Power Tripping #6: Open Heart Surgery

March 6, 2022

The Psymposia team discusses the reticence of psychedelic advocates to consider cases of unequivocal abuse and neglect of participants in MAPS clinical trials. We provide background on the gap between the public image of MAPS and the experiences shared by Meaghan, Mel, and Leah in New York Magazine’s Cover Story Season 1, Power Trip.

Power Tripping #6: Open Heart Surgery

The Psymposia team discusses the reticence of psychedelic advocates to consider cases of unequivocal abuse and neglect of participants in MAPS clinical trials. We provide background on the gap between the public image of MAPS and the experiences shared by Meaghan, Mel, and Leah in New York Magazine’s Cover Story Season 1, Power Trip.

Plus Three|March 6, 2022

The Psymposia team discusses the reticence of psychedelic advocates to consider cases of unequivocal abuse and neglect of participants in MAPS clinical trials. We provide background on the gap between the public image of MAPS and the experiences shared by Meaghan, Mel, and Leah in New York Magazine’s Cover Story Season 1, Power Trip.


Transcription by Kayla Greenstien. While we endeavor to ensure the accuracy of our transcripts, sometimes things slip through the cracks. If you spot an error you’d like us to correct, please let us know at tips@psymposia.com

Lily Kay Ross  0:00  Hey, this is Lily from Power Trip and this is Power Tripping, a chance for the Psymposia team to deep dive into recent episodes. We are a 501(c)(3)  nonprofit psychedelic watchdog organization. You can support our work at psymposia.com/donate. You can listen to Power Trip wherever podcasts are available and tune in here for nerd talk.

Brian Pace  0:36  I mean, I think it’d be sort of a power move to be walking around with a shirt that just says power tripping without an explanation.

Unknown Speaker  0:44  (laughing)

Lily Kay Ross  0:47  Oh, boy.

David Nickles  0:48  So, welcome back to another episode of Power Tripping. We’ve had a little break since our last one. So there’s been some developments and changes, some, some some things have happened. So, we can jump right into it. But I think maybe we’ll recap a little bit from the first half. But I think before we get to any of that, we wanted to take a beat and acknowledge that Lily is now in the big hosty seat of New York mags Power Trip, and Psymposia’s Power Trip. 

Brian Pace  1:21  Whoop whoop. 

Lily Kay Ross  1:22  Weeee

Russell Hausfeld  1:24  Use the power

Brian Pace  1:25  And I am trippin’ on it.

David Nickles  1:27  So for folks who haven’t heard the first half of season one of New York mag and Psymposia’s Cover Story Power Trip, probably go listen to those episodes, and then listen to the first five Power Trippings. You can jump into this one straightaway if you want.

Russell Hausfeld  1:48  We can’t stop you.

David Nickles  1:48  There may be some missing content. Yeah, we absolutely cannot stop you. 

Lily Kay Ross  1:52  There are limits to our powers. 

David Nickles  1:55  Yeah, I guess just briefly, the first half dealt with issues in the psychedelic underground, focusing largely on the consciousness medicine cult. And in the second half, we’re going to be moving far more into things that are taking place above ground. But a lot of the dynamics and more systemic or structural issues are very much still at play and still in the frame. So, I think a lot of the dynamics and issues in the first half really inform some of the understandings that the the second half is building out and will continue to build out. So I guess rather than just jumping into it, as somebody who has been swimming in this shit for way too long, I want to just throw it out there for y’all like as far as what immediate takeaways from episode six.

Neşe Devenot  2:46  It was a roller coaster for sure. One thing I heard from a lot of people, people’s reactions to it was how striking it was to hear the first person accounts. And I’m sure you know, we’re gonna get into that more. But I did want to before we get into the darker, gritty stuff, say how I did get a bit nostalgic in the beginning hearing from you know more about it was nice to hear more of you, Dave, and your background and the outset, talking about, and I really liked the way that we set that up in terms of like, there was this community of sorts in those early days, while it was still fairly taboo, and kind of coming together around conferences, and just hearing how impactful those early mushrooms had been for you. Um, just yeah, it was just it was nice to have it start out that way, acknowledging that there were these kind of life changing benefits that, but that’s not the whole story. 

David Nickles  3:47  Yeah. 

Brian Pace  3:48  Well, yeah. And also, it was nice to see all of that juxtaposed with clinical trials, because Dave your experiences weren’t in a clinical trial where they.

David Nickles  3:59  They were not. And at the same time, I thought it was a nice opportunity to really emphasize the issues that we’ve talked about, repeatedly as Psymposia when it comes to issues of authority and legitimacy and the way that having that legitimate scientific research to point to whether talking with my parents, or I mean, at the same time, I was at university, right, like talking to my professors being able to come into the class with peer reviewed papers and say, “Hey, like, let’s talk about drugs. And here I’ve got, like, legit institutional cover, that these ideas belong in the realm of research”. I think it’s hard to overstate how significant that sort of legitimacy can be.

Lily Kay Ross  4:48  Yeah, Neşe you use the word nostalgia. And it’s true. Like, I think we all kind of can remember when like, you know, conferences were small, you know, you rocked up and it was like you knew many of the people there because you’d seen them around. And like, there was a sense of community. It’s hard to know how real it was, especially in retrospect. But like a sense of shared interest, a sense of shared passion and curiosity, and coming together to like be nerds about this thing we were all kind of into that was like, kind of fringy and kind of weird. And it’s, it’s changed, the terrain has changed.

David Nickles  5:30  I think, you know, a sort of less nostalgic sense, like looking at some of those histories at the beginning of the show, like I, one of the things I’ve really been appreciating over the last couple weeks, in particular, I mean, it goes back longer, but the work that we have done collectively to put some of these stories on the record and some of the histories on the record in ways where they can be easily pointed to with a URL to a single article, and you have the collection of accounts. Like when, when we were talking about the number of people, you know how few people were in phase two of MAPS clinical trials. I mean, that was, I remember that moment, and being able to say, you know, people are saying, “Wait, can you point to that”, and I realized we had a series of articles that Russ had written. It’s just a handy resource, I guess.

Brian Pace  6:21  This, this episode was, was particularly raw. And I want to acknowledge sort of the, the gravity of like moving into the world of clinical trials and laboratories. There’s so much of people’s like hopes and careers, and the amount of like, push back that has really only just begun, that we have already seen and anticipated it’s unsurprising. And yet, I think a question that we’ve been asking over and over again, is, are these just collateral damage stories we’re hearing from some great mission? Or is this something, I think it was a rhetorical question. This deserves the kind of attention that you all have put on it.

Lily Kay Ross  7:16  Yeah, the phrase collateral damage has come up a lot. Meghan Buisson was one of the first people to really put that idea down and, and really make the point that like, we’re not collateral damage, you know, that’s not, that’s not really a thing. I think it just it’s, it’s heavy. And it’s difficult, because it’s like, so much of the public narrative around MAPS, in particular, hinges on healing lots and lots of people who are the most hurt and the most in need of relief. And especially when you bring some of these stories into conversation with the way that MAPS is branding themselves, it’s like, Wait, like, I thought, I thought that this was about addressing suffering. So why is it that these accounts of suffering are not being addressed?

Brian Pace  8:07  Why indeed.

David Nickles  8:08  Yeah, and I mean, beyond that, it’s, it’s why are these accounts not being addressed, but also the barriers that are being erected not just by an organization that that claims to be invested in the well being of potentially millions and millions and millions of people, but also like doing good quality trauma research. I think, like one of the things that has struck me throughout the course of talking with different study participants is the degree to which coming forward in these cases isn’t just a matter of being able to engage with the sort of difficult, challenging material at hand. It’s also dealing with the realities of the PR narrative that exists around MAPS and the notion that, you know, Doblin has said on the record at various points: this is going to usher in a spirituality for the billions. To begin to challenge that narrative is, to my mind, a rather significant weight to bear and for anyone to bear on their own. And remember, in the context of clinical trials, participants shouldn’t know who the other participants are. So they are effectively isolated, atomized on their own. And if you’re in a clinical trial for severe PTSD, just in coming forward to make that acknowledgement, you are already acknowledging and making a significant disclosure about your own mental health and your own, like the issues you’ve dealt with in life, and that’s, there’s a lot that comes with that when you look at the stigma and the, the social responses to that. And so I think like when you look at all of the things that stack up, and then if you look, I mean, just just to talk about Meghan. Meghan’s story is, has been in the public for a while. Meghan’s story is in the public, in part because of work that people on this team have done, to get it out there and to highlight it. And even, even with some of those pushes, I think MAPS has made all of two statements, you know, effectively, like, like actual public statements, you know, official formal replies, whatever, in the years, neither of which, to my mind never really addressed the issues at hand. I mean, they describe it as a sexual relationship between a trial participant and her study therapist. Like, excuse me, what? Like, we’re talking about a therapeutic relationship, there is no consensual sexual relationship here. And the fact to what Lily was saying earlier about, like, who has gotten to frame and shape these narratives, like the effects of that like, right. When MAPS sprains, that narrative, they have a large PR apparatus, they have access to media, and that that is what gets out there. So then when other people pull from those statements and reiterate MAPS’ talking points, they, whether intentionally or unintentionally reproduce some of those harmful dynamics, even if we want to say it’s just an exclusion or you know, just an exclusion or a mis-framing, like the way in which that is replicated and reproduced, in some cases without thought is in and of itself harmful. 

Russell Hausfeld  11:37  The couple of statements that they have put out to have been vague, and in their own defense for the most part, like I feel like their statements like talk about like cutting ties with the with Yensen and Dryer as if that were like a quick thing that they just did, like, as soon as they heard the first inkling of something going wrong. And when in reality, that doesn’t seem to be the case, it seemed to take quite a process for them to cut those ties. And you, yeah, you lose a lot in, in that parroting of just their PR statements that they’re putting out. 

Brian Normand  12:08  I’ve known MAPS, people have worked with MAPS people closely, something that people outside of, you know, looking at Psymposia now don’t realize, MAPS is a psychedelic propaganda machine. That’s what they are. That’s why they’re so successful. They know how to do it and kind of dislodging some of these narratives, I think might become even more difficult now with the resources that they have the investment that they just received, the um, the relationships that they have with big heavy hitters. And as far as public relations and the deal that they look, they’ve, they’ve worked with Saatchi and Saatchi before, to craft the public narratives. They’ve worked with Boston Consulting Group. They know what they’re doing, you know, it’s going to become even more difficult, I think moving forward, unless, you know, more media actually looks at it. And the other thing is, while it’s not included, I was just looking while you guys are talking, at MAPS mission statement, you know, it’s not about the benefits and the risks. It’s about the benefit from careful uses of psychedelics and marijuana. But all the rhetoric about everybody talking about, you know, the risks of of psychedelics, or MDMA there’s not that much in the discourse about the risks. A lot of it is just kind of pushed aside. And like you said, yeah, MAPS has kind of been silent on a lot of this. And that statement that they put out, initially was called statement public announcement of ethical violation by former MAPS sponsored investigators, if anyone actually wants to look at that.

Brian Pace  13:46  We’ll post a link. 

David Nickles  13:47  Yeah. And I think it’s worth pointing out in the context of the PR machine and all of that, that like some of the history like people, and we’ve talked about it a fair bit, but like people not realizing that the dyad stems, the therapist dyad stems from legacies of sexual abuse by MDMA therapists, you know, and the therapist in question like, like, in Ingrasci was was the poster boy, for MDMA therapy. I mean, he was doing congressional hearings, he was he was, 

Russell Hausfeld  14:19  He helped start like two major psychology groups around that area and everything to yeah.

Lily Kay Ross  14:25  It made sense when I when I read about it, and started to put the pieces together, but like, you know, we sort of say like, oh, yeah, it was like a small community of people over many decades that have kind of known each other. But like, going back and looking and reading and being like, oh, like, I know, half of these people who were on the board of this early iteration, a pre MAPS of the earth metabolic design labs are like realizing, oh, that there was this 1985 gathering of people at the Esalen Institute to try to talk about the emergency scheduling of MDMA and like organize against it and it’s Ingrasci and DeLio and Yensen and, and Doblin and Greer and like. I just, there’s there’s like the same names just come up over and over again. These are people who, much like Psymposia like where we’re in touch with each other when we know each other and we have strong social relationships like so too with them. These were these are social groups that are passionate about the thing that they’re passionate about, and that go way back to like before I was born. So I think that’s an important thing to realize, too, is like, you know, Rick Ingrasci, these abuses were talked about in the Boston Globe in the late 1980s. He was like an associative of Doblin and these other people throughout the 80s, he was, he was testifying to Congress. And, and the point I’m trying to make here is like, these guys all knew each other. And like the fact that there were abuses happening was a thing that would have been like, a thing that people were, you know, talking about one way or another within these circles. And so, you know, it’s just ridiculous the extent to which it just, it hasn’t been grappled with. It’s just been like papered over.

David Nickles  16:08  And when we’re talking about abuses, being papered over, I think too, like highlighting the fact that that, and we’ve seen it with our coverage of Martin Ball and the notion you know, there were a couple people who were at least a couple people who were publicly saying that, you know, Ball wasn’t such a concern compared to say, Octavio Rettig because Rettig had actually killed people but but Ball hadn’t. And, you know, I’m just struck by the number of people in these communities who seem only willing to draw the line when it comes to things like death, or rape, or like it, the harms don’t count until it gets to that point. And in talking with the participants who came forward and shared their stories with us, around their clinical trial experiences. The amount of harm that that comes from therapist misconduct or impropriety, things like fostering dependence, things like gaslighting participants or clients, and the sponsor organization, you know, the types of responses that go down. Like, the amount of harm when you’re talking about folks who are dealing with severe trauma and who are looking for, who may have believed the line of both various lines about MDMA assisted therapy being a miracle cure having phenomenal rates of healing. I mean, I don’t think there’s been enough discussion, broadly speaking about the potential for harm beyond the notion of like, expectancy beyond the notion of like, oh, well, people might not get what they’re looking for people, you know, may find that they, as they unpack some of these traumas, it’s difficult stuff. Like there, there’s no real meaningful discussion of different aspects of touch or therapist dependence or emotional like, like, like the lack of like, what happens when people are sloppy with boundaries? Like I think looking both at Part One and Part Two, like, when I look at the harms that have been done, there are clear ongoing issues from people who have, from therapists or practitioners who have refused or failed to set boundaries. And when I compare some of those harms, to some of the practitioners who have set boundaries, where there are still harms, what I see is like, it’s like a different scope of mess. You know, it’s like the, the non boundary practitioners have facilitated these sort of ongoing unfolding of like, like cascading harms, basically, by their unwillingness or inability to set those boundaries. And it’s just when I see people like Elizabeth Nielsen from Fluence say, we don’t need to worry about the therapeutic component until we get this approved. And then we’ll sort of figure out the therapy, that’s concerning. To me, that seems like a huge blind spot. 

And I mean, in as far as MAPS, like, I’m not surprised at any of the boundary violations that have existed in the clinical trials. This is an organization that, you know, people go to festivals together, everybody does drugs together with one another. 

That’s on the record, by the way, they’re there. 

Brian Pace  19:22  It’s what the cool kids do. 

Brian Normand  19:24  When I think about MAPS, the, the explosive growth, if you’re sort of new to this space, you got to understand that MAPS in the last, I don’t know, six, seven years has had has undergone like a period of explosive growth just a handful of years ago, their budgets were like very small, and when you look at how much money they’re raising, and just the the growth that they’ve had in the last few years. I think to me, the culture that existed there which was which was like this hippie dippie kind of new age, blurred boundary kind of organization that, that itself, that culture has scaled. And so when I think about them, I think of a company like Uber, that has, you know, had this terrible work culture of sexual harassment and misogyny and all this, and how that has exploded. And you can see, I also think of Vice, that’s kind of a similar company that that underwent, you know, massive investments, and they scaled that kind of internal slop culture. And look, like I said before, I’ve worked with MAPS closely. And I’ve had MAPS employees before, like, just explain to me how sloppy the organization is. And I’ve experienced it as well. So this doesn’t surprise me to see these things happening in clinical trials when I’ve been able to kind of look under the hood and just been around that organization. And then in the space where I’ve been studying that organization now for the past eight years.

David Nickles  20:52  And it comes from the top right, like how many times have we seen, have we experienced Rick Doblin defending, you know, people who have been alleged to have done serious, significant harms? Like if we look at the the people who have allegations of sexual abuse or impropriety 

Brian Pace  21:11  Or admissions in the case of Pinchbeck.

David Nickles  21:13  Yeah, and Rick has raced to defend them time and time again. And, you know, like, we have emails we have, we’ve been, we’ve been in conversations with him, and like, it just hasn’t mattered, like nobody’s been willing

Brian Normand  21:28  Things don’t matter, when you’re on a spiritual mission to turn on billions of people, the few, they don’t matter. 

Brian Pace  21:34  To steer the ocean liner of humanity away from the iceberg. It’s simple math.

Russell Hausfeld  21:41  And MAPS, from the moment that I kind of learned about them has felt like they were on that kind of that spiritual mission. And they had their, their toes in a lot of different baskets, like they were doing kind of like peer support projects and some stuff related to spirituality and, and like you said, now they’re scaling into the organization that’s kind of at the center of the boom of corporadelics and planning to be the people supplying MDMA to like the first generation of this industry. And like, they, they’ve gone from this kind of, yeah, like, like hippie dippie, spiritual organization with some science happening to now they’re kind of at the heart of this, this corporadelic industry that’s forming and a lot of people, their success is kind of informing a lot of these other companies that are springing up and, and they could fail, and the industry would probably still stick around. But if they succeed, there’s a lot more money, a lot of people and, and now, I don’t know, their their importance has kind of skyrocketed very fast, I think, and their culture has not changed with it. 

Brian Normand  22:52  And they have the perception of having the moral high ground in the industry as well.

Lily Kay Ross  22:56  Because they’re a nonprofit.

Brian Normand  22:57  Yeah, it’s a weird model. I don’t I don’t want to unpack the whole thing, actually. But they’re both a nonprofit and for profit. But if you actually look at that, objectively, the for profit is orders of magnitude larger than the nonprofit. But technically, the nonprofit owns the for profit. So I don’t want to get into all that. 

Russell Hausfeld  23:17  But the nonprofit starting to cut certain projects in favor of the for profit. 

Brian Normand  23:22  Anyway, anyways.

David Nickles  23:23  Like, yeah, it’s a it’s a mess, just the way that that this stuff gets downplayed, and dismissed, like, for example, raising that question about what happens when there’s a mismatch between CAPS scores and lived experience, right? Like, what happens when, when what’s on paper doesn’t match reality, and like, we’re going to get more into that next week, too. But I just want to point out that like, in talking to other researchers, they’ve been quite clear. That’s what the discussion section of peer reviewed papers is for, like, that’s where you can sort of lay into it, especially when we’re talking about trauma research, and the understanding that like there’s going to be some reductiveness in the measurements used in this, that and the other. But if we look through MAPS’ presentations and papers and the public engagement with their research, where are these participants experiences reflected? 

Lily Kay Ross  24:19  So my background is primarily in qualitative research. And, you know, when you look at like CAPS is a quantitative measurement instrument. And if there’s a big disparity between what your quant is telling you and what your qualitative data is telling you, that’s interesting to like the typical dyed in the wool researcher who has like a thirst to understand the phenomenon under investigation, that’s really interesting. That’s not a thing that gets brushed aside. That’s not a thing that gets ignored. It’s a thing that’s like, let’s zoom in really close here and get as much information about what’s going on here as possible. The notion that like it would just be like, “Oh, well, the quant says this other thing, so we’re just gonna go with that” is like, wait, what? Like you could be missing on like a missing out on like a significant breakthrough and understanding because you’re just not willing to ask more questions. 

David Nickles  25:20  And it’s even bigger than than that aspect to right because it’s like that sort of like how they’ve chosen to sit with or dissect or not, or interpret or not the various experiences that are being presented. But I think actually, we can start further upstream and actually look at the protocol. So something that we didn’t get into on the podcast at all on Power Trip at all, is that the IRB, the Institutional Review Board that approved this is not a university IRB. What it is, it is the WCG IRB. That’s the Western Copernicus Group Institutional Review Board, and this is a, an industry funded IRB. That is if memory serves funded by Novo Nordisk the pharma company. And it,

Brian Normand  26:11  I believe it’s funded by that foundation, am I right on that the, Novo Nordisk Foundation, which is actually bigger than the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, I believe. 

David Nickles  26:19  Yes, that, that’s my, my memory as well. And so they’re the WCG IRB homepage bills itself as a leader in IRB and IBC review services. It’s a WCG IRB Connexus is “a revolutionary Submission Portal built from the ground up based on feedback from our clients. The result, ease of use speed of submission”, you know, basically like this, this notion that that you can race to approval because you can reduce your submission time by 50%, with the WCG, IRB Connexus, right like this. This is what regulatory capture looks like.

Lily Kay Ross  26:54  So, wait, we should tell people what an IRB 

Russell Hausfeld  26:56  I was just going to say I’m sure there’s people that don’t know what an IRB is.

Brian Pace  26:59  Institutional review board.

Lily Kay Ross  27:01  Ok, so in a university setting, for example, you would have an institutional review board and IRB. Another way this gets talked about sometimes is an ethics committee. So this is a group of people who convene on a semi regular basis, like maybe monthly, and then they review applications from across disciplines. And sometimes, like I’ve been a university I was in had different streams. So like, if you were doing research that involves human research subjects, that was one stream, and if you were doing something that like intervened on those subjects versus like a more observational study, like I think they delineated those. So the point is that you have like a group of your peers who are professionals across different fields, and their job is to look at an application you submit, and that application is supposed to foresee potential risks, talk about how you’re going to mitigate them, you’re supposed to show that you know, the subject matter, you know, the risks that are involved, you have a plan for dealing with it, you’ve thought through multiple contingencies, and that your research subjects are going to be safe. And that IRB is also therefore like, by approving your research, they’re gate, they have some responsibility for ensuring that it’s carried out ethically. So if there’s a problem

David Nickles  27:02  And ensuring the safety of participants.

Lily Kay Ross  28:16  That’s right. So they could be then they could be receiving complaints, for example, from people who had negative experiences in a research trial. Now, what we’re talking about with WCG IRB is that it’s an external private company, that’s not associated with a university, where people are paying to play and submit applications that are then reviewed by I don’t know who. 

Brian Pace  28:42  So, I want to just clarify one thing, which is the history of IRBs, institutional review boards. They were standardized in 1972 by something called the National Research Research Act in the United States. And this was in the wake of things like the Church Committee. This literally what goes back to the discussion by Congress and the revelations to the public, of MK-Ultra and unethical, human experimentations with psychedelics. It was not only MK-Ultra, but that was very much a tipping point for this work and also included the experiments Tuskegee, human radiation experiments, and much of what happened earlier with the Nazis. But yeah, institutional review boards, in very much part of their history is to prevent abuses with psychedelics. 

Lily Kay Ross  29:44  And here we are. 

Brian Pace  29:45  Yeah.

David Nickles  29:45  60 years later. 

Lily Kay Ross  29:47  I think it was Justin Timberlake said what goes around goes around goes around, comes all the way back around.

Brian Normand  29:54  Oh my god.

Unknown Speaker  29:55  


Russell Hausfeld  29:57  Thank you for your levity.

David Nickles  29:59  What about the, the choice of dosing we spoke with somebody who told us initially they said it wasn’t a choice. And then they said, Oh, well, I guess it is a choice. As far as whether or not participants go up in their dosing. 

Unknown Speaker  30:11  Right. Yeah.

Brian Normand  30:12  So that was covered on this episode. 

Lily Kay Ross  30:15  Yeah. 

David Nickles  30:15  Right. And if you read the… But but it didn’t feel I want to be clear, like and and you can hear it in some of Leah’s quotes on the subject matter, like, it didn’t feel like a choice for Leah. I think she says something like, like, do I have to, and it’s, you know, we’ll Okay, you’d like you’re the you’re the knowledgeable experts. And looking at the doses, the notion of 120 milligrams plus a 60 milligram booster of MDMA being standard, particularly in the wake of, you know, 80 milligrams with a 40 milligram booster, resulting in like, somebody processing more trauma than, than other participants may have processed in the course of their entire…

Russell Hausfeld  30:59  That just seems so strange if you’re trying to quantify data, like similar data to to give some people the option to go up? And not if you don’t want to, because then how do you compare participants at all? 

Brian Normand  31:20  You don’t. 

Lily Kay Ross  31:20  So we’re gonna talk more about that next week.

David Nickles  31:22  We’re gonna talk about that next week. 

Russell Hausfeld  31:24  Alright

David Nickles  31:24  But I do want to point out one, one, and this is not in next week’s discussion, but one MAPS staffer actually got rather…seem to get offended or upset when I suggested that they were pulling heterogeneous data, even within phase three, when I said 80 40, with 120 60, like we’re talking about, like different doses, it seems that at least some MAPS staffers, or Benefit Corp staffers don’t don’t really see it that way. And so we do have this question of like, how rigorous is rigorous. Like how, how good of a protocol is it and who gets to make those distinctions, assertions claims. And to be clear, like this is not just an issue with MAPS, this is an issue with with pharmaceuticals more broadly. But I think the way that it’s playing out here and looking at some of the questions that come up around this protocol, and who approved it and how it’s written. 

Brian Pace  32:23  I mean, the the old phrase is good enough for government work comes to mind. I mean, ultimately, you know, the the goal is to approve these medicines. That is, you know, that’s the whole the whole process. And it’s because they absolutely do believe that these medicines work. They’re going through the process that is mandated by the FDA, but I guarantee you that if that process was less stringent, there would be happy to go through that process. Rick Doblin has spoken at length about about that. And I think the issue here is, is not is not one of should the drug war function the way it is, and should these substances be illegal? It is, should they be approved for medical conditions and prescribed by doctors and paid for by insurance? 

David Nickles  33:18  Well, and that’s just it, right? Like, what’s leading people into these trials? Like what are the, what are the narratives? What are the, when you have participants who are saying, who are saying, “Wait, so, so what does this mean as far as like, healing my own trauma? Like am I really going to be without trauma? You know, what next Monday? I s, is this the kind of thing where like, I go in, I go out and I’m cured?”. Like, well just Lily’s point about, come, come all ye most vulnerable. Like, it’s not just that like that narrative pushes people into the underground because there aren’t above ground therapy options. Like this is the same problem with everybody who’s racing to promote access. Access for what? For an understudied novel psychotherapeutic intervention. Like and the fact that people are pushing for the access for these understudied psychotherapeutic interventions for the most marginalized populations. I mean, Pace brought up the Tuskegee syphilis experiment earlier.

Brian Pace  34:17  I did. And actually in a lot actually, in earlier discussions we talked about the Constant Gardener, which is an excellent movie about pharmaceutical experimentation in Africa, but please go on.

David Nickles  34:27  Well, I just think it’s when I hear people like Sam Chapman, from Oregon’s measure 109, I think he was the former campaign manager talking about how, you know measure 109 is a stand in sort of therapy for people who don’t currently have good access to health care. Where’s the evidence that it’s effective for anything, like what are you talking about? Like what what things are you claiming this is going to be a therapeutic remedy for and like this seems to tie in to legacies of this sort of experimentation on populations that don’t have access to health care. And frankly, like if you care about access to health care, go like work on Medicare for all like, not not psychedelics as a stand in for actual evidence based medicine. Like that, it just doesn’t make any sense to me. And yet it seems that there is such a battle for optics that everybody wants to be the first to argue equitable access without even considering equitable access to what?

Brian Normand  35:27  Yeah, just just to Pace, the point that you made up, you made a minute ago, is there’s a complete disconnect in my mind anyways, between, like the legality of the medicine and the like the criminality of the substance. And, Dave, you pointed Russel’s series out in the podcast and you also 

David Nickles  35:46  Do you remember when we found that out? I remember the three of us being shocked. 

Brian Normand  35:50  So Russell wrote an article. It’s a four part series. But if you look up the article, ‘How will MDMA be rescheduled in the future’, you may be disappointed. So just to the point I just made about the difference between like the legality of the medicines and the criminality of the substance overall. You don’t need to support like the medicalization of this right now, if you actually want like the like, like the legal aspect because there’s going to be a bifurcation with MDMA. So if MDMA goes through and is approved by the FDA, your MDMA is 100% illegal. And that’s worth pointing out, because I actually don’t think a lot of people realize that 

Russell Hausfeld  36:31  you need MAPS, GMP, MDMA. 

Brian Normand  36:34  Yeah. So the only MDMA that would actually be technically legal would be MAPS MDMA, and that, in the schedule, one of MDMA would bifurcate there. So MDMA in the street or whatever, that’s all completely illegal only like therapeutic MAPS MDMA would be legal, or something.

David Nickles  36:50  Would be moved to schedule two, or maybe three, something like that. Yeah, this then this is a little speculative but… 

Russell Hausfeld  36:55  And there’s similar cases of that, I think, with like, Xyrem, I believe it’s called for narcolepsy, I think that’s GHB with sodium oxybate, the GHB is still illegal, technically, but Xyrem is a prescribe-able medication as long as it’s like with the sodium oxybate. So there’s, that’s similar to how MDMA would be bifurcated to some extent. 

Brian Pace  37:20  So I mean, related to this, that, that I think, in a way, connects more directly to some of the stories were heard in this episode is like, so healthcare is the institutionally intuition is one of the institutionalization of caregiving, okay, and, you know, we all experienced, nurturing, or, hopefully, we have all experienced nurturing in life. And that’s how we literally survive – we’re social creatures. This includes, you know, nursing us when we are ill. And what is being proposed with psychedelized mental health is a magnification that a very particular kind of, of caregiving. And the people who are part of these narratives talk about, like things like soul work, but then modulate that language for the medical field. And the stories that we heard of, of Meghan telling that story about being hugged in the clinical trial, on the one hand, you know, through one lens, it sounded like this shift, like perhaps something like integrative medicine, where something more holistic, like yoga, or mindfulness is finally getting the recognition. Of course, we all need human touch, right? But we’re not talking about the human touch from accountable people in your community, or from people who love you. Like these are people that you’re interfacing with, through in this case, a clinical trial, with the goal of making this a legal medicine that you will interface with, through a for profit system in the United States, or perhaps a government system, you know, say in Europe. And, and so this, like, the reality of what is being proposed here is like an extreme magnification of people’s emotional states and the management and intervention of those drugged emotional states by professionals. We do have standards for you know, ethical standards for, for therapists that clearly, clearly were violated in the case that Mel and Leah all shared, but what is it. I think that just to close, like, what we saw was one synopsis of how something like that can go very, very wrong. and how it’s very difficult to standardize something like that, since it’s human relationships where even the therapists themselves start to lose the thread.

David Nickles  40:10  Well, and in the case of Meghan’s therapists, right, one of them wasn’t a licensed therapist, one of them, you know, Yensen was reported to have let his license lapse in 2009, I think and MAPS was presenting him as a psychologist on the website.

Lily Kay Ross  40:27  Yeah, I think, you know, this hug thing is really interesting, because there is, I think, in some of these more holistic health kind of spaces, assumptions about like, touch being universally good. And yet, if you’re dealing with a traumatized population, one of the really important injuries associated with trauma is the loss of control. And one of the really important features of doing work with people, and I’m not even speaking like, therapeutically, because I’m not a clinician, I’m not a therapist. But in the sexual violence space, a victim and survivor centered approach is trying to really center the autonomy of the person who’s been harmed, and to try to do what you can to like, you know, support them in having a sense of control. So rather than saying, you know, you should go to the police, and you should report this. It’s like, you could say, “Would you like to know, some of the different options that you might have for reporting?” You know, and then they can say yes or no. And if they say, yes, you can say, well, you might do this, and you might do this, and is there any of these you want to talk more about? So it’s like, it’s really so I think, like, and this is a thing we’ll be we’ll talk a lot more about next week. But it’s like, you know, the notion that the therapist is initiating a hug and physical contact at the outset with a trauma patient, a person who has PTSD, like that’s, there’s already something there that’s like, well, wait a second, what like, what about what this person’s comfort is, you know. And it’s in the MAPS manuals like that touch should be negotiated and talked about and at the request of the participant, so that the therapists are being responsive to touch, they’re not initiating touch.

Brian Normand 42:14  That’s something that stood out to me in this episode, right away is what Donna Dryer, like giving just a hug right off the bat. It’s kind of crazy. But again, it’s not crazy when you look at sort of what you know, the MDMA community in those blurred boundaries anyways, you know

Brian Pace  42:32  That doesn’t excuse it, though. These people are trained professionals. They have been trained, and they are part of, you know, government, admin or government over overseen clinical trials.

David Nickles  42:46  So let’s take a beat and talk about like, what what that training is. Because like, you know, the Chacruna Institute just put out an article about Salvador Roquet’s unorthodox therapies and about how like, you know, this is some important legacy that we need to remember because it was, you know, he was wrongly demonized and mistreated and incarcerated for no reason. And it was the jealous people who didn’t like his methods who took issue, right. Like when we’re talking about Yensen’s training, he’s written extensively on Salvador Roquet, right? Like this is somebody who adhered to and believes or seems to believe, the tenets of Roquet’s methodologies. And the fact that like this, this was known, you know, like talking to people in that broader Canadian community. We can put air quotes around ‘community’, like, like, there is an understanding of what Yensen and Dryer were doing at the Orenda Institute, the retreat that they run on their land, and, you know, the reliance on Roquetian and methodologies. And so like, the fact that he was brought into this study, despite not having a license, and then went on to, you know, in court documents, basically say, I’m not a, there’s no duty of care, because I’m not a doctor, I just play one clinical trials. That’s not verbatim what it says. But when you read it, you know, he explicitly

Brian Pace  44:20  Obviously, thanks for clarifying. 

David Nickles  44:23  Sorry, I just I, you know, trying to think about like, how these will, things will be

Brian Pace  44:28  Picked apart by people who don’t like us very much?

David Nickles  44:32  Exactly. And so like, so the fact so I want to be clear, like the fact that your Chacruna is running image rehabilitation on somebody who tortured people for the Mexican state and somebody whose methodologies have come to bear not just on numerous political dissidents, but also now on clinical trial participants in what are supposed to be the safest, most buttoned up settings in which this research is being done. And the sponsor organization just didn’t know? Didn’t realize this? People, people around him like, what?

Lily Kay Ross  45:07  But like, let’s think about this Chacruna move for a second because as far as I can see, the last time that she Chacruna platformed Yvonne Roquet, Salvador Roquet’s daughter, was in a lecture that she gave with Richard Yensen and Donna Dryer in 2018. I find it

David Nickles  45:25  Where was that lecture?

Lily Kay Ross  45:25  That was given. Well, I don’t know it was in South America, I think.

David Nickles  45:31  I just meant was it Chacruna? 

Lily Kay Ross  45:33  Oh, yeah, it was Chacruna a sponsored event. And I think, like I find it disgusting that at a point where, you know, we’ve talked about Salvador Roquet and now we’re kind of moving into discussion of the clinical trials, the promo was already out. People kind of had a sense of where the show was going. And Chacruna that has, where there’s like some close ties to MAPS decides to drop an article by a woman who like, is an associate of Richard Yensen and Donna Dryer. I can’t, like I couldn’t believe that when I saw it. I was so angry because it was like, what they, what they are basically doing is saying like, well, we know, we know who we’re standing with, you know, we know we know what we think is okay, we want to defend these methods in these practices with full knowledge that they have ties to Yensen and Dryer what they did to Meghan. That is what the psychedelic community thinks is acceptable behavior, that is the stake that they have put in the ground.

Brian Normand  46:37  Also, just want to point out that Chacruna’s executive director Bia Labate also is an employee at MAPS as well. 

Russell Hausfeld  46:44  Yes, she’s the Public Education and Culture Specialist for MAPS.

Brian Pace  46:48  We should also revisit that um this actually, while shocking perhaps isn’t that surprising, given that Chacruna in, indirect, like

Russell Hausfeld  46:59  Are you talking Pinchbeck? Yeah, they’ve interviewed Pinchbeck about his sexual issues right after he came out about them and kind of

Brian Pace  47:09  Yeah, I mean, uh, effectively, like after his event that he was scheduled to hold with the third wave, there was a very friendly article that was extremely ironically named, confronting sexual assault in the psychedelic community. And what was there was just an interview with Daniel Pinchbeck.

Brian Normand  47:31  And just the other thing quickly about sort of Roquet and in how Roquet’s methods and philosophy has been integrated, and, and all that, you know, and the other thing, which I pointed out a bunch of times now, but it’s my understanding that the best trips are the bad trips, that’s a Roquet, 

Russell Hausfeld  47:49  Roquetism

Brian Normand  47:50  That’s fundamental to his practices. And MAPS has been the promoters more so, maybe not more so than anyone, MAPS has been a big promoter of um, there’s no such thing as bad trips, that’s challenging experience and challenging experiences. And you can see how that language has been softened up and cleaned up throughout the years. But that’s, that’s very central in therapy.

Russell Hausfeld  48:15  They integrated it into Zendo for sure.

David Nickles  48:17  Yeah. And I think, and then the the Zendo stuff is concerning, you know, not just because they’re, you know, like, like looking at the history and things that have gone down with Zendo. And looking at the fact that they’re now supposedly training first responders or something in Colorado, but like, looking at the way that MAPS has set different things up and then built those structures out. Like to bring it back to the protocol for a minute, right, like looking at what, what happened when there was a protocol that left open the question of can study therapists do ongoing therapy with study participants, which I, this is something I’ve never heard before. I’ve never heard that like, like, the notion that it is ethically acceptable for research therapists to then have research participants continue on with them in private practice is not. I mean, admittedly, I’m not a clinician, I’m not a researcher. But it’s also not not something that the clinicians and researchers that I’ve spoken with….this does get addressed, because there’s the idea that um. So Mel was told that she couldn’t continue doing therapy because it was a conflict of interest, which is what goes to the ethicist and we will get into that more next week. Leah I was told, no, but eventually yes, which does take some unpacking and we will get there. And then in the case of Meghan, Yensen and Dryer said, yes, and we’re the people who can help you, like we are the people who. And this this meant that, that she wound up moving to Cortes Island and which is an incredibly remote isolated community with an incredibly small number of people living there. And between what happened, like the way that things got set up in the trial, and that the questions around dependence on her therapists and these people who were now one, you know, two of the very few people on the island, and the way that they, they seem to foster this ongoing dissolution of boundaries, and the notion of, you know, come over, engage socially. Come over for dinner, just make sure that you call us beforehand. Like, these are not things, like in working on this project, when I when I’ve thought about my own relationship with therapists, and I’ve thought about the moments where I realized that I was wanting more than was appropriate from a therapeutic relationship. Looking back on it retrospectively, I’m so fucking grateful to those people for like, I remember having moments of like, oh, this, you know, this person is so cool. I wish, you know, we could hang out socially. They were in, in like a community of people that I knew in such that I had been at their house prior socially, you know, on their property anyway, not their house. But then like the idea of like, Oh, what if this went there? And what if we could actually be friends and, not that I ever made the ask, but the way that they engage precluded that as a possibility. And seeing how little of that, like understanding how little of that was there in these instances, has has fostered my own gratitude for that willingness to hold boundaries, like, in a huge way.

Brian Normand  51:35  Yeah. And also this, this behavior and these blurred boundaries and lack, total lack of boundaries is exactly like the lack of boundaries that Francoise Bourzat had as well. Another, another student of Roquet.

Brian Pace  51:50  I want to say that, you know, so much of part one really just speaks to the fact that there are many, many psychedelic practitioners who are effectively mistrained. And we see this with Yensen. It was incredibly well demonstrated. With all the time we all spent on Francoise Bourzat et al.

Russell Hausfeld  52:13  The parallels speak to, I assume a lot of the therapists participating in the MAPS clinical trials, were probably doing undergrad therapy. I don’t know if that’s anything that’s provable, but are coming up in similar circles, at least.

David Nickles  52:30  I’ve definitely heard and I want to be clear rumors and questions about to what extent clinical trial therapists are moonlighting in the underground and I’ve certainly heard of people, I know of people who have worked, let’s say, I’m blanking on the clinic down in, I think Mexico, that does, like psychedelic for addiction therapy and or psychedelic therapy for addiction and whatnot. Um, crossroads? Something like 

Brian Pace  52:57  Crossroads, it’s no longer open. It was in Tijuana.

David Nickles  53:00  There we go. You know, like, I’ve heard stories about clinicians who are, you know, who are doing above ground research and, you know, work at some of those type places. So like, there does seem to be some crossover. But, I want to say like in this case of, like the things that went down on Cortes Island, the fact that people at MAPS were aware that, that Meghan had moved to this island to be in close proximity with her study therapists. The fact that there was like, I mean, and we’ll get into this more next week, but like, how Yensen came to be the quote, unquote, acting principal investigator of this study site. I mean, just just looking across the like, like this, this isn’t a couple bad apples, this, this is like the things that it takes for these sorts of environments to like, like, this is a whole environment that allows for this sort of behavior. It seemed to me that there’s a pervasive unwillingness to engage with like proper ethical questions. And this is a thing that we have seen in the field, even as people in the field, whether it’s North Star, whether it’s I mean, as people who are promoting the idea that we need to have ethical conversations seem unable to articulate basic fundamentals of what they mean by ethics. The same way that people who are who are bringing up capitalism as a concern, seem unable to actually articulate a coherent definition of what capitalism is. And so if we’re going to talk about practitioner ethics, if we’re going to talk about clinical trial design, like maybe we don’t need to be looking within the psychedelic community, to people who are saying, “This is so hard, we’re just doing it for the first time”. Maybe we need to be looking to bioethicists and people who understand clinical trial design and actual clinicians. How many clinicians are in the are in the group of like psychedelic superstars? Like if you think that people, of the people who are getting all of the attention for the psychedelic clinical trials, or the psychedelic research, like how many of them are actually clinicians?

Brian Pace  55:08  I want to talk about just real quick about the earlier points about MAPS running propaganda for, you know, the psychedelic Renaissance, like, essentially trying to rehabilitate and destigmatize and valorize psychedelics, and what kind of biases that creates and the sense that, you know. I think the idea is, you know, the entire culture has all of the negative stories about psychedelics, and ultimately, you know, they don’t feel a responsibility to feature or uplift or spend much time on the ways in which these substances and experiences can, can cause harm. First of all, it’s counter to their mission. And, you know, second of all, it’s, you know, it’s just not it’s not good press. So, in that context, like, just to speak, briefly to what Dave was saying about the inability to do anything other than sort of broadly gesture at and invoke things that people have genuine concerns about things like ethical violations, things like, you know, capitalism and the systemic harms that can cause. Systemic harms and the what is it? Ethical violations, these are generalities, and there’s a there’s a propaganda term called glittering generalities where you tell very nice, general stories that sell things. And anytime you get specific, that, that story is lost. 

Yeah, I actually feel like we’ve seen some of that this this last week, there have been a few, I don’t want to get specific around them. They’re there, if you’ve seen them, you’ve seen them, but they’re stories that are going around about people who are claiming that they’ve known that these things were issues, and that there were problems in the clinical trials, and that they promoted, you know, they’re questioning whether or not they were they were right or wrong to promote them. But then they go on to make a sales pitch about their new integration service, or their new course that’s coming out that’s going to train people or, or buy their book, which will teach you how to do these things in whatever particular way. And I just, to me, the notion of recuperating, these, these realities for selling bullshit and selling, like interventions or materials or anything in the sort of like broader industry that will just ultimately serves to perpetuate the industry and its existence. Like, it’s not, it’s not addressing, it’s not grappling with the real questions. And the real questions are, you know, phase two, and phase three are supposed to be getting into questions of can this stuff can, can these interventions be done safely and effectively? And until we’ve answered those questions, I think the idea of a psychedelic industry is premature. 

That sounds like a decent place to wrap.

Lily Kay Ross  57:59  Yeah, I think that was like a mic drop moment.

David Nickles  58:03  I know that there’s a lot of stuff that was left dangling, and I feel, I just want to say I feel kind of weird, because it feels like we’re in process and that there’s a lot more to come and figuring out what is okay to talk about and not at the moment is making me feel super stressed on top of all the sleep dep and everything else, so

Brian Pace  58:22  Oh, real quick, thank you so much for the participants for sharing their stories.

Neşe Devenot  58:29  Yeah.

Brian Pace  58:30  It’s so so much.

Neşe Devenot  58:32  And thank you to Lily and Dave for all the work you’ve been doing with Power Trip.

Russell Hausfeld  58:37  Yeah, it’s unreal how much I’ve seen online people saying, like, I I’ve been aware of these things. I’ve, I’ve read some of these stories and texts before but hearing, like these people’s voices, and hearing these stories, like in an audio format has like, had so much of an impact on a whole lot of people. So it’s, it’s clearly really important.

David Nickles  58:59  Yeah. And I really just do want to emphasize that that this work would be utterly impossible without these folks willingness to come forward. 

Brian Normand  59:06  Without the courage of them.

David Nickles  59:07  To do so 

Brian Normand  59:08  You mentioned. Yeah, yeah.

Lily Kay Ross  59:10  It’s, it’s one of those things where it’s like, none of this should have happened. And it shouldn’t take this, to bring it into these issues. And like, the, the real disruption in people’s lives to tell their stories is really significant. So, really, like I can’t thank these people enough for what they’re doing and how important it is. And I also just wish that none of it was necessary. 

David Nickles  59:38  Ditto.

Lily Kay Ross  59:39  On that note, tune in next week for more open heart surgery.

David Nickles  59:44  See how the sausage gets made.

Lily Kay Ross  59:47  That’s right.

Brian Pace  59:48  That’s it and fade.