The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is a membership-based 501(c)(3) non-profit research and educational organization working to develop psychedelics and marijuana into legal prescription drugs. MAPS was founded in 1986 by Rick Doblin, and is now based in Santa Cruz, California.
MAPS helps scientists design, fund, and obtain regulatory approval for studies of the safety and effectiveness of a number of currently controlled substances. MAPS works closely with government regulatory authorities worldwide such as the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) to ensure that all of its sponsored research protocols conform to ethical and procedural guidelines for clinical drug research. Included in MAPS’ research efforts are MDMA (Ecstasy) for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), LSD and psilocybin for the treatment of anxiety, cluster headaches, and depression associated with end-of-life issues, ibogaine for the treatment of opiate addiction, and alternative delivery systems for medical marijuana such as vaporizers and water pipes. MAPS states that their ultimate goal is to establish a network of clinics where these and other treatments can be provided together with other therapies under the guidance of licensed physicians and therapists.
In addition to its sponsorship of scientific research, MAPS organizes continuing medical education (CME) conferences, sponsors and gives lectures and seminars on the current state of psychedelic and medical marijuana research, participates in community events like music festivals and Burning Man, and publishes a quarterly Bulletin with updates about its ongoing research efforts, legal struggles, and educational initiatives.
The psychoactive properties of LSD were discovered in 1943 by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann when he accidentally ingested a small dose through the skin while studying the compound. Controlled research on human subjects began soon after and Hofmann’s colleague Werner Stoll published his findings about the basic effects of LSD on human subjects in 1947.
After the earliest European and American research efforts investigated whether LSD could reliably induce psychotic disorders, some began to recognize the potential for LSD to assist in traditional Freudian psychotherapy in the 1950s. Studies into the effects of LSD on human creativity and spirituality were also conducted during this period.
The next major development in the history of psychedelic research was the rediscovery of psilocybin by Western society due to the appearance of an article in a 1957 issue of Life magazine ‘Seeking the Magic Mushroom,’ written by R. Gordon Wasson detailing his experiences ingesting psilocybin mushrooms in a shamanic ceremony in Mexico. European studies into the use of psilocybin as a psychotherapeutic agent (Duche; Delay et al.) were published as early as 1961. An article by Pichot about the basic effects of psilocybin on 137 normal and unhealthy subjects appeared in the medical journal Lancet in the same year.
In the early 1960s, Harvard University was the seat of two landmark experiments involving psilocybin. The first of these was the Concord Prison Experiment which began in 1961 under the supervision of principal researchers Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass). The purpose of the experiment was to determine if psilocybin-assisted psychotherapeutic techniques could permanently reverse the criminal and anti-social tendencies of 32 state prisoners nearing parole and prevent them from being incarcerated again. Leary’s team combined the administration of synthetic psilocybin in guided sessions with a variety of tests and support sessions during and after release.(Dr. Leary’s Concord Prison Experiment: A 34 Year Follow-Up Study) (Reflections on the Concord Prison Experiment and the Follow-Up Study).
The ambitious experiment provided important insight into how to conduct psychedelic treatment sessions and helped pioneer the technique of having one of the experimenters undergo the psychedelic experience along with the subjects. The study also yielded anecdotal reports from the subjects which hinted at the therapeutic power of psilocybin and encouraged further research in this area.
The next Harvard experiment with crucial implications for the development of psychedelic research was Walter Pahnke’s Good Friday Experiment of 1962. Pahnke set out to determine if psilocybin could be used to facilitate “mystical” experiences and if these experiences could cause permanent and beneficial personality transformation. In order to do so, he recruited 20 Protestant divinity students, 10 of whom would take synthetic psilocybin and 10 of whom would take a placebo. The experiment took place in a basement chapel in which the audio from a Good Friday service conducted in the main chapel upstairs was broadcast. Pahnke reported greater incidence of mystical experience among the group receiving psilocybin, and like the prisoners in the Concord experiment, they delivered stirring first-hand testimony of their experiences which would help inspire further research (Video: 1962 Good Friday Experiment).
Throughout the short history of LSD research, people unaffiliated or loosely affiliated with the scientific establishment distributed supplies of LSD outside of laboratory settings. Soon the lines between legitimate research and personal experimentation began to blur for some, and as early as 1962 fellow faculty members at Harvard openly criticized Leary and Alpert for abandoning scientific principles and experimenting with LSD outside official research settings. A few months later the university would dismiss both professors for violating university regulations by providing LSD to undergraduates. The controversy at Harvard coincided with greatly increased FDA restrictions on the procurement of LSD for scientific research; although some research did continue, most studies underway before the new FDA restrictions did not. After restricting its manufacture and distribution in 1965, the US government fully criminalized LSD in 1968, after which the European nations which hosted psychedelic research followed suit.
In the United States, legal psychedelic research was reduced to only one program – the studies conducted at the Spring Grove Center in Baltimore which primarily focused on end of life therapy and continued through to 1974. The study, ‘Addiction, Despair, and the Soul: Successful Psychedelic Psychotherapy,’ which eventually came to be headed by Pahnke and Grof, resulted in the treatment of over 100 terminal patients, including 31 in a controlled LSD psychotherapy study. Grof argues that “the results… supported the clinical impressions of the often dramatic effects of LSD psychotherapy on the emotional condition and physical pain of cancer patients.” 
The second wave of modern psychedelic research is associated with renewed interest in MDMA. Throughout the 1970s, the main source of information regarding the still legal MDMA came from independent research unaffiliated with traditionally scholarly settings led by the extensive self-experimentation performed by chemist Alexander Shulgin. Shulgin believed that as with LSD, the primary use for MDMA was to serve as an adjunct to psychotherapy, which prompted him to share MDMA with psychiatric practitioners. Shulgin published extensively in scientific journals with respect to the chemical properties of MDMA.
Results of studies on the effects of MDMA on human subjects began to surface in the 1980s. George R. Greer administered MDMA to 29 patients (1983) and subsequently reported nearly uniform positive mental effects such as feelings of closeness to others and enhanced personal insight, results corroborated by Beck and Seymour’s survey of therapists who used MDMA with their patients. Downing (1985) concluded “one can only say that MDMA, at the doses tested, has remarkably consistent and predictable psychological effects that are… free of clinically apparent major toxicity.”
Throughout the 1980s, MDMA was administered in psychiatric and counseling settings, but recreational use also became increasingly widespread. MDMA research was mostly halted in 1985 by the United States government’s initiation of proceedings to ensure temporary classification of the compound as a Schedule I drug (a classification made permanent in 1988). As psychedelics gained increasing recognition as potential psychotherapuetic agents, so too were they recognized within popular culture for their recreational use.
Anticipating that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) would move to criminalize MDMA in light of the drug’s increasing popularity in recreational use, Rick Doblin, Alise Agar and Debby Harlow organized a non-profit group called Earth Metabolic Design Laboratories (EMDL) to bolster awareness of the therapeutic use of MDMA. By 1984 the DEA had announced its intention to designate MDMA as a Schedule I substance, a categorization that would greatly restrict and regulate the drug’s availability, as well as indicate that it held no accepted medical use and a high abuse potential.
Noting that at this time a great number of psychiatrists, marriage counselors, and therapists were using MDMA to enhance the therapeutic process, EMDL organized the scientific and medical communities to petition the DEA for a scheduling hearing regarding MDMA. Dr. George Greer, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, Professor James B. Bakalar, and Professor Thomas Roberts contributed to the argument that MDMA belonged in Schedule III, a category that would more readily enable future research and permit the continuation of its use in psychotherapy. Despite such efforts, the DEA pursued emergency scheduling in 1985, citing an imminent risk to public health. Although this move was ruled illegal, the decision to place MDMA within Schedule I was reached in 1988 after the DEA overruled a DEA Administrative Law Judge’s recommendation that it be placed within Schedule III.
As MDMA was now deemed illegal, held in the same category as such substances as heroin, the only way for it to be employed in scientific inquiry would be through the lengthy and expensive FDA approval process. Holding the belief that MDMA had the unique potential both to aid psychotherapy and eventually to become a prescription medicine, Rick Doblin sought to gain incorporation for MAPS as a 501(c)(3) non-profit research and educational organization. The founding of MAPS was a primary step toward the future envisioning of what Doblin has called a “nonprofit psychedelic-pharmaceutical company.” Chartered in 1986, MAPS has since contributed over 12 million dollars towards the scientific study of psychedelics and marijuana in therapeutic applications.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration approves MDMA
In March 2015, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has approved the first clinical trial using MDMA along with psychotherapy to treat anxiety, PTSD and people with life-threatening illnesses.
“The tide has changed for psychedelic research,” said Brad Burge, the communications director for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) “Unlike psychedelics such as LSD and psilocybin, MDMA does not produce hallucinations. MDMA produces in users a sense of calm, trust and confidence,” he added.
MAPS is currently conducting a phase 2 study to assess the effectiveness of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of PTSD among veterans of war. The study is taking place in Charleston, SC and is conducting experimental treatment with veterans, both male and female, suffering war-related PTSD. The study will follow a randomized triple-blind protocol and test three different experimental doses.
Outside of the US, MAPS is pursuing the implementation of MDMA/PTSD studies in Canada, Israel, Jordan, and Switzerland. The Canadian study has full approval from an Institutional Review Board (IRB) and from Health Canada to obtain MDMA Import Permit into Canada. The Israel Study Receives Full Approval from Hospital Ethics Committee. An Israeli Defense Force official has indicated a willingness to refer war affected soldiers suffering from PTSD, thus greatly enabling recruitment for the study. The Jordanian MDMA/PTSD Study is a development with the IRB. A protocol amendment is to be submitted in the near future. MAPS is enrolling both Jordanian nationals as well as Iraqi refugees living in Jordan who are suffering from PTSD.
The Switzerland study has received full approval from SwissMedic and has been submitted and accepted by the FDA in the form of an Investigational New Drug application. The study is currently in progress and nearing completion as MAPS is collecting long-term follow-up data following the experimental treatment of all subjects. The study represents in part MAPS’ clinical plan to develop MDMA as a prescription medication with both FDA and European Medicines Agency (EMEA).
Aiding clinicians in their ability to lead more effective MDMA assisted psychotherapy, MAPS has developed a training protocol allowed therapists to take part as subjects in a Phase 1 study on the psychological effects of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy on healthy volunteers. MAPS administered one MDMA-assisted psychotherapy session to the therapists in an effort to offer them training as well as evaluate the effects of MDMA. The study has received approval to proceed by both the US FDA and the IRB. Mithoefer, the primary clinical investigator in this study, has received his Schedule 1 license from the DEA, enabling him to administer MDMA within this study.
LSD and Psilocybin-Assisted Psychotherapy for End-of-Life Anxiety
It is well evidenced that psychoactive mushrooms and a number of other plants containing psychoactive compounds have been valued for millennia by many indigenous tribes across the globe for their spiritual & therapeutic uses.
Discovered by Albert Hofmann in 1938 and 1958 respectively, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) and Psilocybin, a psychoactive compound found in “Magic” mushrooms, are both well known for their ability to induce deeply spiritual, insightful and often life-changing experiences.
Although early research into the use of LSD and Psilocybin in clinical psychology demonstrated positive results, an explosion of recreational use during the 1960s gained the compounds a great deal of notoriety and ultimately led to their categorization as Schedule I illicit drugs in 1970.
MAPS completed Phase 2 study in 12 subjects found positive trends in the reduction of anxiety following two LSD-assisted psychotherapy sessions. The study results also indicate that LSD-assisted psychotherapy can be safely administered in these subjects, and justify further research of LSD & Psilocybin psychotherapy in the treatment of patients suffering with the deep anxiety associated with life-threatening illness.
The study took place in Solothurn, Switzerland and is the first study in 35 years to investigate the therapeutic use of LSD in human subjects. The study’s primary focus is assess the safety and effectiveness of conducting LSD-assisted psychotherapy with a population of individuals who are experiencing anxiety associated with life-threatening illness. The study has received approval from the BAG (the equivalent of the DEA in Switzerland), the Ethics Committee (the Swiss IRB), and SwissMedic. Enrolment began in April 2008 and is currently complete.
MAPS has also developed a protocol to study the effectiveness of Psilocybin-assisted Psychotherapy in treating anxiety related to the experience of having a life-threatening illness such as advanced stage cancer. This study wasconducted in the US under the principle investigation of Sameet Kumar, Ph.D.
Ibogaine Treatment for Drug Addiction
Ibogaine, a psychoactive alkaloid present in the root-bark of the West-African shrub Tabernanthe iboga, has in recent years gained popularity as an effective treatment for severe alcohol and drug dependence.
Traditionally used in healing and initiation ceremonies by followers of the West-African Bwiti religion, the drug has stimulant properties in low doses and can induce a hallucinogenic dream-like state in higher doses. It is the higher-dose hallucinogenic effect which is widely credited with the ability to help users understand and reverse their substance-dependent behavioral patterns.
MAPS is currently collecting observational data from two ibogaine treatment centers in Mexico to study the long-term effects of this treatment on opiate-dependent subjects.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) currently holds a monopoly on the supply of marijuana grown for research in the United States, as they fund the only laboratory licensed to grow it. Since NIDA is solely interested in researching the negative aspects of marijuana use and abuse, studies to explore its potential medical benefit are currently impossible within the US.
MAPS is the only organization working to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of botanical marijuana as a prescription medicine to the satisfaction of the FDA. For nearly ten years, MAPS has been involved in lengthy and ongoing legal battles with the DEA to end NIDA’s monopoly on research grade marijuana.
Alternatively, MAPS has received full approval from the FDA to study the effectiveness of marijuana, both smoked and vaporized, in the treatment of individuals experiencing war related PTSD. This marks the first time the FDA has approved an outpatient marijuana study. (See Medical Marijuana Research News)
Since 1986, MAPS has distributed over 12 million dollars to fund research and education. These include:
- Sponsored a Swiss study that sought to examine the effectiveness of LSD-assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of patients who suffer from anxiety associated with terminal illness.
- Obtained FDA and IRB approval to study MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Charleston, SC with similar research projects now underway in Switzerland and Israel.
- Sponsored the first U.S. based study evaluating the therapeutic application of MDMA with treatment resistant PTSD. Results from this study have been published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. Also being prepared or conducted are MDMA/PTSD pilot studies in Canada, Israel, Jordan, and Switzerland.
- Sponsored a Phase 2 pilot study of the effectiveness of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to treat PTSD in veterans of war.
- Designed a study to examine vaporized or smoked marijuana in the treatment of war related PTSD in veterans, which will evaluate efficacy and safety of multiple strains of herbal marijuana. The study has received FDA approval. MAPS is pursuing the purchase of appropriate strains from the US federal government.
- Sponsored efforts by Prof. Lyle Craker, Medicinal Plant Program, UMass Amherst Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, to obtain a license from the Drug Enforcement Administration for a marijuana production facility.
- Sponsored pioneering analytical research into the effects of the marijuana vaporizer, leading to the first human study of marijuana vaporizers conducted by Dr. Donald Abrams of the University of California, San Francisco.
- Opened an FDA Drug Master File for MDMA. This is required before any drug can be researched in FDA-approved human studies.
- Assisted Dr. Charles Grob to design, obtain approval for and fund the first FDA-approved study in the U.S. to administer MDMA to humans.
- Assisted in the design and is funding the world’s first government-approved scientific study of the therapeutic use of MDMA (Spain).
- Sponsored studies to analyze the purity and potency of street samples of “Ecstasy” and medical marijuana.
- Funded the successful efforts of Dr. Donald Abrams to obtain approval for the first human study in 15 years into the therapeutic use of marijuana, along with a $1 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- Obtained Orphan Drug designation from the FDA for smoked marijuana in the treatment of AIDS Wasting Syndrome.
- Funded the synthesis of psilocybin for the first FDA-approved study in twenty-five years to evaluate psilocybin in a patient population.
- Supported long-term follow-up studies of pioneering research with LSD and psilocybin originally conducted in the 1950s and 1960s.
- Sponsoring research by Dr. Evgeny Krupitsky into ketamine-assisted psychotherapy as a treatment for heroin addiction and alcoholism.
- Hosted the conference “Psychedelic Science in the 21st Century,” in April 2010. This was the largest conference on the topic of psychedelic science to have occurred in nearly 40 years.
- Sponsoring programs and services at festivals, community events, churches, and schools that provide psychedelic harm reduction and education.
Currently, MAPS has been given a Schedule I license to conduct research with MDMA on veterans and survivors of physical or sexual assault who are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, as well as with advanced-stage cancer patients who are experiencing anxiety associated with this diagnosis, the first licenses the DEA has granted for MDMA psychotherapy research.
On the 19th of July 2010, the peer-reviewed Journal of Psychopharmacology published the results of the MDMA studies pursued by Dr Michael Mithoefer and concludes that this work is very promising. It also states that “this pilot study demonstrates that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy with close follow-up monitoring and support can be used with acceptable and short-lived side effects in a carefully screened group of subjects with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD”.
A clinical study for treating cluster headaches using low doses of the tryptamine psilocybin (found in psilocybe mushrooms) has been developed by researchers at Harvard Medical School, McLean Hospital in conjunction with MAPS.
Other research projects
MAPS has pursued a number of other research studies examining the effects of psychedelics administered to human subjects. These studies include, but are not limited to, studies of MDE, Ayahuasca, DMT, Ketamine, LSA, Mescaline, Peyote, and Salvia divinorum.
MAPS has also conducted multi-drug studies as well as cross cultural and meta-analysis research.
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