by Dean Becker
by Philip Guffy
Guest: Dr. Rick Doblin, President of the Multidisciplinary
Psychedelic Studies, http://www.maps.org
(Audio Track) Intro – My name is Dean Becker; I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.
Dean: Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. Our guest tonight will be Dr. Rick Doblin, the head of MAPS. But first up, let’s hear from a couple of our reporters; and initially, let’s hear from Winston Francis who brings us the “official government truth”:
Francis: The following program is closed-captioned for the thinking impaired:
“You know, it’s funny. Most drug legalization advocates consider themselves to be liberal or to the left. Liberals believe that the government has a responsibility to basically take care of its citizens, but if you take away the government’s authority to enforce drug laws, the government cannot be responsible for the care and treatment of those who choose to use this new freedom unwisely. It is unreasonable to think that every American will choose to act responsibly with his or her right to unregulated addictive narcotics. It is likely that a substantial number of citizens would fall victim to the addictive qualities of these narcotics and become drug addicts. So what would we do about this new problem? The government already has several initiatives in place to prevent this from happening and to protect these citizens. These initiatives are called drug laws. To tell the government that we do not need drug laws is to declare that we do not need this protection, that we will take responsibility for our own actions and that we are prepared to leave those who fall victim to addiction twisting in the wind. Liberal? I don’t think so. Maybe it is time to reassess your beliefs. This has been the ‘official’ government truth.
And with our freedom comes responsibility for all of us.”
Dean: Next, let’s hear from our reporter, Steve Nolin, on a great way that you can help to end drug prohibition.
Nolin: With the end of the year come rankings of the “best of,” “worst of,” and sometimes “best forgotten.” So without further ado, I’d like to mention the top two published “letter to the editor” writers of 2004, according to drugsense.org. These letters are written by ordinary people like you and me. First off, we have Robert Sharpe. Robert has 171 letters published last year that we know of, raising his career total to an amazing 1,177 published – very likely a world record for any writer. Coming in a close second for most published letters of 2004 is Kirk Muse of Mesa, Arizona. He has 155 letters to see, and we are hoping to see more in 2005. You can take a look of some of their writings at mapinc.org. That’s m-a-p-i-n-c.o-r-g. Even though the net has published a lot of great articles recently, there is nothing like the good old-fashioned hard copy of the local rag. So get those fingers tapping out there, because the only way to change a bad policy is to get enough people to sound the call for reform. Tips from Robert can be found at the mapinc website. That’s m-a-p-i-n-c.org. This is Steve Nolin for the Drug Truth Network.
Dean: Okay, now we’ll get down to business. Our guest for tonight, Dr. Rick Doblin, the president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Their website: maps.org. Rick, I thank you for joining us. If you would, quickly introduce yourself to my listeners.
Doblin: Yes, hi, I’m Rick Doblin, PhD, from the Kennedy School of Government, and I founded and directed MAPS, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies; and we’re slowly evolving into a nonprofit pharmaceutical company trying to develop psychedelics and marijuana into FDA-approved prescription medicines.
Dean: Rick, there have been several recent developments as 2004 was closing out in regards to medical marijuana as well as MDMA. Would you summarize those for us, please.
Doblin: Yes, it has been actually the result of many, many years of efforts that have culminated just in the last month or so. For the last 3-1/2 years, MAPS has had a strategy for medical marijuana, which is basically trying to break the government monopoly on supply. In order to develop marijuana into a prescription medicine, what we need is our own independent source of supply. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has a monopoly. They grow very poor quality marijuana. They are charged with trying to look at what is bad with marijuana, so they are not really very interested in studies that look at what is good with marijuana. And the drug czar’s office and the DEA really use the monopoly as a way to break research and prevent it from happening. So, for 3-1/2 years we have been trying to get a license at UMass Amherst, where we will sponsor a marijuana production facility at the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, with a Dr. Lyle Craker. And we have also been trying to import 10 grams of marijuana from the Dutch Office of Medicinal Cannabis which is set up to export marijuana. And also, we have been trying to purchase 10 grams from NIDA, also for vaporizer research. And 17 months went by with no answer on the importation or the effort to buy from NIDA. Three and a half years went by where the DEA had not issued a “yes” or “no” on the UMass Amherst. So, what we finally did was in July we sued DEA in the D.C. Court of Appeals – the circuit court – and charged unreasonable delay. And I should just tell your listeners and you, Dean, that it was such a pleasure to finally go on the offense up against the DEA and to sue them after being intimidated by them, ignored by them – to realize that our system is set up so that there are some of these mechanisms for redress of grievances. So we sued the DEA, and in November, late November, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in part with what we were saying. They said that the DEA must answer by December 22 why they had taken so long to do nothing, basically, for 3-1/2 years regarding our UMass Amherst application. And on the other hand, it was frustrating. They dismissed our case about the unreasonable delay for 17 months for the efforts to import and to purchase from the government. What we ended up doing was, basically, getting this result where the DEA had to say something about UMass Amherst. So instead of waiting until the 22nd to discuss why it was reasonable for them, in their view, to take so long, they recognized that would be really difficult. So on December 10th, they issued a ruling which was called technically “an order to show cause.” They listed all the reasons why they were going to say “no” and said that that would be final unless we sued them in the D.C. administrative law judge hearing. So we are going to sue them. The application requesting that is due January 10th, and this is going to be another very public effort to try to raise the issue of why the DEA is blocking medical marijuana research. Now, the other interesting thing that happened is that the arguments that the DEA are using are just so pathetically weak that you can see why they preferred their strategy to do nothing, because basically they have got one argument that says that international treaty obligations prevent them from giving a license, that there has to be this monopoly supply. That’s so patently false, because in England there is GW Pharmaceuticals – which is a private firm, grows marijuana, has a license from the Home Office, makes marijuana extracts and tries to develop them into approved medicines. Both in England and in Canada, they just received notice that they are going to get approval for their product, Sativex. So the International Narcotics Control Board, which evaluates every year and issues a report on international treaty compliance, has not once since 1998 when the license was given by the Home Office to GW – the International Narcotics Control Board has never objected to that. So clearly this is not against international treaty obligations, but the government – the DEA in particular – doesn’t really care. They just want to delay. The other argument they had – this is the classic Kaffkaesque Catch-22 argument – what they said was that it’s not against the public interest for them to deny us this opportunity to do research by giving us the license for UMass Amherst. It’s not against the public interest – the reason is because if the research were to be done, the DEA police and lawyers are claiming that the research would show that marijuana is so harmful that it could not possibly be made into a medicine. And in that same paragraph they also say that there are no Phase II studies that have been approved by the FDA with marijuana because it’s so dangerous. And, therefore, because the research – which the DEA acknowledges has not been done – but they can predict that it would be so bad that marijuana could not be approved. Therefore, it’s not against the public interest to prevent the research because the research would show it’s bad. So here we have the DEA lawyers saying that they can predict the outcome of research before it even happens, and what is so ironic is that they are so wrong in that same paragraph. There are Phase II studies approved by the FDA with smoked marijuana currently going on right now and also approved by the DEA. So the DEA lawyers are either consciously lying or completely ignorant about what is actually happening. So I think that we can make a good case, and our role is to really make DEA obstruction as public as possible. Now one of the other things that we were able to do which was tremendous is that early in December there was – or the end of November – there was a Supreme Court case, Raich vs. Ashcroft, on medical marijuana. And that was basically trying to litigate this question about whether states could legalize medical marijuana and whether the Federal government had supremacy to go in there and bust patients, as the DEA is doing. We filed what is called an “amicus curiae” brief, a friend-of-the-court brief, with the Supreme Court that outlined all the ways in which FDA-approved research is being obstructed by DEA, by drug czar, by NIDA. And so we wanted the justices to know that if they do say that the Federal government has supremacy over the states when it comes to medical marijuana, the rationale they use constantly is that the FDA route is the way to go, medicine should be determined scientifically, and not by legislative action or votes – a position which I pretty much agree with; but in this case what we tried to show is that the FDA route is hopelessly blocked by this Federal monopoly on supply. And during the hearings, Justice Beyer said that exact same thing, that the FDA route is the way to go to develop marijuana; and the lawyer Randy Barnett for the states, for Raich, said “read the amicus curiae brief by Rick Doblin which says that the FDA route is hopelessly obstructed.” Which is tremendous. So that what is happening is that DEA is not able to quietly have it both ways: say that we need more research and block the research. So I predict that over time, with our lawsuit coming up for the administrative hearings about UMass Amherst, the Supreme Court case – and now what has also happened is that DEA on December 10 also rejected the applications for the importation of 10 grams or the purchase of 10 grams. And what they did, ironically, and they bought some time – but basically they sent the letter to the lab that is doing this research. It’s already done, some initial marijuana vaporizer research. Vaporizing – again for your listeners – it heats marijuana up, doesn’t burn it, but almost burns it. You have a temperature that is sufficient to produce a steam. Out of this steam are a lot of the cannabinoids that are liberated, but you don’t get the combustion products. So it’s actually, what I think will be a non-smoking delivery system that we can get through the FDA. I don’t believe that the risks that people perceive of with smoked marijuana – which are vastly exaggerated in terms of harm to the lungs when you use high-potency pot, which the government does not provide. But I think with a vaporizer we will be able to move through the system, the FDA system. So what the DEA said to the lab – which does conduct research for the pharmaceutical industry and has done so for many years, is extremely scientifically proficient – that their license was wrong. Come 17 months and the DEA finally says, “well, they have an analytical lab license, but they actually need a research license.” And that’s going to take 2 to 4 months or so for them to get. There is no way that they won’t get it, because they meet all the DEA criteria for this, and it is just simple paperwork. The DEA is really just trying to come up with whatever reasons they can to delay this, that they need this supposed research license. So that will take 2 to 4 months. We are ready to sue them in the administrative law judge – excuse me, in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals – if they don’t issue a ruling in a certain amount of time about that. Because when the Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed our case about the 17-month delay, they dismissed it with what is called “without prejudice,” which means we can re-file it if a certain amount of time goes by and the DEA has not acted. So we are getting into position in these multiple different ways to try to move marijuana, smoked and vaporized, through the FDA research system. I anticipate it will take $5 to $7 million to do all the research to make it into a prescription medicine, and I think that the government is terrified that it will actually work. They know that marijuana works, and they are trying to deny that as much as possible. So that is where we are at now with medical marijuana.
Dean: Okay, we will be back in one moment with more from Dr. Rick Doblin, the president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, maps.org.
It’s time play “Name that Drug By Its Side Effects”: euphoric mood changes, the rare triggering of acute psychotic episodes, the exacerbation of schizophrenic psychosis in predisposed persons, the lowering of cognitive and psychomotor performance, tolerance; in summary, a low-risk profile is evident. Time’s up. The answer: cannabis, reefer, Thailand tea, Kona gold. Despite the on-going 90 years of drug war, cannabis is still grown, approved, and distributed by agents of the government of the United States of America.
Okay, you are listening to Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network, and our guest for tonight is Dr. Rick Doblin. Rick, one last quick question.
Doblin: Sure, Dean.
Dean: The data provided, the statements made by DEA law judge Francis Young when he said marijuana is perhaps the safest therapeutic agent known to man, can that not be resubmitted in these proceedings?
Doblin: We certainly can mention that, yes. And we can certainly point to the prior administrative law judge history and the hearings and all of the statements. However, our issue is not so much whether marijuana should be rescheduled as a medicine, which was what the prior case was about. And the result of that, even though Francis Young did say that, he made recommendation. The administrative law judges only make recommendations to the head of the DEA; and the head of the DEA rejected that recommendation that marijuana be made available as a prescription medicine. And it ended up going back and forth to the appeals courts, and finally the DEA was able to come up with a set of criteria that they could use to evaluate the research, the data, the information about medical marijuana that would permit them successfully to block medical marijuana being made into a medicine. The only way that it will be made into a medicine is through the FDA. Or through Congress declaring it a medicine, which I don’t see happening. And so our case is just about whether we can get this license to set up our own production facility. Now when I explain about where we are at with psychedelics and psychedelic research, it will become clear how important it is that we break the government monopoly. Because the key difference between marijuana research and psychedelic research is that we have our own independent sources of supply of LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, any psychedelic drug actually that we want to work with. There are lots of people, hundreds of people and organizations around the country, that have licenses by DEA to manufacture Schedule I drugs. There is supposed to be a competitive environment in a production of these substances for research. That’s part of the DEA regs. And so with this independent source of supply, we don’t have to deal with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is committed to finding out what is wrong with these drugs. And for them to be in charge of the supply of drugs for looking at what is good with them, it is hopeless. We had a study that was permitted by the FDA for psilocybin quite a few years ago, for psilocybin and treatment of obsessive/compulsive disorder; and the study is actually now ongoing at the University of Arizona, Tucson. But we spent a year trying to buy 1 gram of psilocybin from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Mental Health, which had supplies on hand. After a year of our trying, they refused to provide it to us. So we finally found – I found a lab willing to make it. We spent $12,250 for 1 gram – the world’s most expensive gram of psilocybin, but we were able to do the study. And so what just happened on the 17th of December is that the FDA has approved a study at Harvard Medical School with MDMA in the treatment of anxiety in advanced cancer patients with 12 months or less estimated survival time. This is a tremendous, tremendous breakthrough. There has not been psychedelic research at Harvard since 1965. Timothy Leary was kicked out in ’63, and one of the students stayed until ’65 and did research. But we are now 40 years since there has been psychedelic research at Harvard. We have been out in the proverbial desert wandering around, psychedelic researchers, for 40 years. We have already approval from Harvard and also from the Leahey Clinic, which is where the cancer patients are going to be coming from, where our oncologist works. So that the breakthrough – which I was going to, I thought, take kind of a quiet approach; and I gave an exclusive to the Washington Post to report it. And it was a really good article on the front page of the “Science” section of the Washington Post on December 27th. That spread beyond what I could have predicted into just a pretty major presentation of this in the media. The AP wire service wrote an article. It was picked up, that or the Washington Post, in over 230 newspapers around the world. It was on CNN. It was on MSNBC. It was the top-5 news item on Yahoo, Comcast and AOL Health News. And it was even presented on the Today Show, with Dr. John Halpern who is the lead psychiatrist on the study, talking about the study on the Today Show. The Food and Drug Law Institute has a newsletter that goes to the pharmaceutical industry. It was mentioned in that. I think the combination of research again at Harvard, of work with the terminally ill, and what we have been able to do – so much of the war on drugs is about fear, so much of Bush and the whole approach here is about fear, is about ruling through fear, intimidating through fear, trying to scare people into wanting strong leaders. The whole drug war is based on exaggerating the risks and creating a sense of fear. And what we need to counteract that with is hope, is excitement, about the potential therapeutic benefits, which are all being suppressed by this massive amount of fear. And so people are more scared of dying than they are of drugs, and this project with MDMA for anxiety in dying cancer patients and the sense that we are able to return to Harvard, grabbed the media’s attention. It was all over the world. Now we also have a study of MDMA for post-traumatic stress disorder going on down in Charleston, South Carolina, right now. We asked the FDA for several things in order to expand that study and the FDA, to their credit, really focuses on science over politics. And they gave us permission to do two important things. One is that the placebo subjects – we have 20 subjects in the MDMA post-traumatic stress disorder study. Twelve get MDMA, eight get placebo. And what we now have been given permission to do is after the placebo subjects complete their last follow-up and they are no longer involved in the study, we can offer them the opportunity to take what is called “open label,” meaning it is not double-blind. They can now go through the process and get the two MDMA psychotherapy sessions along with the nondrug psychotherapy, before as preparation and after as integration. So this will make it easier or us to recruit subjects, and it gives us this tremendous opportunity scientifically to have the placebo subjects act as their own control. They get the best treatment that we can give in the course of the experiment, and then we see how well they get; and then we can give those same people that best treatment plus MDMA. And if there are substantial differences in how well they do after each one, it is more likely than not due to the MDMA. Now the other change is that the FDA gave us permission to expand the study, which had been limited to crime-related post-traumatic stress disorder. Now we can open it up to people with war-related post-traumatic stress disorder of 5 years or less duration. Which means that we can now bring in American vets who have post-traumatic stress disorder from the Iraq war, the Afghanistan war; and again what we are trying to do is show that we are offering psychedelics for people who are sympathetic patients from the point of view of the American public, people who might not normally be thought of as taking any kind of interest in psychedelic drugs – people who are dying at the end of life, veterans, people in the military. I think the point we are trying to get across is that it’s not psychedelics limited to some counterculture, psychedelics limited to hippies out for parties; not for party use, but that we can integrate into our culture the use of these altered states of consciousness and that once we do so, we can start demonstrating benefits for all sorts of people. Changing this equation of fear more in the direction of hope. And I hope to both bring these things to prescription use through scientific research to counteract the massive government propaganda, and then also eventually to start whittling away at the support for the drug war.
Dean: Well, Rick, thank you so much for taking time out of this holiday with your kids.
Doblin: Oh, that’s great, Dean, because I really think what we need to do is get the word out and your efforts to do that are really excellent, because the government has such a massive advantage. Oh, let me just say one thing – this is hilarious – about what was so sweet about the publicity about MDMA and the FDA approval of the cancer anxiety study at Harvard. Which is that Comcast has donated $51 million worth of free ad space to the Partnership for a Drug Free America, exclusively for anti-Ecstasy ads over the next 3 years. So $17 million a year of free ad space – the Partnership for a Drug Free America is going to have on Comcast cable. To put out what I would consider to be some of the worst propaganda – MDMA causes holes in your brain, all this kind of stuff that is not accurate. And that’s what Comcast is doing. But because there was such publicity, Comcast had as one of their top-five stories – FDA approval of Ecstasy research. To see that on Comcast knowing that they had also tried to spread so much of the propaganda – it was just sweet revenge right there.
Dean: I went to visit the Drug Free America website. I was trying to get some of their people to come on the show. Of course that didn’t happen. They had a poll up, and two of the choices were marijuana is harmless and the other is that it’s an effective medicine. But those two alone earned 82%, on the Drug Free America website. So I don’t know what legitimacy they are trying to stand on.
Doblin: You can see how they are trying to slant it, too, because nothing is harmless. So to try to say marijuana is harmless, they are trying to get it so that people don’t choose that option. You could say the risks are not so great, or the risks are minimal compared to the benefits; but they try to get us into the trap of saying – because they exaggerate and say that there is only harms and no benefits, they want us to say there are only benefits and no harms. And then they can go ahead and criticize us for being unrealistic. So we have to be careful not to fall into that trap.
Dean: Rick, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you the name of your website and how our listeners might learn more.
Doblin: Thank you, Dean. It’s www.maps - like maps of the world, m-a-p-s.org. So the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Study – we have loads of information, and what we are trying to do is drug development in the open. It’s the opposite of what the pharmaceutical industry does, because the pharmaceutical industry – there are different companies competing with each other to try to be first to market a drug. So they can make a lot of money. Because marijuana is not patentable, because MDMA is not patentable, our approach is really to try to develop these drugs for the public good in a nonprofit context, so people get – people make donations and they get tax deductions for their donation, but they don’t get investment. They don’t get stock. You know, we’re not out to make money; and in fact, once it is approved – because there is no patent on it, there will be generic manufacturers. We’re just trying to make this culturally accepted and create legal context for its use. So there’s the protocols for the MDMA studies, there’s our lawsuits against the DEA, there is all sorts of information on the website. We do need to grow. We are appealing to people to become MAPS members, and so information about that is also available on the website.
Dean: I want to recommend that people do investigate it. You guys stand for truth and dignity in regards to drug policy; and I thank you, Rick Doblin.
Doblin: Well, thank you very much, Dean. And now I’ll go back to reading stories to my kids; and the other point I think – and this is just maybe a big leap, but I think family values – this whole idea the government wants to do is to present drugs as somehow inconsistent with family values. And I really think that is totally not the case.
Dean: Thank you, Rick.
Doblin: Thank you, Dean.
Dean: Okay. Some quick program notes. Next guest, Steve Bloom, editor of High Times magazine. And as always because of drug prohibition, I remind you – you don’t know what is in that bag. Please be careful.
For the Drug Truth Network, and our affiliates in the U.S. and Canada, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage, the unvarnished truth. This show is produced at the Pacifica Studios of KPFT, Houston. Tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.