At Wonderland: Miami last week, one of the final events was a press conference with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies featuring its founder Dr. Rick Doblin and Amy Emerson the chief executive officer at MAPS Public Benefit Corporation.
While MAPS is your standard nonprofit, Emerson works under the umbrella of the subsidiary Public Benefit Corporation to push global regulatory strategy and implementation of research programs. Much of the focus of the programs she is working on is MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.
Microdose founder Patrick Moher started the conversation by asking Doblin if he thought the space would look this way years ago?
“I knew that we were working through the regulatory problems. That we were building public support, working through those kinds of issues,” Doblin replied. “But the idea that there would be massive land grab with patents. That there would be all these for-profit companies and that they would be telling stories – a lot of them will be stories that don’t make clinical sense.”
Doblin elaborated that lack of clinical science or proven efficacy was not scaring off investors at the moment. But he emphasized he wasn’t trying to be a downer and there was a lot to gain from investors and the advocates who moved the chains to this point.
Firstly, Doblin wanted to permit himself to think that back in the day they knew they would succeed, and then there would be so much energy behind the effort like there is today.
“Overall, it’s really good,” Doblin said. “And I think conferences like this are really good to bring the investors with the patient advocates, with the nonprofits, so they can get a deeper sense of what it took to get here and how to not just be focused on money.”
Emerson noted that as she’s watched the space grow since she joined MAPS nearly two decades ago, part of the role of the organization is to remind those now entering the space to look to the standard-bearers that were there the patients in the first place.
“Before we were focused on educating the public, educating patients and educating providers, but now I think we need to educate this ecosystem as well,” Emerson said. “I think there’s a lot of people entering that don’t really understand the history.”
The idea of big money getting into psychedelics shadowed the excitement of the weekend. Some were looking at Microsdose Miami as a kind of 0 AD moment that showed just how crazy things are about to get. Moher didn’t shy away from the topic as event organizer. He asked Doblin how those attempting to enter the space could avoid getting pulled into a suits vs roots conflict?
Doblin argued it’s really all about maximizing patient outcomes.
“If you focus on that, then I think that might be the best way to bring in the money as well,” Doblin argued. “Because then you’ve got the best treatment.”
Doblin noted one commonality with more traditional pharma he found unproven at the moment was attempts to shorten the psychedelic experience in a quest to make it more friendly in a clinical setting by shortening the time demands on staff.
“A bunch of times people have tried to work on shorter-acting psychedelics, or things that fit more than the traditional model of the 50 minute hour or so,” Doblin said. “But I think we’ve got a novel therapeutic approach, and if we get great outcomes, we can then find the traditional way to accommodate what we’re doing instead of squeeze what we’re doing into the old traditional way.”
From there, the MAPS team discussed the hoops of the FDA and the need to train counselors from communities of color as the psychedelic medicine space opens up before opening it up to questions.
Our first question for Doblin was to devil’s advocate to the idea that shorter duration psychedelics would lower the bar for income levels that could take part in therapy, the idea being it’s a lot cheaper to sit in the clinic for four hours instead of eight.
“I think the other part is that assumption – we need to test it out,” Doblin rebutted. “Does a one-hour session do you need eight of them? Or more? There’s a lot of times wherein a psychedelic session, stuff comes up, and you’re not ready for it, and you kind of turn away and then later it comes back. And so there’s the time it builds on itself, and then near the tapering, partly the drugs wearing off and the issues can come to the surface because it’s not quite so strong an experience.”
Doblin doesn’t know that you’re going to have the same thing in one hour, but he’d love to understand it better.
“Let’s do the science and [see] if it proves to be better. I think we can do an awful lot with peer support and training people to heal themselves and do preventative medicine,” Doblin said. “But I would say if people believe that they want to fund the research to do that, we’re all for it. It’s not really been studied before. They’ll guide you into shorter segments. But my personal belief is that longer is better.”
We next asked Doblin for his take on federal protection for indigenous people who use peyote in religious practices and threats of drug tourism destroying the natural supply being used to keep it out of California’s proposed psychedelic decriminalization effort.
“I’m in general respectful of the fact that the Native American church has had so many treaties broken and so much land taken away from them that I can see why they’re overly worried about that,” Doblin told the crowd. “There is a shortage of peyote and so out of deference, I think it’s fine to leave Petoye off.”
Doblin went on to explain there are not that many people that are using it and there are not that many people getting arrested for it, but you can do it and the Native American church can on a federal level. Under federal law, you must have 25% of Indian blood to be a participant in the Native American church ritual.
We next ask Doblin to compare his efforts to help Umass Amhearst Professor Lyle Craker expand the federal supply of research-grade marijuana that started in 2000 and lasted 20 years to his efforts to expand psychedelic research.
“It was worlds different. It was 2000 when we first started working with Professor Craker there was a monopoly on the supply of marijuana by the federal government out of the University of Mississippi under contract NIDA, and it has been since 1968,” Doblin said, arguing that monopoly was the main hurdle in expanding research. “And that’s what’s been used to block research in cannabis. And so it took us from 2000 to a few months ago, where the DEA announced they’re going to give licenses to some other people, including so this just leaves them here.”
Psychedelic doesn’t have that one supplier to bottleneck the space, and the DEA announced a further increase in the supply of research-grade materials for researchers to work.
“The pace of change for psychedelics now is just blindingly fast,” Doblin replied. “Although we’re still years away from getting through, the industry is moving fast. But the pace of medical research is pretty slow. So you could say even though we’ve had phenomenal results, our first phase three study, which replicated our phase two results, which replicated stuff that people were saying in the 70s and 80s. We’re still years away from getting FDA approval. So in that case, it feels slow. But the industry itself, as evidenced by this conference, is a credit to public opinion changes that are pretty remarkable.”
After the dust settled, Doblin hit us up a few days after the conference with his final reflections.
“It was terrific to see the progress in the field with so many for-profit companies, and for MAPS to be so appreciated with loads of meetings about potential partnerships. However, at the same time, I worry about profit-maximization resulting in treatments that reduce the therapy component too much and leave patients without sufficient therapeutic support, Doblin told L.A. Weekly, “The field is very fluid at this point so the discussions at the conference about drug policy reform and drug development being synergistic and not antagonistic were especially important for people to hear.”