Non-Profit MAPS Shapes the Future of Psychedelic Therapy
For centuries, indigenous cultures around the globe have been using entheogenic plants to inspire spiritual and physical healing. To discuss the modern study of psychedelic medicine and therapy is to understand the origins of entheogens.
The traditional term predates Western appropriation and in many ways asks contemporary clinical research to recognize Indigenous history as a key part of its success.1
As the Journal of Psychedelic Studies explains, Indigenous groups across the North, Central, and South Americas each have their own beliefs and practices when it comes to using entheogenic plants such as Ayahuasca, psilocybin (“magic” mushrooms), peyote, and ibogaine.
These psychoactive plants were traditionally administered by a healer with spiritual and medicinal experience. Based on global ethnographic accounts2 of shamanistic practices, entheogens allow one to:
- Draw closer to the spiritual realm
- Experience emotional healing and death of the ego
- Reinforce social and community bonds
Indigenous history with psychedelic medicine has since helped Western studies move beyond drug stigma, notably the widespread belief that psychedelics only have recreational value, in that they make people hallucinate or “trip.”
This article challenges those stereotypes based on promising findings from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). You’ll learn what’s happening on the clinical scale and what you can do to get involved in the medicinal psychedelic movement.
In this article
What is MAPS?
Founded by Rick Doblin, Ph.D. in 1986, MAPS is a non-profit dedicated to spearheading global healing through psychedelic research, therapist training, social equity programs, and education.
The changing legal status of psychedelic drugs in the last half of the 20th century stalled global research efforts. Take a look at these key dates:
- 1938: Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann is the first to (accidentally) synthesize LSD.
- 1950-1960s: Canadian psychiatrists coin the term “psychedelic”3 after treating patients with alcohol use disorder. Other scientists in the UK begin combining psychotherapy with LSD to treat mental health conditions like depression.
- 1962-1970s: The FDA begins placing restrictions on psychedelic use in clinical settings. The Vietnam War divides the United States and gives rise to the counterculture movement.
- 1970: Congress passes the Controlled Substances Act during Nixon’s administration. LSD, psilocybin, DMT, peyote, and cannabis reach Schedule 1 drug classification and become illegal. The War on Drugs and stricter pharmaceutical regulations4 force researchers to abandon psychedelic studies.
- 1985: The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) adds MDMA to the list of Schedule 1 drugs.
- 1986: Rick Doblin, Alise Agar, and Debby Harlow file a lawsuit against the DEA’s MDMA classification. The same year, the three found MAPS.
MAPS has since contributed to several advancements in psychedelic medicine. Over 35 years, the non-profit raised over $130 million5 for research involving psychedelics and marijuana.
They’ve also led conferences over the past few decades to discuss MAPS’ clinical findings on MDMA-assisted therapy. In 20176, the FDA granted Breakthrough Therapy Designation for MDMA psychotherapy. Since then, MAPS has already reached phase 3 clinical status7 to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with MDMA.
A Recap of MAPS-Funded Studies
MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, is a chemically produced psychedelic, unlike plant-based psychedelics such as psilocybin or peyote. From 1986 until now, MDMA has been one of MAPS’ most researched psychedelics for treating PTSD, eating disorders, and anxiety.8
The list below summarizes over thirty years of notable MAPS-sponsored research with MDMA, other psychedelics, and cannabis:
- MDMA: Research from MAPS’ phase 2 clinical trials9 shows that psychotherapy with MDMA may be more effective for people with PTSD compared to first-line prescription medications (Zoloft or Paxil). Although PTSD is a chronic condition, the findings strongly suggest that MDMA makes it easier to process difficult emotions and recall traumatic memories when used with talk therapy.
- LSD: A small phase 2 study from 201410 found that LSD-assisted therapy offers lasting anxiety relief for patients with life-threatening diseases.
- Ayahuasca: Another small observational study11 sponsored by MAPS Canada assessed the ritualistic use of ayahuasca in First Nations community members living with substance use disorder and stress. Despite some research limitations, namely the small sample size and the method of substance abuse measurement (self-reported surveys), the participants reported meaningful and lasting improvements in quality of life after the ayahuasca-assisted therapy session.
- Ibogaine: Two observational studies in Mexico12 and New Zealand13 found an association between ibogaine-assisted therapy, reduced opiate withdrawals, and improved outcomes of detoxification. The researchers call on the need for controlled studies with larger sample sizes.
- Cannabis: The first double-blind clinical trial14 with smoked cannabis confirmed that patients with PTSD stand to benefit from different concentrations of cannabis (high THC, CBD, 1:1 THC: CBD). Though there weren’t many statistical differences between the study and placebo groups, medically speaking, cannabis reaching clinical trial status is a small achievement in itself.
A Meeting of the Minds Here At Sovereignty
MAPS’ dedication to closing the gap between psychedelic medicine and mental health research aligns with our mission here at Sovereignty. As Eastern herbs become more valuable to people in the United States, plant medicine has the potential to make a noticeable impact on those interested in holistic healing methods.
Similar to MAPS, we work off the principles of equitable access and conscious consumption so more people have the opportunity to benefit from adaptogens and cannabinoids.
Related Reading: Adaptogens List: A Crash Course in Herbal Medicine
How to Get Involved With Psychedelic Therapy
Even if you don’t qualify to participate in psychedelic research, there are many ways to participate and support the movement:
- Lift Indigenous voices: Be an active member of the psychedelic community by learning about other cultures, exchanging ideas with Indigenous communities, and participating in grassroots movements. The Indigenous Reciprocity Initiative of the Americas offers many avenues of involvement.
- Donate to MAPS: If possible, help MAPS continue to fund medicinal psychedelic research by making a monthly donation.
- Enroll in a clinical trial: Be a part of the change by enrolling as a study participant in a MAPS-sponsored trial. To get started, click here.
- Write your state legislators: In 2019 to 2020, some cities passed laws that decriminalized psychedelics. There’s still a lot of work to be done, so consider writing your local/state legislators to pressure them to make changes based on MAPS’ psychedelic research.
Owing to the traditions laid forth by Indigenous cultures and novel research from MAPS, the modern psychedelic movement has made great strides in the last thirty years. Thousands of people stand to benefit from the medical potential of psychedelics for depression, anxiety, addiction, PTSD, and more.
The legal and medicinal landscape of psychedelics will continue to evolve as people become more accepting of alternative paths to healing. In the meantime, the work to destigmatize and ensure equal access to therapeutic psychedelics starts now.