Far Out: Psychedelic History with Rick Doblin, Founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is not your typical drug policy reform organization. Since 1986, MAPS has worked as a nonprofit pharmaceutical company to turn psychedelic drugs into prescription medicines to treat afflictions — including postraumatic stress disorder, pain, depression, and even addiction — for which conventional therapies offer little relief. The term “prescription psychedelics” may sound like something out of a 70s science fiction story — politically impossible and culturally strange — until you hear it explained in context by Rick Doblin, MAPS’ founder and executive director.

Points is pleased to have had the opportunity to speak with Doblin about his organization’s relationship to past psychedelic research efforts, its major goals and day-to-day operations (Part II), and the philosophy of addiction and recovery that informs its work (Part III). We proudly present below the first installment of a three-part interview we will showcase over the next week in celebration of MAPS’ 25th anniversary this year. Today, we’ll hear about Doblin’s thoughts on the organization’s first 25 years and MAPS’ place within the larger context of psychedelic movements past and present.  

Points: Hi, Rick. We’re really glad to have you here. First, could you explain a little bit about MAPS’ work and its mission? In other words, what does MAPS do on a daily basis and what do you want that work to accomplish in a larger sense?

MAPS Founder Rick Doblin

Rick Doblin: MAPS’ mission is to conduct scientific research into psychedelics and marijuana and their therapeutic potential, to develop them into legal prescription medicines. A lot of our work is trying to design studies, get permission for studies, raise money for studies, and then conduct them. And then our broader mission is to educate the public honestly about the risks and benefits of these drugs and to establish a network of psychedelic clinics whereby these substances would actually be administered to patients. What we’re finding is that unfortunately, because the drugs are controversial and because the drugs are illegal, there’s a lot of difficulty, particularly with marijuana, in getting permission to do the research. And though we can get permission with psychedelics, there are challenges with funding. But the most important thing to say about this is that the FDA has decided to put science before politics unlike the DEA, NIDA, or the drug czar’s office. So we have the opening, and our mission is really to try to take the fact that all drugs have risks and benefits and develop contexts whereby the benefits of psychedelics and marijuana can be taken advantage of to help people in a wide range of uses.

Read more

Dealing with “Weeds”

Weeds' Drug-Dealing Protagonist, Nancy Botwin: Probably Not Calling the Cable Company

Every year, around July or August, I subscribe to Showtime specifically to watch Weeds, the season finale of which aired on Monday. I’ll call and cancel my subscription after I’ve drained the maximum entertainment value from the $15 Showtime adds to my cable bill each month by re-watching the whole season, binge-style, OnDemand. If I can do it before this billing cycle ends, I might even re-watch the entire series, which I own in its entirety on DVD. At this point, you probably think I’m a crazy person (or at least an obsessive), and you may be correct in that assessment, generally. But in my Weeds watching, at least, I’m just an ex-grad student.

The First Drug Dealing Novel (Want to Fight About It?)

Weeds played a prominent role in my 2008 M.A. thesis, and I’ve allowed it an equally prominent spot in my TV schedule (and effect on my wallet) ever since. I began my thesis by tracing the origins of what I call “drug dealing narratives” or “the drug dealing genre” from proto-generic tales of the opium-laced “white slave trade” to the genre’s first true inhabitant, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, published in 1925 (reasonable people may disagree on this contention, but I’d like to see a full-on fight in the comments section; throw the first punch, and I’ll hit back). But the jewels in the thesis’ 150 page crown are discussions of the ways in which the genre changed when it moved to the small screen with the advent of television dealing narratives: namely, The Wire (2002 – 2008) and Weeds (2005 – present).

Writing about The Wire makes for great conversation filler and arguably led to my future employment in drug law reform. But, while no doubt David Simon made the more complex, politically challenging, and intellectually stimulating series, Jenji Kohan’s Weeds was not only more fun to write about but, to my mind, suffers mainly from its frequent comparisons to its more “authentic” generic predecessor (on which Weeds actually comments in the Season 7 episode “Object Impermanence;” Pablo Schreiber, Nick Sobotka on The Wire, also played Nancy’s supplier and main love interest this season). Most importantly, though, Weeds did a much better job of proving my argument.

Read more

The Elephant in the Newsroom: Drug Policy and Michele Bachmann’s Migraines

Ed. Note–This post originally appeared on August 1. We removed it briefly while pursuing an opportunity to speak with Rep. Bachmann about the questions posed below. Unfortunately, the Bachmann camp did not respond to our query. We welcome readers’ insights into the candidate’s stances on these issues and urge fellow bloggers and mainstream journalists to ask Bachmann about her approach to drug policy – and pain management praxis in particular – if given the chance.

Tucker Carlson: Trouble-Maker

Points has been investigating the regulation and increasing criminalization of opioid pain medications in the U.S. with posts like Siobhan Reynolds‘  on DEA meddling in pain management practices, Joe Spillane‘s on historical accounts of law enforcement interference in medicine, and Kenneth Tunnell‘s look at the first OxyContin scare. Conservative political news site the Daily Caller (run by formerly bow-tied pundit Tucker Carlson) alleged in late July that Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann takes “all sorts of pills” to deal with “incapacitating” migraines. Since narcotic pain relievers are one of several tools in many a migraineur’s survival kit (as well as that of at least one president), that story got us thinking about how the congresswoman’s experience with chronic pain might affect her approach to drug policy. The response to the allegations also illuminates the way in which media discourses work to reproduce normative representations of gender and power, even when media commentators attempt to upend those discourses.

Read more