supported by the group in all different ways and to not have this hyper-selfish individualism that doesn't get back to the comments.

How Do We Create Meaning?

Jamie Wheal: But let's explore that for a second because you referenced Burning Man as an example and for folks that don't know, it's a big giant festival that's been going on for 30+ years and within that very open source environment, it's got minimalistic rules, but it's nonetheless that creative culture that is quite coherent has emerged.

There is the room for the sacred. There's an actual temple and there's lots of demonstrations of, let's say nondenominational religiosity, and even some reconstituted versions of Jewish faiths, Christian faiths, pagan faiths, other things. That to me, seemed like it strikes a creative sweet spot in the sense that it is open source, minimal rules, but nonetheless, something is happening.

And on the other hand, leaving everybody to their own devices can often end up with some very muddy stuff. It's almost like we're hoping that all the monkeys at a typewriter will each become Shakespeare, versus saying, "Here's Shakespeare. Let's start with that."

So someone like Yuval Harari has made a case that the development of language and the ability to pass culture along, has been one of the major things that's taken us from monkeys without clothes to monkeys with clothes, basically, right?

We get to benefit from the accumulated intelligence discoveries and wisdom of all the generations before us and Jaron Lanier, the digital theorist, he wrote that great essay over a decade ago called Digital Maoism. And he was talking about, he's like, "Look, this whole crowdsource thing is awesome for making Wikipedia. It's very, very good for large numbers of people guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar. There's a finite discreet answer and the more heads you have on that problem, the better."

He goes, "But it's absolutely crap for aesthetic or creative decisions. And if you try and crowdsource a web design or a piece of art, you end up with beige." So in this age, like your Zendo project, I think, models that are beautifully honoring the sovereignty of someone's individual interior experience during a spiritual or psychedelic crisis. And you guys have impeccable protocols for how not to get sucked into, "I'm going to make sense for you."

And on the other hand, in the realm of Plandemic, QAnon, batshit conspiracies, the more people that are starting to enter these domains, we are by default, storytelling monkeys. And even if the keepers of the faith refuse to tell anyone what it all means, we're starting to tell stories anyway. So how do we bridge this non-denominational sacrosanct, almost therapeutic relationship, this is your meaning to make, versus, enough people are now sneaking through the garden gate that they're starting to tell stories about what's on the other side anyway.

Those stories are starting to cohere into meme complexes, and an awful lot of them are counterfactual, batshit crazy, or straight up delusional or unhelpful. How do we strike that balance, because I feel like we really either have passed the inflection point or are right around the inflection point of, "We need to come up with a meaning 3.0."

If 1.0 was church and traditions, if 2.0 was the modern liberalism and rational science, we have to have some form of post-conventional mytho poetics, otherwise we're just going to go badly off the rails. What do you think about that and what signs of that or not are you seeing?

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Well, I think that you've done a good job there, pointing to the dangers of what's happening there, that people are creating meaning in ways, some of them at least, that respond to these inner emotions, but don't have a rational component. And so that's again, where I think we need to look at what are people's basic fears and anxieties.

And I think one of the things that we see in our culture is this income inequality and this high levels of stress that a lot of people live with about how are they going to survive. I mean, before the pandemic, it came out that about some very large fraction of people couldn't afford a $500 emergency, or a missed paycheck, that people are living on such an edge of survival.

And we're in America, tragically the only major industrialized Western country that doesn't have some form of real national health insurance, so the people are feeling especially vulnerable, large numbers of them, as resources have been amassed by a smaller and smaller group of people.

Jamie Wheal: Yeah.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: So I need to recognize that these conspiracy theories, they're ways for people to project outward, their anxieties. Okay, now this Kabbalah Satanists that Joe Biden is in charge of and Democrats, and they're sexually abusing and cannibalizing and drinking blood of kids and all this kind of stuff, that there's this pedophile group.

I think what we need to do is see through the symbol, the story, to the extent that we can, to the deeper fears and anxieties that people are having. And also, we all know that as we get older and older, we start dependent as a baby, we become more independent in our middle stages, and then we become a baby again near the end of our life as we move towards the death process and we become evermore dependent.

And so if you have this sense that the world is not a friendly place, that once you become dependent, you are going to be taken advantage of, that the road ahead looks evermore terrifying, and if you're struggling during this middle period, how are you possibly going to take care of yourself as you start losing your facilities and getting more and more ill and not really being able to provide for your own survival when you need help from others?

So I think that's the key thing is to not so much get hooked up, "Oh, these guys are crazy and this QAnon thing is ridiculous," which it is all of that, but it's how do we get to the deeper fears and anxieties that people are experiencing that caused them to need some sort of story that explains things?

Jamie Wheal: Yeah, because we are narrative creatures, right? I mean, a functional definition of trauma that I heard is, it's two parts. One is the neurosomatic imprint. That's the body keeps the score, Bessel van der Kolk kind of idea. But the other is breakdown in narrative, like someone suffering from, "I lost a buddy in Iraq to an IED." Some of it is bomb blast and head trauma. And the other part is, "Why did my buddy come home in a casket and not me? And what are we fighting for? And is this just?"

It's those unravelings or, "How could I be sexually traumatized in a family that was supposed to love me and keep me safe?" It's those narrative collapses. So in those vacuums where absolutely, it's the whole fools rush in where angels fear to tread, right?

We are creating these mimetic mashups, but my sense is that they're often quite degraded. That's back to the Jaron Lanier critique where we're getting muddy. We're not getting inspiring new method poetics or God help us if we do because I mean, QAnon is a classic example where it is an amalgamation of a whole bunch of things left on the cutting room floor, glommed together in something that feels truthy, but if you pull on any of the threads, the whole thing unspools.

I don't know if you're familiar with Molly Crockett's work. She was at Oxford for a while and she's now at Yale, but she gave, to your point about exactly what's happening and people under stress and what are their needs, she's done a phenomenal cross section.

She actually presented this in Davos, but it was the idea that when people are chronically under stress, dopamine and serotonin, and oxytocin deplete, that when you're low on serotonin, you actually end up primed for basically righteousness and vengeful action, even if it harms you.

And that when you get back into rallies or groups or crowds, and that could be a political rally, or this could be a sporting event, it could be Nirenberg, dopamine levels jack, as do oxytocin, and the dopamine will create a decrease in hyper altruism, meaning we give less of a shit about the stranger.

It's basically like someone being coked up, right? You'll be like, "I'm high on dopamine at night and I now am less altruistic and I become high on oxytocin, which actually creates ethnocentric in-group bonding and increases my ability and desire to other the other.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Right.

Jamie Wheal: Now all of those chemicals are the ones that play straight into the lane of the MDMA work you're doing.

How Can MDMA Therapy Help PTSD?

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Yeah. So first by saying, that Bessel van der Kolk, who you mentioned about keeps the score, he's the principal investigator of our Boston site. So we're working very closely with him and he's even written about how he thinks MDMA with therapy is the best treatment for PTSD that he's discovered so far.

The other part about this thing I wanted to share is this idea of narrative creatures. And so, one of the things that's most amazing about MDMA therapy, and this is also true about psilocybin therapy, general psychedelic therapy. In an MDMA therapy session, and it's about eight hours long, we have a male-female co-therapy team, there's preparation and integration afterwards.

But in the actual session, we're playing music, people's eyes are closed, and roughly around half the time, people are just in their own inner worlds. And the other half of the time, they're talking to the therapists with psilocybin or LSD, it's more like 90% of the time, they're in their inner world.

They're not as verbal, it's not as communicative, but in both cases, what's happening is absolutely amazing storytelling that people are doing about their own life story. And often it's in metaphorical elements. So just as an example, one of the persons was a vet who came back from Iraq and he was filled with rage.

A lot of people were killed. You do have the survivor's guilt. Why did he survive and these other people didn't? But he was just filled with rage and during an MDMA experience, he had the idea that the warrior self that he had seen what it could do in Iraq and it had terrified him, that when he came back, he had to keep it in a cage inside his body.

And it was now a gorilla in a cage inside his body. And this gorilla did like being in the cage. And this gorilla was reaching through the bars with a knife to stab him in the side, that he and this warrior self of him were at war. And that he had to try to become a civilian and keep this in the cage.

So under the influence of MDMA, he's recognizing that this warrior self kept him alive, as well as a lot of random luck. But that also, that he was making it worse by having it caged up. And so the imagery then became, "First off, I'm going to pull the knife out of my side, and then I'm going to let it out of the cage." And then these red hateful eyes that he was looking at when he was giving it some freedom or dissolving into something more friendly.

And then he realized that this is just a part of himself. It's not the whole self and that he needed to be friended. And by the end of the experience, he and this warrior self gorilla had embraced and didn't solve all of his PTSD, but he solved his rage problem. So it's this incredible metaphorical process that people are going through during psychedelic therapy that is also under awareness.

We're always telling ourselves certain stories and that's a problem with PTSD. You tell yourself, "The world is unsafe, it's attacking me, any noise could be, I'm suddenly all back in the war again." The story is, it's not really over. And so you'll have to work through it and then put it into long-term memory storage so that it's over and then you can rewrite a new story for yourself.

So I think that this idea that we are these narrative creatures and we're sometimes trapped by our stories, and we don't even know the depth of our own stories. I'm a fuck up. I hate myself. I'm never perfect. I was always criticized. Most of us have that kind of, "I'm imperfect human." So homegrown humans are not perfect. And that's a big problem. So we're always able to criticize ourselves for this or that, or, I'm unworthy.

Jamie Wheal: Yeah. It's just like that Mary Oliver poem, "You do not have to crawl for miles on your hands and knees through the desert repenting. Let the soft animal nature of yourself love what it loves." 

Rick Doblin's Work in Big Sur

Jamie Wheal: I'd love to hear your story of Big Sur and your outreach into the spiritual community because you mentioned this notion of homegrown humans and this idea of a dawning age of a more sophisticated or more comprehensive spirituality where we both honor and understand our individuality, and experience our collective. MAPS strongly echoes Teilhard de Chardin's notion of the Omega Point and the body of Christ being exactly that, being it's the [inaudible 00:53:09], it's everyone as [inaudible 00:53:11] talked about. You took a cut at this and you did some definite efforts to bridge the worlds of the church and participatory or experiential spirituality. What happened? How did that go?

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: I think it's gone really well, and I'll just share that there's a new study for people that are listening. Not that new, actually it's about five years old now, with lifelong Zen meditators. What happened when the backlash in 1970 came around against psychedelics is a lot of the people did get into meditation as well as psychedelics, and there was this general sense that psychedelics are criminalized, but also we don't need them anymore. Now we're moving beyond, and so there's been-

Jamie Wheal: Allan Badiner's book Zig Tag Zen does a great job covering that.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Exactly, yeah. So, what we see now coming together is this Zen tradition which has not been that open to psychedelics, but that they're always been people on the margins, and so the study that I'm talking about was by the fellow Vanja Palmers coordinated it in Switzerland, who's a friend of mine, and it was lifelong Zen meditators going to a meditation retreat and in the middle of it getting a pill. Half of them got placebo, half got psilocybin, and they meditated. Before and after they did brain scans at the University of Zurich, and afterwards they did all sorts of questionnaires, and then they did a crossover study for those people that had gotten the placebo, later would get the psilocybin. What they demonstrated-

Jamie Wheal: Because you didn't want a bunch of pissed off meditators feeling that they'd been cut out of the game.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Exactly, exactly. That would not be good. They discovered that there were brain changes that they could identify, that there were ways in which those people that had not used psychedelics or never, or not for many, many, many decades would experience states of mind with the psychedelic, with the psilocybin, that they could use as a guide post for how to aim their meditation in a way, even though it's without purpose, but that they could deepen their meditation practice after that experience. We're seeing a lot of these meditative spiritual communities that had gone beyond psychedelics starting to weave them into their practice. There's starting to be a lot of studies with mindfulness.

Mindfulness and meditation has now become more widely accepted as a very powerful tool for different kinds of mental illnesses, but also just for general mental health and all. The mindfulness community is feeling comfortable enough to start weaving in psychedelics to blend with mindfulness. I did a podcast two days ago with Andy Weil at Developed Integrative Medicine, and also integrative medicine is now mainstream enough it's set the ground so that we can start weaving in psychedelics to integrative medicine. I see that the spirituality and psychedelics, which have been seen in some ways as different by some people, actually are very intertwined.

Jamie Wheal: You pull this off because describing Zen, describing mindfulness, you sort of think, "Oh, that figures. That bunch that'd be down with it," but you've also had some fascinating experiences within the bastions of Catholicism. Tell us about the [inaudible 00:56:55] monks. 

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Rabbi Zalman Schachter spoke to the Washington Post and compared MDMA to the Sabbath, and Brother David said that a monk could spend his whole life trying to reach the enlightened attitude that you can get from MDMA. At one point there were several monks at the monastery doing MDMA, and I got called in by Father Bruno who was the head of the whole monastery, and it was this... I wouldn't say inquisition. It was this question about what are my monks doing with your drugs?

I shared with him Robert Muller, this whole thing, I shared with him the Good Friday experiment, what was going on, it was still legal, and at the end of the conversation he was satisfied enough to let it continue to take place. Now, this was still while things were legal, but it was just [crosstalk 01:02:20] that these traditions where you might not expect such open-minded people, but when you move through the dogma to the mysticism underneath it, the mystics of the religions have more in common with each other than they do with the orthodox of their own religion.

How Do Psychedelics Influence Our Sense of Meaning?

Jamie Wheal: Absolutely. Let's explore this a bit more because that idea, and again, you can't make up the perfectibility of this, right? Everybody knows it as ecstasy, but back then it was Adam, you're giving it to monks who were contemplating Christ consciousness and being back into the garden, and forbidden fruit that gets them there. That is such a perennial dynamic. As you said, the Sufis have been persecuted in Islam, the [inaudible 01:03:15] in Hinduism, even Tibetan Buddhism is often looked to sconce by Zen and [inaudible 00:11:24], like these wild-ass mountain shaman people. Generally the freakier and deakier the mystical sects are, the more violently and thoroughly they got shut down or repressed at some point.

This kind of all comes back to, we've explored it from the [inaudible 01:03:43] Project side and the therapeutics and not making meaning for people, allowing them to construct their own, and we're exploring it from the institutional orthodox religious side as well, which is how do we reconcile the... It's almost like mercury. It's like quick silver. It's very hard to grab or grasp the antinomian experience that bows to no man, as we become Adam, as we become first man or anthropo, some form of what we've been playfully calling homegrown human. Once somebody has been to the mountain top or the wishing well, pick our analogies, they're decidedly disinclined to submit to the laws of mankind again.

At the same time, there's a lot of narcissism, magical thinking, delusional stuff going on, how do we strike this balance? Is there such a thing, would you be so bold? If it's not MAPS, who would it be to articulate a provisional roadmap for meaning 3.0? Sort of like, enough of us are getting through the garden gate now. We're starting to understand the plants, the flowers, maybe some of the dangerous and the comfortable beasts, the two-leggeds and the four-leggeds, now how do we start creating a nomenclature in a way of being as more and more people come through this experience and start living their life informed from or centered on this experience? Can we pull this off?

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Yeah. I think that the way that we're going to need to do this, and this is very difficult of course, is to go to the fundamentalists and to try to help them have these deeper experiences, the same way that I talked about the people that have all these fears and anxieties that project on these conspiracy theories. We have to have mass mental health, so we have to have an outreach from those people that are more comfortable in a way, more nuanced to those people that are solidifying into fundamentalist kind of thinking. There has to be this really big outreach from one group to the other, and to try to help the... You talked earlier too about this idea of your story, and if you end up giving up your story you're often left with nothing.

I think that's the worry of the fundamentalists is that if they give up the idea that Jesus was resurrected, and that there was a virgin birth, and that all these kinds of magical thinking that if you were to relax that, if you were to accept this idea that maybe there's not only one way to Heaven and everybody else is going to Hell, that you're not going to be left with nothing, and you're not going to have to give up the tradition that you grew up in. That has meaning, but you just see it more symbolically than literally.

How Do We Help Foster Expansion of Human Dignity and Liberation From Using MDMA as a Tool?

Jamie Wheal:  Let's just fast forward, the classic Faustian stories, the Pandora's Box, are psychedelics best left in the box? Should the box be flung open wide? What are the potential unintended consequences? For instance, I totally understand the idea of our wounded warriors and veterans deserve to be healed. They tried to serve our country and they took hits for it. I can totally understand that traumatized people in police forces, you would want them to be better connected and more able to relate, and have empathy to the people to reduce crime, unintended violence, accidental shootings, all the kinds of things we've been seeing.

On the other hand, you could have the U.S. army and be like, "MDMA? That's awesome. We have drone operators in Vegas that are getting a little tweaked out from doing this horrendous thing that we're asking them to do, pop a pill of MDMA, they're right as rain and they can go back to more targeted drone strikes." How do we help foster the expansion of human dignity and liberation versus these tools becoming co-opted as just one more cog in the machine?

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Well, again, a super great question. What we find though is that people who are traumatized... Let's talk about the drone operators, and I don't think we've had any. We might have actually had a drone operator in our study, I'm not actually sure. I know we've been in touch with some, but the idea is that if you help them process the trauma, if you help them really deal with the emotional consequences of what they're doing, it's not just a video game that you're destroying electronic images, actually underneath it you're killing people. When people come to terms with that, they are more capable of asking certain kinds of questions like, do I want to continue to do this? Why am I doing this? What is the purpose of it?

There's a whole new understanding that we see in a lot of the veterans and it's called moral injury. It makes PTSD even worse. It's this idea that if you are... This has nothing to do with psychedelics. A lot of people who are in the army right now have felt that what they're doing once they get to Iraq, once they get to Afghanistan, that the things that they're doing are more about protecting each other, their fellow soldiers, but it's not necessarily part of a bigger humanitarian mission. That we never should have gone into Iraq. That we're not helping a lot of these cultures. Moral injury, people can wrestle with that more. I'm not a pacifist, I think we need an army, I think the world is a dangerous place, so I think that it's not... A German psychiatrist who's a close friend of mine, [inaudible 00:23:04], said, "Would you give MDMA to a concentration camp guard who are traumatized by what they're doing?"

Jamie Wheal: It feels to me that there's an important distinction as to basically who is funding, underwriting, sponsoring, and endorsing that experience because if effectively you saw it as, we're engaging in cult deprogramming from the machine... This is a veteran's organization and we're saying, "You've exited the moral hazard you were in, and you now need to reconcile with that and then rejoin society." I get that, that makes total sense. The gray zone for me is what happens when it's the police department or the army funding, sponsoring, coordinating, because if it's successful the very thing happens is they don't have any more on me. That was back in the late '50s, early '60s when they did those LSD studies with the army, and they dosed all the troops and half of them just put down their M16s and walked off the lot. They were like, "Well, fuck this." Of course those studies didn't persist, they undermined the very system that was sponsoring them.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: I think it was more short term. Yeah, they couldn't pay attention to marching in order, but I think it's an individual choice. I think there's something noble about being willing to sacrifice your life for the greater good and volunteer for the army. On the other hand there's economic reasons why people do it, but there's something noble about it. What we really need to realize, and let's get back to mass mental health, is that in America we have civilian control of the military. What they're sent to do is decided by politicians, and that therefore we need a much broader base of mass mental health.

We elect politicians that have more humanitarian motives rather than selfish motives, and so I do think that if some of the people that we work with go back to active duty, that's okay. I think they will be better soldiers, not more ruthless killing machines, but that they will be more aware of the emotional consequences of what they're doing or more perhaps willing to negotiate about certain things. I'm not a pacifist, as I said, not against the army.

Michael Pollan's book was phenomenal, How to Change Your Mind, and so there's a major streaming service that's making documentary about it. I was interviewed just last week on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and before my interview they were interviewing a police officer who's also a psychotherapist, who's going through our training program to give MDMA to other police officers with PTSD, which I think is a triumph. I don't know how it happened exactly, but my sister's-

I don't know how it happened exactly, but my sister's oldest son, my nephew is a police officer in Washington, D.C.

Jamie Wheal: I don't know exactly how it happened.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: But he's a really good guy and he's sympathetic with drug policy reform and he's trying to be a honorable police officer. So most of the police officers are really good people and they have a sense of protection. There are others that don't and then they've ...

Jamie Wheal: Well, what does my sense for sure is that the psychedelic Renaissance has been wasted on the fucking hippies. Like bottom line is, is get teachers and farmers and carpenters and firemen and soldiers and police officers and the salt of the earth people who actually do hard shit in the real world on behalf of everybody else and help them process and integrate and lighten their burden and expand their perspective a little bit from time to time because they deserve it because we all rely on them.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Yeah. Well, and they see the worst of humanity, these people, soldiers, and police officers, and they're in a macho culture that's trained to suppress their emotions, which is not good for them and not good for their mission, and the culture either. So I think it's good. I think if we were only working with the police, we want to also work with people who've been recently released from incarceration and try to help reduce recidivism.

Eventually, we want to get into the prisons and work with prisoners to help them deal with why they're in prison and what happened and what were their own wounds before that. So I think, yes, if we're just working with the police and the military, that would not be as balanced as trying to work with ...

Well, to give you an example, we want to move to the European Medicines Agency. We've negotiated with them. We need to raise a bunch more money to do that. But in our negotiations with the European Medicines Agency, they said that they want us to include refugees or migrants in Phase-3 study in Europe, eventually get MDMA into the refugee camps. We're working with people that are trying to see if they can get permission in Lebanon after the big explosion and all the trauma that's in Lebanon. So we're trying to work on the Israeli side, the Arab side, the police side, the criminal side, the military side, the victims of human rights abuses, mass mental health, healing for all. And so I think that's been-

Jamie Wheal: That's [crosstalk 01:20:27]. Yeah, and actually in a direct kind of connecting of the lineages and due in large part to your work and also Stan Graf's work. Stan is actually our advisor on a project we're doing with Johns Hopkins and Matt Johnson, part of the psychedelic team there on PTSD, on Breathwork. The hope is, is to be creating something that is approved by the VA. But also that can go into educational environments in townships, refugee camps in South America, Africa, and India, for exactly this reason, which is, there will still be hurdles to Schedule I psychedelic therapies. Cost, access, cultural norms, a thousand things. But if we can take the insights as to what states they're providing and all of those kinds of things and then create analogs that can be more compatible or more applicable in a kind of cascade of situations, we can take the high-level focused insights and then expand them to more and more people.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Yeah. I mean, I think Breathwork can be very effective for PTSD. And so, I think it's a great project, but I think Stan has always been of the view that we just need a range of tools.

Jamie Wheal: Yeah.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: But we can't throw out the Breathwork, we can't throw out the psychedelics. We can't throw out meditation. We can't throw out non-drug psychotherapy, which works without any of these other things.

Psychedelics: Empowerment and Culture

Jamie Wheal: I mean, I just saw a study in Nature this week actually, that was talking about ... I was at Stanford and it was basically, they were imaging mice and then epileptic human patients on ketamine and then were finding deep Delta wave brain state, specifically three hertz. Then they went back and saw that and they're like, "Okay," and that coincided with the dissociative out-of-body experience typical of the ketamine dose.

Then they reverse engineered it with optogenetic priming and stimulated the brain, I think, at the hypothalamus at three hertz. Then just that mechanical stimulation created the same out-of-body experience. And so, you see, so you're like, "Oh, wow." So Delta waves show up in nitrous oxide activity, ketamine activity at the deep brainstem reset. It happens to have this dissociative impact, which happens to increase information and inspiration and be antidepressant. It shows up in Dzogchen meditation and certain other very advanced esoteric meditative or contemplative techniques. And you're like, "Okay, fascinating. Now we've got a dozen ways to stimulate Delta wave activity. We're now device agnostic," right? As the mechanism's in, and that's really empowering.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Yeah. One of the really important things about that is that what we realize now is that psychedelics don't produce a psychedelic experience. Psychedelics produce a human experience catalyzed by psychedelics, and you can get there in other ways. What that shows is that it's within us, it's not that it's this overlay that's coming in with the drug, and when you remove the drug, it's not real, it's somehow or other a drug experience, but the drug is more of a doorway into our own depth of experiences.

The fact that you can do this with Breathwork or certain kinds of brain stimulations or other things is actually really a good thing. It sort of validates the experience. We don't need to say, "Oh," ... I mean, I think that was one of the mistakes of the sixties, this idea of that those people that had a psychedelic experience somehow or other had more insight than people that had never done it and unique knowledge. I think that that was really an egotism produced by ego dissolution drugs, that we're smarter than everybody else. So chemicals did a lot of this us and them stuff. So I think it's very inspiring all these new approaches to recognize that these are experiences within human capacity and there's a lot of different catalysts.

Jamie Wheal: Yeah. Yeah.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Almost about a religion like, "Oh, psychedelics produce unique things, and you only get through them through psychedelics," not the case at all.

Jamie Wheal: Yeah, it does feel like there's a much bigger pattern language to human consciousness and culture. The benefit of drugs is, as Oliver Sacks said, "They provide a shortcut and offer transcendence on demand." But rather than that becoming also the Achilles heel, which is I don't do my pushups, I don't do my work to earn the experience, that's sort of, again, the union, be aware of unearned wisdom, right? So rather than getting stuck there, you're like, "Oh, if they produce transcendence on demand, then that allows us experimentally and experientially to capture exactly what is happening in those states and then be able to reverse engineer them via more sustainable, scalable, safe, effective tool suites, or continue using those tools, but provide cultural context and wrap it around."

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Yeah. Also, as you said that they don't produce it on demand in the sense that it requires more than the drug. It requires a certain kind of attitude, a certain kind of open, safe, supportive setting. So that it's not just the drug, people are going to have terrible experiences with psychedelics that are not spiritual, they're not therapeutic and they end up worse off. So that it's more than just the drug, it's the context. I think that's the key point here is what we really need to be doing is building a culture that has contexts for this full range of non-ordinary states of consciousness, which Stan likes to call non-ordinary states. That we need to be really thinking about contexts.

And so, there's been a lot of people now with the rise of for-profits psychedelic pharma and stuff, people want to develop new drugs and patent them and improve on MDMA, improve on LSD, improve on psilocybin, all these different kinds of things. I'm like, "Go for it." But my interest is more about creating contexts for the drugs that we already know about that have great potential. We don't so much need one more molecule. We need new contexts, and that's what drug development and pharmaceutical drug development of psychedelics is creating, is working through the regulatory system to demonstrate safety and efficacy, to create new legal contexts, which will ideally be covered by insurance. We're working on that as well.

Then will be distributed through thousands and thousands of psychedelic clinics. These psychedelic clinics will not be, "Here's a MAPS clinic that does MDMA. Here's a Compass Pathways Clinic that does psilocybin. Here's a ketamine clinic over there." It's not going to be like that. It's going to be a new profession of psychedelic therapists and these people could be cross-trained in all of the different modalities.

Jamie Wheal: Ontological BJs. Yeah.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Yeah, that's it. That's what's going to be happening.

Jamie Wheal: Well, okay. So to that point, though, right? You said, "Hey," it's not to say you pushed back a little bit on the unearned wisdom or transcendence undermine. You say it has to be earned. You have to show up for it. Then I think another Swiss study that came out this month was the combination of LSD and MDMA, which, you know, colloquially is known as candy flipping. Right? The idea there presumably is that they're looking to dampen or buffer the internal experience of LSD with the more emotional, safe, and secure feel good of MDMA.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Yeah, that's a great combination, right?

Jamie Wheal: Yeah, "It's a great combination," he says the Cheshire cat grin. Yeah. And so, now to your point about engineering new molecules, right? That way lies, Soma, right? That way lies the one that requires no steering, no effort, you pop the pill and it's just whatever, four to eight hours of awesome. Is there danger in that? You mentioned ibogaine, and ibogaine will never be abused because it is a trial to go through, right? You earn your fucking wisdom on ibogaine, right? Candy flipping, let's say whatever is Soma 2.0 looks like could be problematic in that space. How do you see, and I didn't want to be like a crypto Puritan and say that you have to struggle or suffer to earn it, but on the other hand, if it's too easy, do we lose something?

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Well, this is where we get back to what we were saying before about the placebo effect. So our goal with psychedelic therapy is to help people move through trauma or various other things and learn to heal themselves and afterwards to keep getting better without the use of the drug. So the same way that meditators who would use psilocybin could deepen their meditation practice through this whole long period of time afterwards, without doing more psilocybin, trying to integrate that experience.

So the danger is that if we rely just on the drug to realize that any place that a drug can get us, to some extent we can work our way there through training our minds. And so, I think it's that issue that if you're using a drug to have an experience that you then try to integrate and move towards that without having to do the drug all the time. I mean, there've been moments where I've felt like I was on MDMA, even though I wasn't. Just in certain loving moments, certain openness, just things sort of came together, magical moments.

And so, I think it's hard to do that at will, but that's the goal. So if the goal is only to escape or to have a particular experience, but not to bring it back and integrate it so that you can build your muscles up to try to do that to some extent on your own, then I'd say it's more dangerous. To the extent that you see these as teaching tools that can bring states of mind that we then can try to work on in many different ways, mind calisthenics, meditation, all these different ways to try to replicate it. I said, one day, I think 30 years, who knows when, we're going to hopefully put a bunch of research, not us necessarily, but others into how do you catalyze the placebo effect? How do you get your immune system to really start going after cancers when they're very early, consciously? Can you do that? Maybe you can.

Jamie Wheal: Yeah, I think at heart, and this is awesome and perfect and you're absolutely the right person for your job. I think you're fundamentally more optimistic than I am about the law of unintended consequences.

How Optimistic Can You Be About the HomeGrown Humans Ability to Counteract Negativity?

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: I totally believe that. And so, actually let me ask you a question. So to what extent are you optimistic about homegrown humans being able to really counteract all the negativity in the world?

Jamie Wheal: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, well, that is a beautiful question. I mean, my sense is, is that the chance we have is for people to self-initiate and initiate each other into that death-rebirth experience, that ego death and redemption, the letting go of our pain and our past traumas, the understanding of our perfectibility and our connection. Then taking up the yoke of what is to be done joyfully and courageously.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Yeah.

Jamie Wheal: That's Gandhi's, Satyagraha, that's what MLK translated into Soul Force and just saying, "This is a force of evolution," right? When we stand up and we say, "Enough's enough," and we stand up and we say, "We are on the right side of love and life on behalf of the least of my brothers and sisters," like that's the tank man in Tiananmen Square. That's the 300 Spartans. That's the band playing on the Titanic. It's these moments that make us weep. It's the Dead Poet's Society standing up on the desk. It's like that moment when seeking pleasure and avoiding pain for myself becomes secondary to something larger that I acknowledge and stand up in service of, like to me, that's our last shot. None of the other shit pencils out. It's Satyagraha or bust.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: How hopeful are you? How hopeful are you? While you think about that, let me just say, I'm glad you brought up Martin Luther King. Just for people to know that Reverend Howard Thurman was Martin Luther King's mentor-

Jamie Wheal: Yes.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: ... and Howard Thurman was the one that was the minister during the Good Friday Experiment.

Jamie Wheal: Oh, no way. I did not know that.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Yes.

Jamie Wheal: That's fantastic.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: He also worked with Gandhi. So Howard Thurman was the one that really brought in this non-violence for the civil rights movement. Yeah, that's because I-

Jamie Wheal: Dude, I closed my TED Talk at Burning Man with that Howard Thurman quote, all I knew him as was as a civil rights activist and minister, but it's the, "Don't ask yourself what makes you come alive?"

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Yeah.

Jamie Wheal: What was it? "Don't ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive and go and do that because the world needs all of us to come alive."

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Yeah, exactly. [crosstalk 01:33:52]. I think he was the one that Walter Pahnke was studying with and he agreed to be the minister for the Good Friday Experiment. If you want to hear him, we have the tapes of the Good Friday Experiment service of Howard Thurman-

Jamie Wheal: Oh, God.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: ... [inaudible 01:34:11] powerful dynamic African-American minister, a beautiful, eloquent man. And so, you go to the MAPS website and just check out Good Friday. And so, we have the original tapes from the 1962 Good Friday Experiment on our website. You can listen to them.

Jamie Wheal: Holy shit. Okay. So anybody who is activated around Black Lives Matter right now, the racial justice movement today, and the potential deeper access to that aquifer of American Soul Force, of righteous, principled protest with charity and forgiveness.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Exactly. And so, that's where you see also that the Black Lives Matter, all these protests that people have been coming out for, incredibly great, that when they turn violent is when you lose a lot of your power.

Jamie Wheal: We lose Soul Force, right?

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Yes.

Jamie Wheal: When it goes from we're taking a stand for the infinite game, all of us playing, to the finite game, let's smash this thing and take what's ours, regardless of right or left, you lose the exponential force multiplier.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Yeah, exactly. And so, Reverend Howard Thurman was one of the principal advocates of this nonviolent philosophy that Martin Luther King later adopted.

Jamie Wheal: That makes my day, that makes my week for you to close the loop on his legacy. Thank you.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Wow. Great. Jamie. Yeah, terrific. Okay. So now we get back to how [crosstalk 01:35:34]

Jamie Wheal: Yeah, okay. So here's my sense. My sense is, is that John Gray, who's a professor at London School of Economics, he wrote a great book called Black Mass and the Death of Utopian Thinking. So, right? He's very good at cautioning against any hockey stick because he's like, "That at its core it's just Judeo-Christian, Alpha and Omega."

Even the communist who did the same thing, it was basically just the Second Coming minus baby Jesus. Right? And so, something like we give everyone psychedelics and the world wakes up and opens our hearts and we go marching off together, has a tendency, it can fall into that trap, right? Where you're like, "Oh, be careful," because if the ends are literally heaven on earth or having an off this earth in the means are always justified, in that way lies totalitarian group-think.

So my sense is, is like the place I find solace is again, to follow King, to Thurman, to Gandhi, to Emerson and Thoreau is the resonance with of Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna is advising Arjuna, the Prince, and Arjuna doesn't want to go into the battle because his family is on both sides. He's like, "I don't want to fucking do this." Krishna's like, "You have to suck it up son because your time for cherished outcomes has passed and your only redemption now lies in the fulfillment of your dharma." Like, "Play your part." Right?

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Play your part.

Jamie Wheal: With all your heart, that's all you can do. I think that's why it resonated with Emerson and Thoreau, why with King, why with Gandhi, Mandela. It's the sense of, if we're trying to lead through transformation, our cherished outcomes are impossible and we have to do it anyway. It's that old Talmud line of like, "We are not expected to finish the work nor are we excused from it."

I feel like that's part of the death-rebirth process. It's not, "Oh, I'm just dying to my old ego and my suburban life of conformity. Now I'm a golden God and I'm riding the anaconda through the rain forest." Like, "Whoo, whoo." It's not that, it's getting clear on what is ours to do, getting clear on what must be done, understanding simultaneously the utter futility of that task, and the impossibility of avoiding it so that we can show up joyful and surrender to the path ahead.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Oh, so you're an optimist, you're hopeful at least?

Jamie Wheal: I am a transcendental optimist, a short-term nihilist and just figuring that hopefully, we can stick the landing on the other side of the Stargate.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Yeah. Okay. I'll accept that.

Jamie Wheal: Beautiful. Dude, thank you so much, Rick.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Jamie, it's been a pleasure. It's been a real pleasure. 

No Comments Yet

Sign in or Register to Comment