Doblin thinks he has the solution. I meet with the founder and president of MAPS at his house in a quiet neighborhood in Belmont. Again, as was the case with Halpern, there is little to suggest that this is the home of a leading anti-prohibitionist and one of the most important figures in the story of psychedelic-drug research. The house shows more signs of kids and dogs and a happy family life than Doblin’s work. I wonder if the neighbors know the guy next door mowing his lawn has probably taken more trips than a host of Logan-centric frequent flyers.
Doblin’s psychedelic story began in 1971, when he was 18 and wanted to become a psychedelic psychotherapist in the tradition of Stanislav Grof, who was the first to work with LSD as a therapeutic agent. But, to Doblin, there was a problem: “I was waking up as everything was being shut down.” So he dropped out of college and worked as a carpenter — and at becoming a seasoned LSD traveler. Ten years later he went back to school, recognizing that, if he was going to do anything involving psychedelic drugs that would be taken seriously, it would have to be above ground.
In 1984, Doblin’s work in psychedelic research was suddenly given a purpose. While use of MDMA was legal (it had not yet made its impact in the underground), the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) suggested it was going to start the process of criminalization. Doblin gathered together a group of above-ground researchers under the name the Earth Metabolic Design Lab (EMDL) and they decided to sue the DEA. The board of advisers included practically everybody in the field of psychedelic research at the time, including Dr. Andrew Weil and Laura Huxley (widow of the late Aldous).
By 1985, Doblin and his colleagues were making in-roads. Until, that is, Doblin was a guest on The Phil Donahue Show. As the spokesperson for the EMDL, he explained that MDMA should be a Schedule 3 drug: only illegal without a prescription. Donahue asked him what he thought about other uses. “I said I thought prohibition was a disaster and ‘recreational use’ is a pejorative term,” recalls Doblin. “It caused a big problem, and I was labeled the Tim Leary of the ‘80s.” Some of the people in Doblin’s group were government funded and many threatened to resign from the EMDL if he kept speaking out publicly against drug prohibition. “So I decided I would resign,” says Doblin.
Without Doblin’s leadership, the group dissipated. By 1986, Doblin was even more convinced that his work needed to move from the counterculture to the mainstream, and so he founded MAPS. MAPS has helped support a number of projects, including FDA-approved marijuana studies and an LSD study in Switzerland. But Doblin still wanted to pursue his teenage dream of becoming a psychedelic therapist — helping people to move through trauma and other neuroses with the guided use of hallucinogens. If he is anything like Leary, he’s Leary sans egotism and self-importance.