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#14 Mass Mental Health | Rick Doblin Pt. 2

26 novembre 2020

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  • Rick talks about how heartbreaking it was to see the DEA administrator criminalize the therapeutic and recreational use of MDMA as Schedule 3 – which lead to Rick’s creation of MAPS in 1986. Criminalization was a highly political decision and escalation of the drug war (1:00)
  • The drug war was political, and not intended to reduce drug abuse – it was an effort to persecute minorities, take away the right to vote, and create a vague enemy to blame. Rick traces the origin of drug probations in the United States (3:36)
  • Toxicity studies of MDMA in dogs and rats as the initial studies for the FDA were performed by MAPS – while the rhetoric and hysteria of MDMA neurotoxicity escalated from some scientists and became a premise for the FDA to reject the studies (6:00)
  • Rick discusses how he got a spinal tap as part of initial MDMA research, where he completed his Masters and PhD from the Kennedy School of Government. He applied for the Presidential Management Internship – and got a job at the FDA to understand how it worked (11:00)
  • In 1992, the FDA opened the door to MDMA research, and MAPS started with a safety study, but the neurotoxicity hysteria continued to gain momentum. Since psilocybin was less controversial, research with this substance began (13:00)
  • MDMA research began to be rejected from IRB’s (independent review boards) – despite the compelling science and mounting evidence. Rick jokes about the one time he felt discouragement in his work, so he repainted his house, and felt productive and accomplished (18:00)
  • Rick describes the work that he does, and the healing of trauma, is a response to the holocaust, to people dehumanizing others, and fundamentalism (21:50)
  • Rick discusses some of his psychedelic experiences, and how they have been reaffirming to his work. He took a large dose of LSD to celebrate his 21st birthday, and tried to cram life into a few remaining minutes before a perceived atomic bomb. Then he noticed nature and its vibrancy – seeing the world for the first time (25:30)
  • The combination of LSD with the awareness of death helped Rick to have a deep appreciation of the world – and the loss of this hyperawareness as he came down has always stayed with him. Carlos Castaneda says: “be aware of death over your left shoulder” (30:00)
  • Psychedelics can provide experiences, but they are filtered through our own subjectivity, and should not necessarily be taken as Truth. People can recall deep memories during therapeutic trips – and they can be profoundly symbolic – even if they are more symbolic in nature rather than truthful (35:00)
  • Rick talks about another trip on LSD after a tough breakup and he spent 17 hours in a water flotation tank and had a personal realization about self-hatred and self-acceptance (38:00)
  • Rick talk about his first time smoking DMT, and how he had a sense of universal connection. He communicated with the deepest part of himself, and realized that he is part of everything, including Hitler, which was tough for him to accept. Later that day, when doing Ketamine, Rick has vision of a Hitler rally, to see “the one combining with the many, and the many combining with the one: a vibration of energy”. Rick used breath work to get control of his emotions. (43:00)
  • The only way to get Hitler to open up was that “he needed to be willing”. Rick realized Hitler was getting more out of it than any other who were giving their power to him – so Rick’s strategy is “to change the many, not the one. Help them process so they won’t give away their power.” (46:00)
  • Before MAPS started, Rick realized that mass mental health would become the goal of MAPS, and it would need a dual track strategy for the medicalization of psychedelics and drug policy reform so people could have access to healing (47:00)
  • Rick’s prediction: over the next 50 years, the bulk of humanity will realize technology can help build a better world for everyone, and we can then relax enough to feel our interconnectedness (48:00)

Rick: [00:00:00] The sort of combination of psychedelics and the awareness, LSD and the awareness of death had helped me to have a deeper appreciation of the world, deeper than I had ever had it before. [00:00:14][13.7]

Ronan: [00:00:21] This is Field Tripping, a podcast dedicated to exploring psychedelic experiences and their ability to affect our lives. I’m your host, Ronan Levy. After speaking to Rick Doblin last week. I wanted to continue our conversation about Maps and what the future of psychedelic medicine and humanity can look like. If you didn’t get a chance to listen to the previous episode, be sure to tune in to hear how Rick found psychedelics and eventually founded Maps, a nonprofit that helps scientists design, fund and obtain FDA regulatory approval for studies on the safety and effectiveness of a number of controlled substances, including MDMA, LSD and psilocybin to treat PTSD, anxiety and depression. [00:01:07][46.2]

Ronan: [00:01:13] So, Rick, we’ve had the great privilege of hearing about your story getting up to around the inception of Maps and the creation of Maps, but, you know, as you and I spoke a few weeks ago, going from idea to where we are right now, which is really on the cusp of something quite magical, has not always been a direct or easy path. It’s been, I imagine, fraught with a lot of tribulations and challenges along the way. So I would love to hear kind of how things have evolved since nineteen eighty six have gone and where the kind of really pivotal moments have happened along the way. [00:01:51][38.4]

Rick: [00:01:52] What was really heartbreaking initially was, you know, having the DEA administrative law judge say that MDMA should be schedule three, that it should be available as a therapeutic drug even though it would be criminalized for recreational use and then having the DEA administrator reject the recommendation and criminalize both the recreational use and the therapeutic use. That was really heartbreaking. And that’s what led to the creation of Maps in eighty six. [00:02:23][30.9]

Ronan: [00:02:23] And did you have any insight? Was this political? Was this a personal vendetta or do you have any insight into why that recommendation was overruled? [00:02:31][7.8]

Rick: [00:02:32] Oh yeah, it was one hundred percent political. It was the DEA, particularly in the 80s, influenced by Nancy Reagan, Ronald Reagan, the drug war that they were escalating. Nancy Reagan’s just say no was her main contribution as the first lady. That was her issue. And what was going on was ecstasy being used in public settings without hardly any problems. A lot of people loved it, had great experiences, and that in itself was a problem. Drugs being used without a problem was a problem for the drug lawyers. And when when they moved to criminalize MDMA, it was just because it was in the midst of a massive escalation of the drug war again. And it wasn’t based on the science. It wasn’t based on even the law. I mean, the administrative law judge reviewed the data, reviewed witness’s testimony and said it should be schedule three. So it was completely political. And I think people should recognize that the drug war has never been about reducing drug abuse. There’s always been alternative motives to it, mostly persecuting minorities or taking away the right to vote or just having an enemy out there that people could blame for things. [00:03:42][69.8]

Ronan: [00:03:43] That was going to be one of my questions, actually. I don’t know if you have this insight, but when the drug war was started by Nixon back in the 70s, you know, there’s there’s documented evidence of there being clearly ulterior motives to the drug war. But I’ve kind of assumed, probably naively so, that much of the drug war that got picked up was well-intentioned people who had been misled in the first place, continuing to execute it. But then as you were talking, I’m like or did the Reagans probably have ulterior motives by perpetuating this as well? And I just don’t know. Do you have any insight into that? [00:04:20][36.8]

Rick: [00:04:20] So if we want to go back in history, the first drug laws were really opium laws, and they were against the Chinese laborers who came to build the railroads. And after the railroads were done and they were competing for low wage jobs, you know, their drug of choice, in this case, opium was criminalized. Then we get into alcohol prohibition. And after that was the disaster that had turned in to B and the prohibition was ended. Just a few years later, Harry Anslinger criminalized marijuana and marijuana being a name for the drug used by Mexicans. And it was again a bureaucratic imperative. What are all these out of work Treasury agents going to do and demonizing others and and going after Mexicans. So the whole marijuana thing was very political. Then we get into Nixon and his sort of declaration of the war on drugs. And so the decision to reject the administrative law judge’s recommendation? Even if we won the case, we knew it was going to end up we were going to lose. We just were buying time and trying to create a record and speaking up for ourselves. And so it was heartbreaking, but not unexpected when the judges recommendations were rejected. We we did win twice in the appeals court because the rationale was bogus and it took them a third time to figure out how to satisfy the judge. So once Maps was started in eighty six, we did have two things that we started with. One is that in the prior nonprofit that we used to sue the DEA, we had done twenty eight day toxicity studies in the dog and the rat with MDMA, and those were prerequisites to getting into human studies. So those were the two sort of steps towards FDA that we had. So the first set of obstackes was that we had five different protocols from major universities all over the United States, including Harvard, UC San Francisco, University of Arizona Tucson, and all of these were very interesting protocols and they were all rejected by the FDA. And that was just really very disappointing, as we saw starting to be this hysteria over MDMA neurotoxicity with NIDA funded researchers, particularly George Riccardi, and Lynda McCann trying to ever escalate their rhetoric to the point where it got to be one dose, serious brain damage, functional consequences. Nobody should even use this in research. The extreme of that was that Franz Vollenweider, who is a Swiss researcher at the University of Zurich, one of the main researchers connected with Hefter he did a brain scan study. And he did PET scans and he looked at changes in the brain after people got MDMA, but what he did was he started with people who had never done MDMA and he got their baseline brain scanned and then gave him MDMA and then he scanned them afterwards and didn’t find any problems. But what George Riccardi was so upset about and he tried to get the papers retracted even, he said it was unethical to give MDMA to to anybody because his research was so persuasive to him and to others that it was so neurotoxic that doing a study to determine if you could even find neurotoxicity was unethical because he’d already concluded that it was and he had done some stuff with people that had used a lot of ecstasy, but he never had a baseline pre and post, which is the best kind of study. So what I started doing in recognition that this neurotoxicity problem was going to be a concern for FDA and others as I approached George. And this is like right around eighty six, eighty seven and I said, you’ve only done studies in rats, have you studied primates? And he said, no, I haven’t been able to afford them. And I said, all right, Maps will buy you some primates and you can investigate. So the most important relationship that Maps had with a scientists in the early days was with George Riccardi. And I said to him, look, we’re just as interested as you are in finding out what the real risks of this drug are. In particular, since we’re taking this drug, on the other hand, we feel fine. Not only do we feel fine, but we feel that the the drug experiences have deepened our lives have made us healthier, happier, and we don’t feel this brain damage. So we ended up buying him some primates. And he did what’s called the NOEL study, which stands for no effect level. And so what we did was five milligrams per kilogram every two weeks for a series of eight times. And then you would sacrifice the animals and look and see what happened. And he claimed to have discovered some slight changes in the serotonin system. Now, what he’s talking about is not cell death at all. He’s talking about nerve terminal degeneration in certain areas at five milligrams per kilogram. Then we did a study at two point five milligram per kilogram and he found no effect. So that was the no effect level. But he refused to publish that. [00:09:36][315.4]

Ronan: [00:09:36] And just for frame of reference because truthfully, I don’t know the answer. And I suspect people listening don’t know the answer. What in the clinical trials happening right now is a typical dose? [00:09:44][8.2]

Rick: [00:09:45] We use one hundred and twenty milligrams. Now we do give half the same amount after two hours, but that’s after some of it has already been metabolized. And still we’re below this five milligram per kilogram where there is this effect, two point five, where there is no effect. [00:09:59][14.4]

Ronan: [00:10:00] Has the five milligram effect been validated subsequently? [00:10:02][2.6]

Rick: [00:10:03] A big, big question is interspecies scaling. How do you tell what’s five milligrams in a primate or rat or what does it mean to humans? The most important thing is not brain changes because we know now that MDMA stimulates oxytocin and oxytocin stimulates new neural connections in the brain. So I think that was one of the simplistic things that the NIDA of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the DEA, George Riccardi, were trying to say if there’s a brain change, we’re automatically going to assume it’s bad. So we have done studies with brain scans, with people before and after MDMA, with neurocognitive tests, before and after. We don’t see any functional consequences. Finally, what I did with George after he refused to publish the two point five milligram per kilogram, no effect level. Basically, then I said to him, what about humans? We feel fine, prove in us that we’re damaged. And he said, Well, the only way I can do that at the time was spinal taps. And to look at metabolites of spinal fluid from neurotransmitters. And see if there is differences, so I said, all right, I can’t refer anybody to this kind of study until I’ve done it myself. So at the time he was at Stanford, so I went and got a spinal tap, which was not fun. I figured if women can go through pain of birth, to have a child, I could go through a spinal tap to try to bring back MDMA research. So then we recruited another 30 other people. Thirty four other people or so to give spinal taps. By then, George had moved to Hopkins. I got a second spinal tap from him at Hopkins. The next big thing, just from a personal point of view, was that I graduated college in eighty seven. I wanted to get a clinical psych Ph.D. Nobody would let me in to study MDMA research. The research was shut down. So in eighty eight that’s where I switched and went to the Kennedy School of Government for my master’s and Ph.D.. To study the regulations of how psychedelics are regulated so they could move forward and 90 I graduated and with my master’s and I applied for the presidential management internship, which I managed to get, a big competitive thing, and I applied for a job at the FDA and I wanted to see how does the FDA work? And that was great. I went through all these screening things and at the very end I was told that the DEA would refuse to work with me because we had previously sued the DEA and this was the branch of the FDA that deals with the DEA. So so I wasn’t able to do that. But this was a new group at the FDA that was dealing with psychedelics. In nineteen ninety, they approved Rick Strassman for DMT and then the next big opening for us was nineteen ninety two when the FDA formally met and the National Institute on Drug Abuse formally met to decide whether to open the door to human research. And they said, yes, and Charlie Grobe and I had a protocol that we were submitting, which was MDMA for cancer patients with anxiety. And we figured these people are going to die in a year or so. We’ve made it, they had a year or less to live. So many people were fine without evidence of neurotoxicity. Even after heavy use, we felt like the FDA couldn’t say no to working with cancer patients who only had a year to live because this time bomb theory of neurotoxicity wouldn’t matter for them that it would show up way later. So the FDA said no, that we couldn’t do that, but we could start with a safety study. And that’s what really started the research. And then over the course of the 90s, this hysteria of MDMA neurotoxicity just kept growing and growing and growing and the drug war kept growing. The penalties for MDMA kept growing. Another sort of setback for me. It was around ninety eight. Charlie Grobe, after we had completed the phase one dose response safety study, we said, all right, we still have to deal with neurotoxicity. So I had switched my primary alliance with Charlie Grobe. And so the setback was that he had decided that now as we are going to try to get back to the MDMA for cancer patients. That ecstasy and MDMA and neurotoxicity, it just kept getting more and more and more controversial. And so then Charlie decided that he would abandon it and he would switch to psilocybin for end of life. That’s how the whole field of psilocybin research for cancer patients with anxiety began because Charlie wanting to switch from MDMA, which he felt was getting too controversial to psilocybin. So this is not quite as dignified of a metaphor, but I felt like Charlie was the horse and I was the the jockey. And we’re like crossing this river. And then the horse throws me off and I understand why he was doing it, but I felt like now I was adrift. This was really frustrating. And so we started a relationship with some researchers in Spain and they were interested in PTSD. And I knew from experience in nineteen eighty four working with the PTSD patient that MDMA was great for PTSD. And so after you get FDA permission, then you have to have institutional review board approval. So at an ayahuasca conference in San Francisco, the first conference ever on ayahuasca, Michael was there. He was a member of Maps, but I didn’t know him he’d been trained to with Stan Grof in the breath work, but in a different cohort. So I didn’t know him. He approached me and he said that he wanted to talk about setting up an offshore clinic because he had just come from Debrampture’s offshore clinic in St. Cansen. And would I help him work on this offshore clinic? And we talked about his connection to Stan and all. And the very first thing I said was absolutely not. I have no interest in offshore clinics. What I want to do is change from the heart of the beast out. We need to go to the heart of the system and change there. And now it is possible it will be possible for us to get FDA permission. And Michael was an expert in PTSD. I said great MDMA is great for PTSD, but I think we can get over neurotoxicity. So that’s where we got approval in 2001. So then we went to get IRB approval. And so this is an incredible saga. Michael was affiliated with the Medical University of South Carolina and there was some senior tenured faculty that he was close with that wanted to see this study conducted. And at one point, this woman was interested in getting a job at the drug czar’s office. This was the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. So this woman was told, if you want to even have a chance at being considered for this job, you must give up your association with MDMA research. And so she did give it up. And then in the end, she didn’t get the job anyway. That left us without our senior 10 year old faculty at the medical university. Then when we get FDA approval and we’re trying to go to the IRB at the medical university, they say, forget it, we don’t even want to have anything to do with you. So then we’re going to do it out of Michael’s office. And the largest IRB for people who are not affiliated with the institutions, the largest one in the US is called the Western IRB. And so we applied for approval from the Western IRP and we got approval. And we’re like, great, now we’re going to go off for DEA approval. All right. So then one month after we got approval, we got a letter from the Western IRB saying we have revoked your approval, that you’ve lied to us, you’ve misrepresented the dangers. We had a woman who was on our board of directors who didn’t like that this was approved. She called several people, including George Riccardi’s wife Lynda McCann, who told all these stories. And therefore, we’re rejecting your application and we’re like, we did not lie to you. We told you exactly the data as it is. And so then we got into them with like three or four months now of negotiating with them on every single point that they were making. We even got about twelve experts on various different points to write letters to the Western IRB about why every single point that they said was not right and that this was appropriate, that we go ahead with this study, that it wasn’t too risky for the subjects. The subjects had chronic treatment resistant PTSD and all that so in the end, the Western IRB came back to us and they said, we will never approve this study. And it’s not about the science. So therefore we are refunding your money. Which IRBs never refund your money if they reject the protocol, they’re for profit businesses, but it was an admission that they were just not paying attention to the science. It was a political thing. So that was heartbreaking. All right. So then the problem is that once you are rejected from an IRB, when you go to the next one, you have to tell them what was your experience with prior IRBs? So we have to say, here’s the long story. We were rejected. Here’s our 12 letters from all these experts. And in the end, they returned our money. And so we went through about seven different IRBs and several of them said, OK, we’ll look at your materials. And then a month or two would go by and then they’d say, we’re never going to approve this. So then what I realized that we could do is we could start our own IRB. It gave me the confidence that we would have a way forward. Then I said, though, before we really go forward with our own IRB, I’m going to try one more time with these nonlocal IRBs, independent review boards. And it turned out that one of them really caught my eye and it was called Copernicus IRB. And I figured if any IRB is sensitive to the political suppression or religious suppression of science, it’s going to be the Copernicus IRB. And so I contacted them and I said, I would like you to live up to your name, we’ve got a big problem with political suppression of science. Would you accept this for review? And I think they felt kind of obligated because of their name. And eventually they they accepted it for review. And in the end, they did approve the study. Now, we had to buy a million dollar insurance policy to indemnify them from a lawsuit in case any subject sued them for approving the study. [00:20:26][623.1]

Ronan: [00:20:27] But it took 18 years to to get from inception of Maps to that point. [00:20:31][4.0]

Rick: [00:20:32] Yes, yes. It took 18 years and it took 30 years to go from the inception of Maps to the end of phase two meeting at FDA. [00:20:40][8.4]

Ronan: [00:20:40] How many times along the way were you prepared to say, fuck it? Or like, were you always just like, I’m going to keep going until I have nothing left to give? [00:20:49][8.9]

Rick: [00:20:50] Yeah, not ones that I want to say, fuck it. There was only one time that I was really discouraged. This was during all of this time about the IRBs and stuff. I was so discouraged. I said, I’m just working and working, working. It doesn’t seem like I’m accomplishing anything. I need to actually do something where I see that I’ve really made a positive contribution. And she said, well, the house needs repainting. So I took a week off and I repainted the house. And that gave me such a sense of satisfaction, like, OK, I can really do something and the world changes. And so that was really the only time that I felt that discouraged. But I turned it into something productive and we saved thousands of dollars from having other people paint the house. But I’ve described before how I sort of feel that the work that we’re trying to do, the work to try to help people heal trauma, to try to have spiritual experiences. It’s about a response to the Holocaust. It’s a response to people dehumanizing others. It’s a response to fundamentalism, and so I always felt that my troubles were so tiny in comparison to what it could be. [00:22:02][71.9]

Ronan: [00:22:08] It’s been said that anyone who maintains absolute standards of good and evil is dangerous, as dangerous as a maniac with a loaded revolver. In fact, the person who maintains absolute standards of good and evil usually is the maniac with the revolver. And I would posit that this is emblematic of one of the biggest challenges in modern Western medicine. To be clear, I’m not criticizing modern Western medicine. It almost single handedly has been the driver of the fact that life expectancy across the globe has doubled from roughly 40 years of age to 80 years of age. And the path it has taken to get here involved an incredible amount of innovation and rigor and discipline. And it paid off. But the expense of that innovation and rigor and single minded focus on the scientific method has come at the expense of open mindedness and possibility. I witnessed this firsthand when we started Canadian cannabis clinics in 2014, 90 plus percent of the physicians that saw our booth at the conference we launched that didn’t just not engage with us. They gave us a wide berth to go around us. Cannabis to them wasn’t medicine. It didn’t fit nicely into the box of one molecule, one outcome, which the scientific method is largely constructed around. And of course, there was the stigma. But fast forward a few years and attitudes have changed. Not through the scientific method, but from hands on objective experience. Almost uniformly, all of the 40 plus physicians that now work at Canadian cannabis clinics report that cannabis is the single most effective medicine they’ve prescribed in terms of improving the quality of lives of their patients. So it’s not altogether surprising that psychedelic medicine has faced similar challenges. But the experience with cannabis and the data that’s coming out around psychedelics, as well as the continued emergence of integrative medicine advanced by people such as Dr. Andrew Weil, which places mind and spirit as equally important as body in the medical sphere, are changing some of the assumptions of allopathic medicine. And that’s a good thing, not because the scientific method is flawed, but because our ability to measure is not yet effective enough to deny the possibility of other dynamics in our health. [00:24:32][143.9]

Ronan: [00:24:37] This podcast is called Field Tripping: Epic Trips in Psychedelics, probably a great time to speak about some of your more profound experiences with psychedelics, for one. Have you found your psychedelic experiences, reaffirmed these commitments? Not in the “I’ve had such a positive experience and therefore this should happen”, but in terms of a sort of deeper spiritual level of realizing on a very emotional personal level that this is your calling, this is what you’re meant to do or? [00:25:06][29.3]

Rick: [00:25:06] Yeah, I’ll share one story of when I turned twenty one. Now this is nineteen seventy four. So I had dropped out of college so I was by myself on my twenty first birthday and so I thought OK, what perfect thing I can do is just take LSD. That, that would be a great thing to do. And I lived, we had a little house that was that we rented very rundown little house but it was at the end of a dead end street. Now I should also add to put this all in context, that my girlfriend’s father had been in the Air Force in World War Two and he was part of the group that dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If there would have been a third plane, he would have been in it. And so where I was was in Sarasota, Florida, and I was thinking about a lot of this nuclear war. And Sarasota is an hour south of Tampa and Tampa is where US runs its wars out of. And there’s a lot of underground hangars for planes that have nuclear weapons on them. So I decide that I’m going to take LSD during the day. Now, a lot of people take it at night, but I thought, OK, I’m turning twenty one. I’m going to celebrate this transition. I’m going to take a big dose of LSD and what you do a lot of times this is back in the olden days with records and turntables and you can put a bunch of records on the turntable and then one would get done and then the next one would fall down in the next. So you could have a sequence of things. So I was very absorbed listening to this one album. And then it was over and there was just this period of silence. And, you know, I wasn’t connecting in my mind that this was going to be, now, another album was coming out, just so deep into my thoughts, super deep into my thoughts. And then I heard a noise that made me think it was an air raid siren. I thought, OK, this is an air raid siren, and I’m like, oh, my God, I’m just turning twenty one. I have my whole life in front of me. But this is not the right time for an air raid siren. It must be the Russians are dropping the bomb on McGill. So my mind was like, this is it, I’m going to die. And I thought, well, if I only have a few minutes to live when they drop the bomb on Tampa, I should I have to cram as much life as I can into these few minutes. So I thought, all right, what I’m going to do is I’m going to walk out of the house, down the road towards the direction of Tampa so that when the bombs explode, I will see it. So I walk out of the house. Now, this does sound foolish to people listening to it, but I thought I was dying. I thought there was going to be vow out. But I’m still hearing this air raid siren. I walk out of the house and suddenly, as I was just thinking about my imminent demise, I was just noticing how incredibly gorgeous all the foliage was and how a lot of times when you’re in nature, it just sort of blurs into one thing. But for me, at least so. But this was not like that. This was like I could pick out the enormous variation in the shades of green in the different kind of trees there, flowers. We had a passion flower that was over our front door. As I’m walking out and down the road, I’m just thinking of how incredibly beautiful and varied nature is and all the different varieties and colors. And then I sort of looked at the sky and I just thought, wow, this is so beautiful. The clouds are so incredibly evocative. And the deep blue behind the white clouds. And and then I was hearing all the sounds of the birds and all of the nature. And it just I felt like I came alive in this hyper vigilant way, in a way, but not from fear, but super peaceful. And so I felt like I had really was seeing the world for the first time in its complexity and with all of the information flooding in me in different ways. And then just as I’m realizing that this is such a beautiful situation, then the air raid siren goes away. And I started hearing a guitar and I started hearing drums. And I’m like, oh, my God, I misinterpreted the music of the next album for this air raid siren. And I thought, how dumb am I? But then I thought, wow, what a relief. Now I’m not actually dying. I’m going to have my whole life ahead of me. But the sort of combination of psychedelics and the aware- LSD and the awareness of death. Had helped me to have a deeper appreciation of the world deeper than I had ever had it before. And so as that faded, as I couldn’t keep up that intensity, even though I was still on LSD, I no longer thought I was actually dying, that I felt something sad, the loss of this hyper awareness. And so why I’m sharing this story is that that sense of hyper awareness, that deeper perception of of the range of variety and beauty of nature has always stayed with me. And it felt like it was due to this combination of LSD and the awareness of death. Now, I’ve been reading a lot about Carlos Castaneda at the time and always talked about how you should be aware of death over your left shoulder. The more you are aware of death, the more you can appreciate life. [00:30:48][341.6]

Ronan: [00:30:51] There’s a bunch of interesting stuff in there for sure. I can’t imagine that moment of awareness of being like, oh, wait, no, no, that’s just Sgt. Pepper, that that’s not the end of the world. I was speaking with Matt Johnson yesterday from Johns Hopkins, who I presume you know as well. And this is a great opportunity to get your thoughts on this, because we got into the philosophical side of things, which is what’s your perspective like, the experience you were having? And maybe the answer is it’s one in the same. But I kind of live in a world where I see that as the drugs kind of literally opening our eyes, like enhancing the acuity of the intent of our brain and our eyes and our bodies and our emotions and everything that makes up the physical and ethereal sense of humanity just receiving more like we’re just open up to a new level of reality that we’re not seeing something that’s not there. We’re just perceiving it for the first time. Maybe I want to believe that. But I’m curious to know, like your philosophical impression of that, which was probably felt what you’re seeing was real, but like on a sort of more spiritual basis, is that your perspective of what gets revealed through a psychedelic experience or how do you see that? [00:32:00][69.6]

Rick: [00:32:01] Well, I do think that that I was able to see a deeper reality. Aldous Huxley, when he first started talking about psychedelics, he talked about the brain as a reducing valve, that we have so much incoming perceptions, also internal from our own body that we don’t know what to focus on. We focus on those things that we think are important for our survival or are you know getting ahead, but that we tune a lot of things out. And so what’s happening with with psychedelics is that they open up this reducing valve so you get more there. This reminds me, actually, Sasha Shulgin, his father, who is the psychedelic chemist, that sort of- godfather of MDMA, rediscovered it. But he described how his first psychedelic experience was with mesclun. And it was this incredible mystical experience. But what he realized is that it wasn’t a mesclun experience. It was a human experience that was catalyzed by the mesclun. And that a lot of times in the 60s, I think one of the big mistakes that people made was they said you can only have these experiences with psychedelics. There’s certain things that only psychedelics can show you, which is a fundamental mistake. You can get there in many other different ways, fasting or meditation or gratuitous grace or all these different kind of alternative ways. Because what that does is it strengthens the idea that these experiences are not just coming from the catalyst, that they’re catalyzing what’s innate within us. And that was Sasha’s sense of his first mesclun experience, is that he was experiencing who he was in a deeper way because of what the mesclun had been able to see, now at the same time, my experience was also mixed up with a delusion. I was not accurately perceiving this air raid siren. I was not accurately perceiving that there was there was not actually Russian planes about to bomb Tampa. So I don’t think that we can say that everything that you experience under psychedelics is true or real or deeper than normal, but that there’s mixtures of all these things and that we have to separate it out. So I think to go one step further. Is that when people have an experience of God or some message that they’re getting from some spirit or something like that, you should never assume that it’s 100 hundred percent true because it’s always filtered through our own subjectivity. So I think we have to be very careful about thinking that psychedelics reveal, quote, the truth with a capital T. [00:34:48][167.5]

Ronan: [00:34:49] Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. If I was going to try and like, visualize that, I’d imagine kind of like the ego as a as a prism. And with life and experience, it probably gets covered with dust and color and all that kind of stuff. And temporarily, psychedelics may remove some of that dust and color. So you have a clearer light, but it’s not an unfiltered light. It just means it’s potentially less filtered than you had before. [00:35:11][22.3]

Rick: [00:35:12] Yeah, that’s a really good image. I think the other thing to move into therapy for a second here is that a lot of times under psychedelics, people have memories of things that they had not remembered before or that they remember in greater detail. And a lot of times these memories and the expression of the memories and the emotions connected with the memories and the physical sensations connected with the memories are part of the healing process. So I think the question can be, are these memories real? You know? What if somebody remembers reincarnation, is that real or they remember childhood sexual abuse that they had put out of their mind or something that did that really happen? I think from a therapeutic perspective, which is where I come from more than a philosophical perspective, so that experiencing those memories and the emotions and the physical sensations connected with those memories can be profoundly therapeutic. Regardless of whether the memory was, quote, true or not, it could be a symbolic representation of something that you still need to work through. [00:36:22][70.3]

Ronan: [00:36:23] Yeah no one hundred percent, I remember when I started working with Erwin Perlman, the gentleman I work with, and one of the things he talks about is, you know, nightmares. Nightmares are a perfect example. It’s like when you wake up from a nightmare, you are physically scared. You had the experience because our whole experience of life is expressed in conduit, if that’s a word, through our eyes, through our ears, through our skin, through our perception. Right. If you cut into someone’s eye and look into their optic nerve, you don’t see a picture, you see an electrical signal that your brain then translates into what you perceive, you know. So every experience is real. By that token. Right. And so, you know, just because they’re more or less transient doesn’t make them any less real and less impactful. [00:37:07][44.2]

Rick: [00:37:08] Now, if you would want me to share another experience. So this one is, I would say, more difficult. My girlfriend at the time was living in a different city. You know, she didn’t want me to sleep with anybody else, but I went ahead and did. And then she found out about it and ended the relationship. So it was very sad. And so I decided that I would take a bunch of LSD and go in the floatation tank. I had a flotation tank at my house, which I used a lot, and I felt like I’ve got to work through this because maybe I’m not good enough for love. I’ll never find love. I have to sort of get to the heart of this. So I took a bunch of LSD, I’d say like three hundred fifty four hundred micrograms of LSD. So pretty major dose and went into floatation tank. I ended up spending 17 hours in the tank, but I went through this period where it was in some ways very close to psychosis, in a sense, where I had this memory that that she was going to call or something about picking up her stuff. And that didn’t happen. And so I told myself that she was potentially committing suicide and that I should get out of the tank and that I should try to contact her and see what was going on and reach out to her and all that stuff. But I knew that I shouldn’t get out of the tank. I should just sort of sit with it. And over the course of a bunch of hours, the story that I had told myself that she was potentially committing suicide and that this would be a terrible thing. And over a bunch of hours, I came to recognize that it was I was worried that I couldn’t live without her. It wasn’t that she was committing suicide, that I was seeing it completely opposite you know this projection, that that’s how I meant like psychosis, that this was like I was projecting my own insecurities. Now, she was the one that that was couldn’t live without me and was going to commit suicide. And so and so it took hours and hours for me to finally figure that out, that as I just sat with it, that I was really worried that I could never live without her. And after I kind of recognized that. And then I looked at that I need to be more honest. If I’m going to sleep with somebody else, I should say so. If I’m not going to I shouldn’t, if I say that I shouldn’t do it. So and I recognize how much self-hatred there was that I was directing against myself. And so I ended up thinking about how I need to accept myself and I need to not so much get wallow in the self-hatred but but develop the courage to be differently in the future. But I realized that the self-hatred I imaged it as if it was like a fishhook with barbs in it that was in my cells that there was this poison like fish hook that I was trapped and that this was going to give me cancer. And once I kind of accepted what I had done and accepted myself and said, OK, you can go on and learn from this and be different. I had this image of these fish hooks, the barbs that were in the cells somehow or other relaxing and the fish hook pulling out of each of the cells. And then I had this sense of this like radiation, it was like this flash of light, multiple flashes of light that were like going after any remaining little fish hooks or cancer that that had been started. [00:40:25][196.7]

Ronan: [00:40:26] Did you have any awareness of where the self-hatred came from or where the behaviors that led you to sleep with this other person came from? Because like, you know, it sounds like there’s like a transcendence of like letting go of it and forgiving yourself. But, you know, often I found through my work or meditation or psychedelics, you kind of get the insight of like there’s there’s the root cause or one of the root causes that kind of led to that behavior in the first place. [00:40:56][29.8]

Rick: [00:40:57] Well, you know, we had not had an understanding that we should be monogamous even when we were living together. But and when she had moved away for a couple of months, you know, we had not had this agreement and and I had slept with other people and I would tell her about it, but that was causing her more and more pain. And so then she said, well, I’m coming home in a couple of months. Why don’t you now agree to not sleep with anybody and you know, and I didn’t want to do it, but I did. I lacked the courage to say, no, I don’t want to do that. [00:41:33][36.5]

Ronan: [00:41:34] You had mentioned in our last conversation one other experience that I found, because when you talked about it viscerally, I could see it and feel like the energy. I don’t know if it was it may have been around the time of one of your first experiences with ketamine or your first ketamine experience. But I think you you were sharing an experience of being, you know, overseeing some of the rallies at Nuremberg, because I know the Holocaust is featured prominently in your inspiration and probably a lot of your psyche and epigenetics. And I found that one, if you wouldn’t mind sharing that experience. I thought that was quite profound and impactful. [00:42:10][36.4]

Rick: [00:42:11] Well, this was actually a two day experience. The first day DMT, the second day ketamine. Group of us were at Esslin. We were going to do DMT, which I had never done before, smoking DMT. And the way we do it as one person would smoke, takes about 10 minutes. You fall back and you have these whole series of visions, then you come back and then you tell your story about what happened for another 10, 15 minutes or something like that. And then you pass the pipe to the next person and you go around. But during my DMT experience, I had this sense that I was just, you know, connected to the universe, connected to this big part of everything. It was just goes back to the big bang, comes up through evolution. And I’m part of the sweep of history. And and then I realized that in the deepest part of where I think it’s me, which is basically my mind talking to myself, that I’m doing that in a way using words that I didn’t develop, that millions of people have developed the English language for very long periods of time. And even before that, just developing language at all. There’s no this super private, just me that even the just me inner space is interwoven with everything. And then I had the thought, well, if everything’s part of you and you’re part of everything, then Hitler is part of you and you have to own that. That it’s not separate. And that was just an extremely difficult thing to come to grips with. This is where I really value the logical mind, which I think has led me ahead of my emotions. And so the logic was, yeah, if you’re part of everything and everything is part of you, then you’re Hitler is part of you and you have to own that. But emotionally, that was devastating. And so that really spun me sort of into a depression that whole day. And then that next evening we got together again and we were going to do ketamine. But ketamine, we did a muscular injection. It lasts for like an hour. So it doesn’t sort of fit that passing the pipe like that. So we did it separately without my intention just opening up to whatever it was. All of a sudden, I was hovering above and behind Hitler as he’s doing one of these Nuremberg rallies. And I was thinking, how do I get into his head? How do I try to have him realize that what he’s doing is not rational? It’s very destructive. It’s not good for him. And so as I was thinking about that, I noticed then something different that was I’d never seen before. And I noticed something about the Heil Hitler salute. So he would do Heil Hitler and then everybody that was there would do it back to him. And while that was happening, they would go back and forth and back and forth. And so I felt that it was the one pushing the energy to the many, the many combining all of their energies and pushing it back to the one and then the one pushing it out and then all of them doing it back. And it felt like this vibration that was getting higher and higher and higher, the intensity as they repeated this over and over and over. And I started getting panicky and I had the image of these bubbles that were rising underwater and that these were fear bubbles and that if these bubbles crack the surface, if they overcome my consciousness and I just turned away in fear that I’d never be able to address this evil or this, how do I get into Hitler’s head or how do we change the thing so that these genocide doesn’t happen again? And so with ketamine, I was able to recognize and have this other thought, which is that you can still breathe. Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic, but it doesn’t interfere with respiration. So I thought, OK, just breathe, just breathe. Maybe you can take in more of this fear. And so as I started breathing, I felt like I was getting control of my fear and these bubbles were no longer moving to the surface. And then once I could get in control of my fear then I was there looking at Hitler and I was realizing that it couldn’t be done. That the way to get into his head, the way for him to open up is he had to be willing, the same way that you can’t just dose people and think everybody is going to have a great trip. And so I realized that I couldn’t get inside Hitler, but that there was an opportunity here that he was getting so much out of it. But he was getting more than all the people were getting that we’re giving away their power to him. That rather than changing the one, that the strategy, even though it seemed like it would be a lot more work, is to change the many and help them process their fears. There’s anxieties there’s loneliness, help them have spiritual experiences so that they’re not as willing to give away their power to somebody that manipulates their fears and anxieties. And so that’s where it really became clear to me that Maps’ strategy. And this was, again, a little bit even I knew that I was planning to start Maps, hadn’t started it yet, but that it had to be mass mental health that we have to work on, know healing as many people who we can heal, who are willing to do that, and that there will always be these madmen or these egomaniacs or people that don’t want to heal, that just are trapped in this. They get too far along. They don’t want to do anything but that we need mass mental health. And therefore that means that we need a dual track strategy, which is on the one hand, the medicalization of psychedelics, but on the other hand, drug policy reform so that more people can have access to these things, even if they don’t have a clinical diagnosis, that we all need this healing. And so I think what we’re hoping to see over the next 50 years or so is going to be the bulk of humanity. Through globalization, through the Internet, through realizing how interwoven we are, but also through hopefully addressing the fears, anxieties, the lack of resources that we can use our technology to create a better world for everybody, and then people can relax and really get into having these deeper experiences where they feel their interconnectedness. [00:48:22][370.7]

Ronan: [00:48:24] It’s you know, I guess, ultimately up to us to figure out how to navigate those and be OK with that, but still pursue, you know, the the positive things in life. I don’t know. I don’t know how to unpack that. I haven’t had time to digest it. But there’s something really powerful. And it also takes me back to, you know, that one quote by Tom Robbins where I said, There’s no such thing as a weird person. Some people just need more understanding. And the truth is, is we probably all need just more understanding of ourselves. And in that pursuit, we will develop a better understanding of others as well. Rick, thank you so much for making so much time available to us. I found this fascinating. I’ve really appreciated you sharing your story and your insights and your personal experiences. [00:49:05][41.6]

Rick: [00:49:07] Yeah. Thank you Ronan for this opportunity. I really appreciate it. [00:49:10][2.7]

Ronan: [00:49:14] After my second conversation with Rick, three key things stood out to me. First, Abraham Lincoln once said, Be sure to put your feet in the right place, then stand firm. And there is no one who embodies that more than Rick, although we still have a long way to go for psychedelics to be a mainstream form of medicine. It’s important to reflect on the decades prior that brought us to where we are today. Rick has spent 18 years from the inception of Maps to the first IRB approved study on psychedelics and then took home another 12 years to the end of their Phase Two meeting with the FDA. Clearly, he put his feet in the right place and has been standing firm. It’s important to know your why. For Rick, he was motivated by the intersection of a number of personal and family experiences from the Holocaust to the events in his life. Knowing the reason you’re on the path that you’re on makes it easier to stay committed to it. Finally, psychedelics are a catalyst for what is innate within us, and there are several ways to have similar experiences, whether through meditation or spiritual practices. Regardless of how you get there, psychedelic experiences give us the ability to understand both ourselves and others on a deeper level. However, be careful not to take everything you see as truth. Rick warns that everything we experience is always filtered through our own subjectivity. [00:50:44][89.4]

Ronan: [00:50:53] Thank you for listening to Field Tripping, a podcast dedicated to exploring psychedelic experiences and their ability to affect our lives. I’m your host, Ronan Levy. Until next time, stay curious. Breathe properly. And remember, every day is a field trip if you let it be on. Field Tripping is created by Ronan Levy and produced by Conrad Page. Our researcher is Sharon Bhella. Special thanks to Quill. And of course, many thanks to Rick Doblin for joining me today. To learn more about what Maps is up to, be sure to check out maps.org. Finally, subscribe to our podcast. Sign up for our newsletter at FieldTripping.FM. [00:50:53][0.0]