Rick Doblin Is No Longer MAPS’ Executive Director. We Didn’t Notice — Did You?

Russell HausfeldApril 22, 2023

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) quietly replaced founder Rick Doblin as Executive Director with Kris Lotlikar.

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The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) replaced its longtime Executive Director Rick Doblin at the beginning of the year with an uncharacteristic lack of fanfare. 

As of January, Kris Lotlikar assumed Doblin’s role as MAPS’ Executive Director. Prior to this role, Lotlikar co-founded Students for Sensible Drug Policy; energy company Renewable Choice; and Arcview Market Research. He was also a Board member for the Arcview Group—which helped usher capital into the cannabis space. 

The transition of Executive Director, from Doblin to Lotlikar, came with no formal announcement from MAPS — an organization generally known for an abundance of psychedelic public relations statements, including an announcement of Doblin’s birthday only months ago. 

Rick Doblin’s Tenure 

Doblin has been involved in psychedelic drug policy reform efforts for decades, co-founding the organization Earth Metabolic Design Laboratories (EMDL) in 1984 to discourage the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) from classifying MDMA as Schedule 1. Following the failed efforts of EMDL, Doblin founded the MAPS nonprofit in 1986 and served as Executive Director until January of this year. 

Nearly thirty years after founding the MAPS nonprofit, Doblin announced the creation of a for-profit entity wholly owned by the nonprofit, called MAPS Public Benefit Corporation (MPBC). The MPBC was created to conduct pharmaceutical research and — one day — potentially manufacture and sell MDMA, while the nonprofit remains focused on fundraising.

Under Doblin’s leadership as Executive Director, MAPS raised over $140 million dollars for its psychedelic research, and is currently taking MDMA through Phase 3 trials with the Food and Drug Administration. In many ways, MAPS’ efforts under Doblin have shepherded in the for-profit psychedelic pharmaceutical industry excitement occurring today. Doblin has described industry efforts such as for-profit development of psychedelics like psilocybin as “a sign of the success of [MAPS’] nonprofit work.”

Along with these organizational milestones, MAPS experienced a number of controversies  under Doblin’s leadership. 

In the early 2000s, journalist Jon Hanna cataloged Doblin’s defense of MAPS-collaborator, John Halpern, who was confronted about his role as a “cooperating witness” for the DEA at a conference in Basel, Switzerland. “Cover Story: Power Trip” — a longform investigation co-produced by Psymposia and New York Magazineexplored a number of abuses and methodological issues which occurred in MAPS’ clinical trials under Doblin’s watch in the 2010s. Doblin’s fellow Board member at MAPS, Vicki Dulai, was recently accused of financial abuse of an elderly MAPS donor. A lawsuit found MAPS’ harm reduction efforts to be liable for the death of a young woman at Lightning in a Bottle. And, just this year, a number of veterans announced feeling used, harmed, and discarded by MAPS and its researchers.

The transition of the MAPS Executive Director position also comes at a time when MAPS appears to be struggling financially. Lucid News reported in March that the nonprofit had, for the “first time offered to sell shares in its for-profit, drug-development subsidiary, MAPS Public Benefit Corporation (MAPS PBC), as it struggles to raise the money needed to bring MDMA to market as a prescription medicine.” 

The article notes that this development has been a disappointment for Doblin, “who previously said that MAPS PBC would sell shares only as a last resort.” However, Lucid does imply this decision was made under Doblin’s tenure as Executive Director in 2022. It is unclear how much influence Lotlikar had in this decision, though, at the time, Lotlikar was MAPS President, “overseeing financing and day-to-day operations globally.” 

The idea of bringing in outside investors would also be familiar to the former Arcview Board member. Describing the results of Arcview Group’s strategic efforts in the cannabis space, co-founder Steven DeAngelo once said, “Prior to Arcview inviting the investor class in, the movement was driven by people who loved cannabis, but we attracted a lot of people whose motivation was not love of cannabis but love of making money.”

Lotlikar — promoted from MAPS Deputy Director to President between November and December 2022 — now holds Doblin’s former Executive Director position, while Doblin has assumed Lotlikar’s prior role as MAPS President.

Doblin’s replacement by Lotlikar as MAPS’ Executive Director was first reported on Twitter by journalist Sasha Sisko on April 21. Alongside an episode of the Your Brain on Science podcast released that day — featuring Sisko calling for Doblin’s resignation — Sisko published a petition demanding Doblin’s resignation from all of his “positions within MAPS and MAPS-PBC.”

Why the transition of executive directors was ultimately made so quietly is unclear.  Psymposia has reached out to MAPS for comment and will update this story if we receive a response.

MAPS responded to Psymposia’s request for comment on April 24, stating, “In January 2023, the MAPS Board of Directors appointed Rick Doblin, Ph.D. to the role of President following nearly 37 years of service as MAPS Executive Director. Kris Lotlikar, who had served as Deputy Director since 2020, was appointed to the role of Executive Director. These titular changes were made to align the organization’s delegation of duties, as they have evolved, with Florida nonprofit regulations. The Executive Director reports to the President, and both report to the Board of Directors. Dr. Doblin continues to serve as chief executive of MAPS.”

Update 4/23/2023: This article was updated to include that Sasha Sisko was the first to publicly report on this change in Executive Director.

Update and correction 4/25/2023: This article was updated to reflect MAPS’ statement that Doblin and Lotlikar exchanged roles in January. A previous version of this story reported that the exchange was made in February. This was based on Lotlikar’s archived staff biography page, which listed his role as “President” in February.

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