Doblin applied to a number of PhD programs, but no one wanted to support a grad student who was looking to use psychedelics in psychotherapy. In what Doblin describes as a stoned insight, he realized that, since politics kept getting in the way of the work he wanted to do, maybe he should study the politics. His application to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government was accepted, and in 2001 he received his PhD. But despite his Harvard affiliation, Doblin’s reputation and MAPS’s ties to the underground often remain a heavy burden.
In 2002, Doblin wanted to do an MDMA study with Halpern, but he needed to demonstrate to McLean that MAPS is not a cheerleader for the drug and is genuinely interested in risks as well as benefits. “The methodological rigor of MAPS’s research should all overwhelm the fact that I happen to believe that prohibition is a bad idea,” says Doblin.
Early MDMA tests focused on neurocognitive effects that deal with behavior and memory related to brain function. But Doblin believes these studies were flawed because most users of MDMA do other drugs, making it impossible to know if any cognitive deficits were a result of MDMA use alone. And as serendipitous as the cluster-headache e‑mail was for Halpern, Doblin received information from a MAPS member about a group of people who have done MDMA exclusively, with almost no history of prior drug or alcohol use: young fallen Mormons in Utah.
Doblin went to Halpern and Halpern’s boss, Harrison “Skip” Pope, and proclaimed his objectivity. He says, “I told them ‘I’m fine with risk. I don’t have to be defensive about this drug. Let’s do the best study we can do.’ ” MAPS gave McLean $15,000 for a pilot study with the Mormons. Eventually, the National Institute on Drug Abuse gave McLean $1.8 Million for further MDMA research. The next project that Doblin and Halpern wanted to launch was the MDMA cancer study.
MAPS was getting money for Halpern’s salary and other preliminary steps to get the psychedelic research off the ground, and then finally got permission from the FDA in 2004. In January 2006, however, McLean installed a new president, Dr. Jack Gorman, who had worked in the federal drug czar’s office. Gorman looked at what McLean was about to sign off on — the first psychedelic study at Harvard since 1966 — and stopped the project in its tracks. “I knew this was important research,” Doblin tells me. “People are dying in pain and fear.” But there was no way Gorman was going to green light a study involving Doblin, a known drug user and an anti-prohibitionist with a penchant for suing the government. “So MAPS withdrew,” explains Doblin, and instructed one of its major funders to donate directly to McLean.
Still, Doblin didn’t go that quietly. He was able to get permission to cross-reference whatever data comes out of the study, which he hopes to use for MAPS’s own mission to get MDMA (and hopefully other psychedelics) made legal for therapeutic purposes. (Gorman resigned his post in May 2006.) [Please see correction, below.]