108: From the Drug War to Psychedelic Research: How 140 Million Dollars in 36+ Years Made a Dream Into a Reality with Rick Doblin

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“When we started this, too, it never seemed like it would work. It just seemed like something important to do, to raise the issue.”

– Rick Doblin
Episode #108


In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…

With a goal of ending the War on Drugs and reducing trauma all over the world, Rick Doblin is on a mission to liberate psychedelics and make them accessible to all. Rick is the Founder and Executive Director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Research (MAPS). MAPS has raised $140 million in donations and grants over 36.5 years, with plans to increase that exponentially in the coming years.

Rick is here to shed light on how he went from fearing LSD to trying it, loving it, and advocating for it until it became a global movement of human rights, freedom, and healing. He shares with you his wealth of knowledge and experience in fundraising for controversial research on LSD, MDMA, psilocybin, and more.

By the end of this episode, you’ll learn how to strategically innovate a fundraising mission to tell a more influential and relatable story to donors. You’ll learn Rick’s greatest tips and advice on reducing stigmas and staying true to your purpose while advocating for a heavily stigmatized movement. Rick is an absolute legend in psychedelic research, fundraising, and drug policy reform, so tune in!


Rick and MAPS


  • Psychedelic Science 2023
  • Many thanks to our sponsor, Keela for making this episode possible. Our friends at Keela offer nonprofits like yours comprehensive fundraising and donor management software, equipped with powerful tools to expand your reach, increase fundraising revenue, and foster a dedicated community of supporters. Want a user-friendly platform that provides actionable data? Look no further than Keela. Check out Keela at keela.co/mallory. 
  • If you haven’t already, please visit our new What the Fundraising community forum. Check it out and join the conversation at this link.
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Get to know Rick Doblin:

Rick Doblin, Ph.D., is the founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). He received his doctorate in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he wrote his dissertation on the regulation of the medical uses of psychedelics and marijuana and his Master’s thesis on a survey of oncologists about smoked marijuana vs. the oral THC pill in nausea control for cancer patients. His undergraduate thesis at New College of Florida was a 25-year follow-up to the classic Good Friday Experiment, which evaluated the potential of psychedelic drugs to catalyze religious experiences. He also conducted a thirty-four year follow-up study to Timothy Leary’s Concord Prison Experiment. Rick studied with Dr. Stanislav Grof and was among the first to be certified as a Holotropic Breathwork practitioner. His professional goal is to help develop legal contexts for the beneficial uses of psychedelics and marijuana, primarily as prescription medicines but also for personal growth for otherwise healthy people, and eventually to become a legally licensed psychedelic therapist. He founded MAPS in 1986, and currently resides in Boston with his wife and puppy, with three empty rooms from his children who have all graduated college and begun their life journeys. Learn more about Rick by listening to his Origin Story and watching his TED Talk.


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episode transcript

00:02:02 Mallory Erickson:  Welcome everyone. I could not be more excited to be here today with Rick Doblin. Rick, thank you. Welcome to What The Fundraising.

00:002:11 Rick Doblin: Mallory, I’m so glad to have this conversation with you. Thanks for the invitation.

00:002:15 Mallory Erickson: I have been just mesmerized by your work and your journey and I would love for you to just start by telling everyone a little bit about you, about the work that you do and what brings you to our conversation today.

00:02:28 Rick Doblin: All right, let me start 50 years ago.

00:02:32 Mallory Erickson: Bring us all the way back.

00:02:33 Rick Doblin: Yeah, 50 years ago, 1972, I was 18 years old and I was doing LSD. And I had been raised by progressive parents, politically involved. And I’d been told this story about how I’m a link and a chain, and that it started more recently, you could say, with refugees, great grandparents fleeing Antisemitism in Russia in 1880, coming to Chicago, my grandparents on my dad’s side fleeing Antisemitism in Poland in 1920, coming to the United States and then the American dream. And they managed to do well. And then I was told that my job was to look at deeper threats in a way that my family would provide food and shelter, but I should look at deeper threats. And so I was educated on stories of the Holocaust. I was traumatized as a young boy with this idea of nuclear war with Russia. We have active shooter drills in schools today. Then it was like, what happens if the bombs fall and the whole world is going up in a thermonuclear catastrophe? And that wasn’t all that reassuring duck and covered desk. Then it became my own country doing things that I disagreed with in Vietnam. So I studied nonviolent resistance and was planning to be a draft resistor and go to jail instead of pretending I had bone spurs like a recent president and doing various things to get out of it. So I thought I’d follow. Telstoy and thorough and Gandhi and Martin Luther King and nonviolent resistance. So all of that though, was at a time when I really believed the propaganda about psychedelics. I believe that if you took psychedelics six times you were certifiably insane. That’s what we were told. That you take LSD and it hurts your chromosomes, you’re going to have deformed babies, And so I believed all that. But I had this mission and I kept realizing that it was psychological factors that were the key to human survival. That technology brilliant with our technology, but it has exceeded capacity to deal with it emotionally and spiritually. And so look what we’ve got going with global warming, with incredible weapons of mass destruction, what we’re doing to the environment, species extinction, all the murderous wars, what Putin is doing and all of this. And so the core issue became to me, particularly in relationship to the Holocaust, how do we dehumanize others, how do we end up seeing people as less than human. And what is the core of that? I wasn’t sure how to address this, but I felt it was my mission, and so I read this book. I took Russian in high school to study about the other, and my parents actually sent me to Russia in 70. I was a 16 year old high school student with around 60 high school students, and my parents gave me some Jewish prayer books to give to the people at the synagogue. So again, there’s all these big factors, and you might not be able to do much about it, but if you can do something little, you should. So I couldn’t change depression of religion in Russia, but I could bring two prayer books to the synagogue and thought I’m just a 16 year old kid. If I get caught semi home and went to the synagogue, by the way, and they said, we’re under observation. Don’t give us I also made a bunch of money on the black market in Russia with speaking Russia because Russian kids wanted to buy our clothes, jeans, all this kind of stuff. I went to the guys at the synagogue and I said, I got all this money for you in prayer books. And they said, we’re being observed, but I’ll meet you at the subway station at this time, at this place, and we can do the transfer then that’s where I got all excited, and it turns out that we did that, and it worked out. So anyway, I’ve been trained on this, and so in my Russian class, this guy gave me a book to read, and I read it, and I loved it, and I gave it back to him, and he said, do you realize some of this book was written under the influence of LSD? And I said, that’s impossible. Nothing good comes from LSD. And he said, no, check it out. It turned out it was true. It was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. And he did write some of it. So that was the crack in the propaganda. And so once that happened, I thought, okay, I should take LSD. And so the first time I took LSD was when I was 17 years old, and I had this sense of going beyond my ego identification and I thought, you know, bar mitzvah was a big nothing burger, as they like to say. I thought it would turn me into a man, and I would avoid the adolescents to awkwardness this of teenage adolescents. Somehow this bar mitzvah would do this thing. But it didn’t do anything. No, god showed up up. I was the same in the morning after I got some good presents, though. But when I took it LSD, I thought, this is what my bar mitzvah should have been. This is causing me to question, who am I? Where do I fit in? What is life and death? What do I want to do with my life? It was these existential questions that I was kind of forced to answer and also I was given these intimations of a world beyond myself and how we’re all connected. And I thought this is maybe the solution to genocide, to fascism, to racism, if we all feel connected. And all of this is a long answer to say that I got into psychedelics for political reasons and it was only later that I really learned about the therapeutic potentials. 

And I would say the arc of my life over the past 50 years has been to move from counterculture to culture, from criminal to legal, but to remain a psychedelic user, find benefits throughout the entire lifespan. And I think to wrap this around to it’s been trying to find people who have been moved personally by their own psychedelic experiences. And it’s only over time, as we’ve generated data about MDMA for PTSD, are we starting to attract donors who care mostly about PTSD than they care about winning the drug war, about freedom from the repressive nature of prohibition, the fundamental violation of human rights. To explore your consciousness that actually in western society has been going on for a millennium and a half since the Catholic Church wiped out the elicitian mysteries, which is the foundation of western culture is the Greeks, that’s where democracy was invented. We think so much, we read Plato and it still resonates today to us kind of philosophical arguments, the things that were not that different from people 2000 years ago or 3000 years ago. So it was 1600 BC to around almost 400 Ad. This mystery ceremony at the Lucius that involved a psychedelic drug called Kickham that everybody that we think of as the foundation of western culture. It was this sense that you would have this one experience to really learn about rebirth process and how we’re part of something bigger and that would change people and they would be under penalty of death. You couldn’t share what happened. But it was wiped out by the Catholic Church to be an intermediary between people and spirituality. And throughout ever since then, the burning of the witches, the Middle ages, all of this is about women who are connected to plant medicines, who are healers, who are direct experience and so kinchistor’s, first thing they do is kill the shamans, the people that work with mushrooms and peyote and ayahuasca. This has always been to go after the religious leaders and so we think of psychedelics as having emerged in the all of a sudden we’ve got a whole youth counterculture doing psychedelics and then it gets backlash and we’ve had decades and decades of no research and it’s only in 1992 FDA decided to open the door to psychedelics. So it’s been during this renaissance of psychedelic research over the last couple of decades that we’ve had this challenge. And even before when there was no permitted at all. It really is a long term adventure in human consciousness. That what we’re engaged in. And so that’s where I think the early donors had more of the big picture, that this prohibition was incredibly counterproductive, never about drug abuse, always about persecuting minorities. From the very beginning of the drug laws in America, against Chinese laborers using opium, against Mexicans and African Americans using cannabis, against everybody using alcohol. And that didn’t last. And then against hippies and civil rights leaders. John Arrogant, Nixon’s policy advisor, said that they couldn’t break up the meetings. Their main enemies of the Nixon White House were civil rights movement and the hippies, and that they couldn’t stop them from protesting, but they could look at the drugs they used and criminalize those and use those to break up the meetings, to arrest the lead. If they tried to do to Timothy Leary for some seeds, stick them in jail for years and years. So the drug war has never been about drug abuse. It’s always had an ulterior motive. And so the early funders were those that had the big picture, early donors, because when we started this too, it never seemed like it would work. Just seemed like something important to do to raise the issue. My wife, early in her career, was a lobbyist in Washington, but she was a lobbyist for the Quakers. So the Friends Committee on National Legislation, and they never want anything. But when somebody says, oh, we want to put all this money into the military budget, they would say, well, maybe there’s human needs that should get some money too. They never want anything. So she was for me when she first met me. She thought I was a noble lost cause. That’s how we began our relationship, and it’s not such a lost cause. So over time, though, the donors shifted from those people that had the bigger vision to a lot of those people still. But also not to say it’s a small vision to treat PTSD with MDMA assisted therapy, but that it became something that people who cared more about veterans with PTSD, women who’d been sexually abused, domestic violence, they cared about that issue, and they didn’t necessarily anymore come from people that had done psychedelics. The evolution of the fundraising has been early on true believers, from their own experience struggling against the drug war over time, to people that could see the healing mission. And I think now it’s been critical that we have bipartisan support because of this work with the veterans. Rebecca Mercer, who funded Breitbart and Cambridge Analytica, she owned with her dad. She gave us a million dollars for research, but her only restriction was that it be limited to veterans. The VA. Right now, multiple VAS around the country are starting to study MDMA that we’re having to fund or other donors are funding. So it’s been an incredible transition over time, and we’ve raised about $140,000,000 in donations and grants over 36 and a half years. And the challenge has now been recently that there’s been the rise of all these for profit companies with psychedelics. And even though their stocks have gone down, the bubble has burst still. A lot of the donors have turned into investors, but not all of them, unfortunately. So we have a big challenge going ahead. Can we indeed find the remaining resources we need from donors, which is over $200 million over the next three years, we could potentially liberate $4 billion in profits and 1.6 million people treated. And what do we do with these profits? Our goal is to reduce trauma all over the world. What we’re talking about now is net zero trauma. So we talk about net zero carbon. We’d like a world of net zero trauma by 2070. So it’s a real long term goal. And Bhutan has had a national measure of happiness there’s. Institute of Economics and Peace has created a national measure of peace. There’s other groups that have created national measures of democracy. And so we’d like to have a national measure of trauma. And then we will develop this metric probably in association with who in the UN. And then over decades and decades, hopefully we will be able to reduce multigenerational trauma from war, trauma from prejudice, and never end trauma. There’s always going to be tragedy. That’s the long term goal. So I’d say from a fundraising perspective, what we’ve needed to do is shift our goals. So the goal for the first three or six years has get FDA approval for MDMA physical therapy. We recently sent out a press release about our second successful phase three study, which was the tremendous result. So we hope for FDA approval in the first half of 2024. We can’t guarantee it, but it looks really likely. So then in order to try to have a new vision, that would be inspiring for donors, because the new vision could be inspiring for investors because it looks like we might actually have a business, even though we have no patents. There’s something called data exclusivity, which is incentives created to develop drugs that don’t have patents. And so we get to the exclusive use of our data for what will be about six years in FDA before generics can come in. It’ll be ten years in Europe. And so other companies can get their own data for MDMA, but they won’t do that. Look at other molecules that they can patent their MDMA like, but then it’ll take them six or seven or more years to turn them into medicines. So we’re going to have this income potential period during which we can hopefully get insurance coverage and have 1.6 million treatments with 25,000 trained therapists. And so the story has to be now, I’d say this is a big part of fundraising is what is the story? What are you asking people to create in the world? And we’ve talked about the win win. And so what I’ve learned over time is that it’s a trade of meaning for money in purpose. People can have all the money in the world, but they can’t do what they want to do without other people. We provide resources, the time, people power to do things that other people want to accomplish. So it’s a partnership in a way. And so that’s where I felt it’s not just us begging for money from people. We’re totally the needy person and they’ve got everything. It’s that they need meaning in their lives. And a lot of people have more money than meaning, and a lot of people have meaning. And you don’t need money if you’ve got, I need some money. But meaning can be perishing in some of the ways that money cannot be. And so it’s kind of meaning for money. And so for us now, the meaning is a healthier world, mass mental health, spiritualized humanity. Net zero trauma by 2070.

00:16:48 Mallory Erickson: Wow. Okay, I’m curious for you, like when you were starting this out, and maybe you were in year ten or year five, and you were having to fund these conversations with donors without clarity on the horizon around what might happen. I hear from fundraisers a lot, not ready to fundraise for that yet because we don’t know exactly what we will be able to use it for. We don’t know exactly what we’ll be able to accomplish with that. And what’s so fascinating to me around your story is that it seems that it was this constantly evolving mark that you were letting grow and change and shift as you were learning and moving through the process and doing different research. So talk to me about what it was like. What were some of the challenges of bringing donors along for that?

00:17:37 Rick Doblin: Yeah, first big lesson I had. So MDMA was a therapy drug from the middle seventy s to the early eighty s. And then it escaped from those circles and became ecstasy. And there was the use in public settings and bars and more recreational use that attracted the attention of the DEA. And there was large numbers of people that were using ecstasy. There had been about half a million therapy sessions from the middle seventy s to the early 80s that the DEA knew nothing about because they were taking place in private homes. They were responsible, they were using pure MDMA, they were doing sort of therapy with preparation and integration and so it never came to light. But it was this millions and millions of doses being used for recreational purposes. That is what attracted the attention of the DEA. So my first delusion was that I thought that if we can get $10 from everybody that’s doing ecstasy, to try to make it into a medicine, to try to make it legal, that we would just have all the money we needed. And it took me a while to realize that all these people that are doing ecstasy with $10 first off they never believed it would work what we’re trying to do. And secondly they’d rather just buy more ecstasy. Kind of idea that we would have crowdfunding, you could say from the ecstasy using criminals. That seemed like a logical thought but it didn’t work. And so it became clear to me that over time we really needed to switch to a major donor focus and while we needed to build our base and that’s the way to identify people that would be major donors, that really for us to get the progress that we needed to concentrate more on major donors. And then it was like who are these people? How do I find them now there’s a lot more people coming out about their use of psychedelics but then people were reluctant to do that and so there was one that my mother in law helped me with that was incredible. Larry Hagman, who you may know is the actor who was the astronaut and I Dream of Jeannie and he was also Jr in Dallas and actually he was in Dallas and the Star Club where ecstasy was being really developed as a party drug. And so he and the people from Dallas actually went to the Star Club one time, a bunch of times and they actually went to the Star Club when it was being busted. It was about to be busted by the police. But because Jr. Was there and all the people from Dallas they decided that they wouldn’t do the arrest, that they did the raid another time so they wouldn’t capture these people that were telling a great story about Dallas. But what became clear is that Larry Hagman wrote a book, an autobiography and in it he admitted to being an LSD patient in the 1960s and that LSD was really helpful to him. And so my mother in law read his book and said you got to contact this guy. And it took me years to figure out how do I get in touch with Larry Hagden? And it finally did and then we later became friends. That’s how we found the original donors. It’s just who would be courageous enough to say in public that they had been influenced by psychedelics? And it was through that or who really understood drug policy reform and what was necessary and the sort of harmful counterproductive nature of the drug war. Even then it was also trying to figure out when we make MDMA into a medicine or first off, was of all the psychedelics that we could choose strategically, which one should it be and then based on which one, which clinical condition should we go for? And it felt like that we don’t really do science. I described it as we do political science. And also in 88 I had to make a shift. In my whole life I had been training to be a psychedelic therapist since 1972. I did drop out of college for ten years, so I did file, turn on, tune in, drop out, took loads of LSD, and I became very ungrounded and I didn’t really appreciate the importance of integration. And so I got so spacey that I felt like I had to live in the physical world. And so I built things, built a housing for ten years and only went back to college as a 28 year old. That’s when I discovered MDMA in 1982. And I just had this idea again that I would become a psychological therapist. And so in 87 when I graduated college, finally nobody would let me into a clinical Psych PhD program because MDMA had just been criminalized, research, had been blocked for decades. And so out of frustration I was like god, what am I going to do with my life, I can’t pursue this anymore, this approach. Sometimes when I’m blocked, what I like to do is smoke pot and think about it to be creative. And I had this realization that might have had without marijuana, but certainly it came under marijuana and it was that I want too much too soon and that this is a pattern in my life. And that what I realized is that I wanted to do the research, but the politics was in the way and so therefore I should pivot and study the politics. And I had heard of this school, I’d only studied psychology, humanistic and transpersonal psychology, psychedelic research, but there was this guy, Mark Kleinman, that had been interviewed about drug policy reform and he had mentioned a lawsuit that I’d been involved in against the DEA starting in 84 to keep MDMA legal. And he was at the school I’d never heard of, called the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. And so I called him up and I said, you know, about our lawsuit, I’m blocked, I need to study politics, would you be my mentor? And he said if you can get in, I will be your mentor. So that’s where I switched to studying politics. And so that was also this key transition. So I think there’s a great quote we’ve been using from Marcus Aurelius a long time and he said the obstacles in the way become the way, so that the public’s became the way. So I had to learn the regulation of the medical use of psychedelics. I had to learn the dynamics of the drug war. I had to learn how to maneuver through FDA, DEA, the national drug abuse, the drugs ours office, the officer’s national drug control policy to learn all of this, the international treaties. How do we move forward? And so that then put me in touch with a new set of donors too, so that now I was not just in the psychedelic community, now I was in the drug policy reform community. And so that did lead to more opportunities to tell a story, either about being the drug war or bringing Alex to light. And now the story has evolved, as I’ve said, to mass mental health and a spiritualized humanity, which means for me, a parallel path. One is drug development through the FDA. The other is drug policy reform. And I think that’s also an appeal to philanthropists was that through drug development, we are unusual in nonprofits in that we are a rare nonprofit that has a product that we’re trying to bring to market. And if we can bring this product prescription MDMA to market, there is an income potential from that. And so what I could start to tell donors was that not until 2014, so almost eight years after I started Maps was the fact that I got my PhD on FDA. But I had missed something completely that is obscure, that pharma doesn’t use. And that’s why I missed. I took Harvard Law School class in food and drug regulation from the guy that wrote the textbook he became on my dissertation advisor, Peter Barton Hut. We never mentioned this. And it turned out that two years before I started Maps, in 1984, ronald Reagan signed a law to provide incentives for drugs that are off patent. MDMA was developed in 1912 by merck it’s in the public domain. It was therapy drug before I even knew about it. So the use of MDMA for therapy is in the public domain. Various tech methods have been published that are also in the public domain. So I just assumed from the very beginning MDMA would become a generic. And it was until 28 years after I’d been working on Maps that I learned that there was this obscure it was just amazing that I missed it. But it was this data exclusivity. And that meant that it didn’t immediately become a generic. And so that meant that we could tell a different story to donors now. And so I didn’t want to innovate just with psychedelic therapy. I want to innovate in how we sell drugs. Because profit maximizing healthcare in America is a disaster. The highest per capita expenditures for any country in the world, and our outcomes are way low when you look at our average outcomes, because so many people are uninsured, there’s so much inequity in our system. So I thought, okay, we can create a public benefit corporation. And that’s a modification of capitalism where you maximize public benefit nonprofit. And so we created the Maps Public Benefit Corp. That’s 100% owned by the nonprofit, at least. Still at the moment, we have raised about $60 million or so from investors. But it’s royalty share or it’s loans. We still 100% only equity of the benefit Corp. And so I then changed my story to donors. If you give us this increasing amount of money, we can become self sufficient if we succeed. And then we can have an engine of income that we can use for drug policy reform. For other indications, of MDMA for more psychedelic research. So that, I think, was a key part of the story, as we needed tens and tens of millions of dollars as the amount of money that we needed to fully do all the phase three studies to prepare to commercialize compared to patient access insurance companies. So I think the story that I was able to tell donors shifted over the decade. Learn more about what we’re doing. And now the story that I have to tell the donors, it’s really an existential issue, is that we are trying to raise in the neighborhood of $200 million over the next three years in order to reach this sustainability point. And that will be at the end of 25, we think. And that’s where income from the prescription sale will cover our expenses. We’re 160 people at the Benefit Corp. We’re about 40 people at the nonprofit. So we’re 200 people or so. So if we can reach the sustainability point, then we will be able to use the resources for healing the world, for healing for all. If we get investors, we’re going to have to give money back to investors and they can do good things with it. And then we can also try mission related investors so that it’s not just institutional investors, it would be program related investments, things like that. Or the best, of course, is philanthropy so that all the resources can be used in the public benefit. So that’s the situation that we’re at now. And so it’s super exciting, but it’s very because I think if we take money from investors, everything changes. You have some money, but they don’t have ownership, they just have a royalty share. But if we actually sell equity, then we have a whole new set of fiduciary responsibilities to people and that will change things. So, for example, we’re trying to do work with Ukrainian refugees with PTSD. That’s not going to lead to money. That’s just part of our humanity or anything. We want to reduce recidivism. I just came back from Iceland, from the first Segue Conference in Iceland, and the Minister of justice is interested in a study to reduce recidivism. Again, these are things that are humanitarian. We’re trying to do a project with Israelis and Palestinians who are doing Ayahuasca and MDMA together and illegal, and these are the people that are the most open minded, but it’s already happening. And so Leo Roseman at Imperial College in London has done the first project of really looking at interviews with all these people, doing it together. And then he just took a group of Israelis and Palestinians to Spain to give them Oscar with measures before and after. So, again, these are humanitarian things. It’s like building on couples therapy. And we like to joke that once we can help these Israelis and Palestinians, we’ll work on the hardest case, which is that’s in Republicans.

00:30:00 Mallory Erickson: Yeah, you’ll have to keep me posted on that one. Okay, you’re bringing up something that is really I’m super curious about for you. You were fundraising in some of those middle stages, so, like 20 years in, were you setting with donors like milestone metrics, or were you letting them inside the organization in terms of a lot of feedback around here’s, the research we did here is the conversation we did here. What are some of your ways of knowing? Like, we’re on track or here? So often the number one thing that donors want to know is how was my money used? And when you’re in more of this nebulous space, I’m curious how you did that.

00:28:42 Rick Doblin: Yeah, I felt that, first off, we had to do everything in a transparent way. And so we’ve just been hiring people from pharma to give a certain kind of farm advice. And one of them a couple of weeks ago told me that she has never seen any pharma company post all of their interactions with FDA on our website and also post the documents that we submit to FDA, like the investigator’s brochure the summary of the world’s scientific literature on MDMA. So I felt that we had to show donors that we were making progress, that this was an enormous mountain that we had to climb, but that it was a sequence of steps, so we would be very transparent about where all the money came from. Here’s another interesting point, that in Judaism, the highest form of charity is considered to be anonymous. All right? So I felt, though, that as a reformed Jew, it’s my obligation to take the traditions of the past and make them relevant for the present. So I have developed there’s a new higher form of charity. The higher form of charity is not being anonymous. When lending your name to a controversial issue will help persuade others that this is something that is acceptable behavior. So you are donating not just your money, but your public persona in support of something. And that’s actually a higher form of charity because you are putting your reputation at risk and you are doing it for a good cause. And that’s what we need. And we see that with gay rights. We need people coming out. So I think a big part of the stories that I told the donors in these middle stages, not only is everything transparent, but we want you to be transparent as well. If you are willing, we will take anonymous donations. But people think, oh, those are from drug dealers, or those are from people that are scared to put their name to it. And so if you put your name to it, then it really opens the door for other people to get courage as well. So there was actually one group that I mentioned now that they said that they wanted me to be their donations to be anonymous. And the reason they said is that they have their foundation. They have their mission statement and they have the exact words where they are coloring outside of the lines of their mission statement in order to make this special donation to psychedelics. And that if they made that public then people would think, oh, the mission statement doesn’t really matter and they would get all these applications for stuff, for everything and that would be hard for them. So that was part of the reason, the other part of the reason that money that they got came from one of their fathers and they were worried that might upset the father to give them less money over time. And so there was that issue as well but after seven years of that they finally felt that the political dynamics had changed, that they could be identified. And so it’s Peter and Jennifer Buffett, Warren Buffett’s son and so now I can mention that they’ve been big supporters of what we’re doing. So it was this argument though about the higher form of charity not necessarily being anonymous. So I think the transparency and this kind of encouragement from people to put their reputations on the line as well.

00:32:42 Mallory Erickson: Yeah, I’m Jewish too. And what really strikes me about that shift is that being anonymous, from what I understand that being seen as the highest form is because so that you’re giving without ego and so what you’re asking people to do with the reputational risk is also giving without ego. Don’t make this about you and your ego but you can make this about this cause and what we can achieve together. And so it’s the same spirit I think, of what we think about in terms of anonymous donations in other contexts.

00:33:08 Rick Doblin: Yeah, I think so. That’s a good way to interpret it. Yeah, it’s about taking a greater risk and stepping out in a greater commitment of human rights and being willing to be a courageous early adopter of being a supporter in public.

00:33:22 Mallory Erickson: And so it strikes me that these folks felt likely that they were a part of the destigmatization this. And so I’m curious, stigma is something that I’ve been thinking about so much in a number of different contexts but what has it been like for you to be leading a movement really that can be so easily stigmatized? How have you navigated that and stayed true to your purpose?

00:33:25 Rick Doblin: So I think part of that gets back to this political analysis that what drug and what indication. So the drug MDMA is the most gentle of all the psychedelics, it’s the easiest to integrate. It did revitalize the underground psychedelic therapy movement in the early eighty s and onward. The other part is that we say that therapists, in order to be trained fully, that it helps for them to do MDMA. So you wouldn’t go to a yoga teacher that doesn’t do yoga or a meditation teacher that doesn’t meditate and we don’t make it a requirement but it’s an opportunity, it’s a volunteer situation. And I feel that there’s more resistance in the field of psychiatry and psychotherapy for therapists taking Psilocybin or LSD, there are more existential challenges to your egostructures, whereas MDMA is more supportive. But then I thought we need a sympathetic patient population. And so when you treat addiction, psychedelics is great for treating addiction. Bill W, who started AA, experimented. He actually became sober under Belladonna disorienting psychedelic. And then later in the 50s, he had LSD, and he thought LSD could make a major role in AA, but he wasn’t able to get it adopted. But addicts are the other even said the way we think about it often. So I didn’t think psychedelics for addiction would be a good thing to avoid the stigma of the other. But the two main areas where end of life people that are scared of dying, which is all of us, and to some extent the other is PTSD, because it’s veterans, it’s women that have been sexually abused or domestic violence, there’s sympathy. So we needed sympathetic patients and we needed a disease that was very expensive to treat for the health care could lead to suicide tragedies all the time. We have 20 plus veterans commit suicide every day. So we needed something that untreated, was really difficult, so that insurance companies would cover it. But also this idea of reducing stigma is that if we’re helping people that are valued responders, veterans, police officers even, we have a full time police officer who’s also a psychotherapist, who’s been going through our training program to give MBMA to other police officers. So we’re breaking down the US and to them. So I think that has been the key approach to stigma, has been saying, don’t you want to help these veterans? Don’t you want to help these women? That these drugs have been demonized and stigmatized. But in these careful environments, the other big thing that we make a point of saying is that it’s not the drug, it’s the therapy. That the therapy is the key intervention here, and the drug is the minor part. It’s necessary but not sufficient. And what makes it sufficient is the therapy, because you can take the drug and you could be worse off. It’s not like traditional pharma drugs where the drug is the treatment, this is where the therapy is the treatment, and the drug just makes the therapy more effective. And so I think that’s helped to get over stigma as well, because we keep coming at it. It’s about humans and humans helping each other, and it’s a context that’s different from recreational use. And we’re talking about this highly controlled, highly trained therapists, and we can help people that are held in high regard by society, and that’s why we have bipartisan support. We’ve managed to keep psychedelics out of the last night I was on Fox News on the business, so it was great. And it started out by her telling the world about a friend of hers over the weekend that had lost a brother and was mourning and grief and depressed and didn’t have joy for life, didn’t see a reason to live, lost her brother, but for MDMA therapy, and now everything’s better. He’s processed the trauma, the grief. It’s not that grief goes away, you’re not overwhelmed by it, and you can move forward in your life. And this was Fox News was started by telling me a story about how great friend of hers reported MDMA therapy to be, which incidentally was illegal underground therapy, but she didn’t mention that, and it was just like, oh, I think that’s how we kind of address the stigma. And that’s the difference. I think that, or the advantage that we have, is that so many people have had profound experiences with psychedelics and they don’t know what to do with that. How do you deal with that in a society that suppressed it? We have an avenue, and it’s through FDA drug development, through science, through credibility, through DEA approval, FDA approval. So that’s how we’ve kind of delayed the stigma by having government authorized research. And the other part I’ll just add is that it’s had to be global. Bureaucrats are scared of doing stuff that could boomerang on them, and they don’t like to be the leaders of things. So it’s been important to have a global strategy. So when we do phase three and even phase two, it was in Israel, Switzerland, Canada, and the United States. So we would have regulators in all these countries saying, oh yeah, we’ll look at it, it makes sense to us. So it wasn’t the FDA out on a limb, it wasn’t the Israeli Ministry of Health, and they wouldn’t go first. They wanted the FDA to go first, but then we can have others go second. And now we’re actually having a little bit of hope. I don’t know how it’s going to work out, but with England, their FDA equivalent is called the MHRA, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. And they want to show that they’ve got something from Brexit. And so what have they got? Nothing. Got terrible economic disasters. It’s a total decision. But the thing that they got from Brexit is they are now free from the European Medicines Agency, and so they approve vaccines first, and we’re hoping that might be the place that approves MDMA first. You have to understand these political dynamics and work in different countries in different ways. Yeah, overcoming stigma has been really essential, but it comes from people standing out, speaking that I’m in favor of it, but it’s been a big challenge.

00:39:24 Mallory Erickson: Wow, I am so grateful for this conversation and for your time. Is there anything else you want to make sure? Yes, there is.

00:39:33 Rick Doblin: So we’ve had these incredible conferences called Psychedelic Science. First one was in 2010, where we brought all the nonprofits. This was before they were for profit company. Then we had one in 2013 took us three years and that was terrific. Then the next one took us four years, 2017, and that is now world’s largest conference on psychedelics ever. It was 3000 people. It was super inspiring. It was right when we were starting phase three. Now we’re doing 1, June 19 23rd, 2023 in Denver. And this is going to be, it took us now six years to do this one, but it’s going to be the world’s largest conference on psychedelics. We’ve already sold 2500 tickets and it’s five months away and we’re expecting around 10,000 people. It’s the Denver Convention Center. Denver made mushrooms the lowest enforcement priority. That was the first sort of drug policy reform of psychedelics. Then Colorado in the November election, legalized natural plant medicines as well as Oregon has done for psilocybin. So we’re going to have an incredible conference and it’s going to bring from FDA people from all over the world. So if people would like to learn about psychedelics, I’d like them to invite them to come to Psychedelic Science 2023. The theme of it is the doorway to a new world. And the doorway to this new world is the new world of FDA accepted psychedelics, of drug policy reform, of the mainstreaming, of psychedelic experiences, so that we can process the trauma. The world is going to be worse over the next couple of decades, I think in terms of the amount of trauma. The Institute of Economics and Peace estimates that there may be over a billion climate refugees by 2050 from droughts and famines. And so I think that the stresses on humanity as a whole are going to increase and we are needing new tools to help that. And I think psychedelics can play a role in both destressing and post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, addiction, but also in this other part, which is inspiring people to have this sense of connection. So it’s not just reducing trauma, it’s where do you draw your strength from. And if you feel connected to everything and you feel this life force and you feel the preciousness of this brief time we have on earth can give people strength. And so I think that’s something that we hope people come to the conference, they see this movement. We’ll have people talking about their experiences as well. Titian indigenous people. That’s what I’d like to add. Psychedelic Science has got the information on it. We’re wanting to start with some experiential opportunities for people too through breath work, through Ayahuasca, which is federally legal in certain religions, through meditation retreats, through wilderness retreats, all these kind of experiential things, and then listen to lectures and network and have a great time.

00:42:24 Mallory Erickson: Wow, okay, I will make sure the link to that is included in all of this as well. Thank you, you so much for this conversation.

00:42:32 Rick Doblin: Yeah, thanks for writing me Mallory, I really appreciate it.

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