Interview with Manifesting Minds editor Brad Burge of MAPS
The following interview is with Brad Burge, Director of Communications and Marketing at the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), and co-editor of the Manifesting Minds anthology (2014).
Manifesting Minds is a collection of articles previously published in the MAPS Bulletin, which since its launch has been an important source of information on psychedelic research. In many respects, this publication feels like a testament to the bulletin’s longevity and willingness to embrace different aspects of psychedelics.
Can you tell us a little about the special editions, from which these articles have been taken, and how they first came about?
Though our primary focus is scientific research, educating the public is also an essential part of our mission and the MAPS Bulletin has been a way to do that.
In the early days of psychedelic research, it seemed to be important and necessary to invest in creating a publication that people could be proud to leave on their coffee table and share with others, a credible and professional source that would encourage people to have open, honest conversations about psychedelics.
Early Bulletins focused on providing updates on our various research and education projects, until we released the first special edition in autumn of 2000, themed: “Creativity.” It was a success, we published additional special editions including “Sex, Spirit, and Psychedelics”; “Rites of Passage: Kids and Psychedelics”; “Technology and Psychedelics”; “Psychedelics and Ecology”; “Psychedelics, Death, and Dying”; “Psychedelics and the Mind-Body Connection”; and “Psychedelics and the Popular Arts”. Our most recent special edition was on “Psychedelics, Psychiatry, and Psychology,” and the next one in Spring 2014 will be “Psychedelics and Education.”
The publication of Manifesting Minds comes at a time when psychedelic research in general appears to be on an up-swing, yet many of the areas on which it touches are still understood to be fringe ideas. In the future, what fields and disciplines other than the psychiatric do you think headway will be made with? And why?
Psychedelics have been (and continue to be) used for spiritual and religious purposes in various locations around the world, notably the União do Vegetal (Brazil) which uses ayahuasca, the Native American Church (USA) which uses peyote, and the Bwiti people (West Africa) who use iboga or ibogaine, just to name a few. These compounds are integral parts of ceremonies and rites of passage and when used in these culturally supported contexts, users often have strong spiritual experiences, or experiences that help them heal from mental or physical illness, or experiences that enhance their creativity or their connection to the natural world. We hope to open up legitimate fields of scientific inquiry into all of these areas.
As research into the medical applications of psychedelics moves forward, these long-established traditional uses are also seeing an upswing in interest as Westerners seek spiritual purpose, greater understandings of altered states of consciousness, and new modes of healing.
There is also increasing interest in using psychedelics to enhance creative thinking, not just among artists, but also among scientific communities, the technology sector, and computer programmers as a way to approach problem solving. The most notable testament to this application is Steve Jobs, who at one point linked his early LSD experiences to advancements in the development of Apple. After his death, the overlap between LSD and computer programming gained widespread media attention.
One of the highly focused areas of psychedelic research at the moment is with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Can you tell us what work MAPS has and is currently helping to undertake in this area?
MAPS is conducting Phase 2 clinical trials with the specific intent to develop MDMA into a prescription drug, to be used in conjunction with therapy, in a clinic, as a treatment for PTSD. We have study sites around the world including Vancouver, Charleston, Boulder, and Tel-Aviv. Phase 2 research is an opportunity to test and adjust our protocol so that the results can be duplicated in many more subjects during Phase 3, which we hope to begin two years from now. So far, our results are promising, showing that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy may be a more effective PTSD treatment than leading pharmaceuticals, even among patients who are treatment-resistant. Our long-term follow-up study showed that results were sustained for over three years. There is a strong possibility that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy will be legally available by around 2022.
The treatment of US soldiers with PTSD has been a bone of contention in some quarters, so far as it seemingly picks a side, and ignores the effects on innocent civilians. Why do you think the focus has not been on the total negative mental health effects of war situations? And what can be done to improve this situation?
Our current largest study of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD is focused on U.S. veterans as well as police officers, fire fighters, and police officers with service-related PTSD. Our first complete pilot study, with an 83% success rate, was primarily in female survivors of sexual assault and abuse. It’s a huge exaggeration to say that we’ve only—or even primarily—been focused on veterans when our research is helping people with PTSD from many causes.
One of the facts of war is that the wounds of the victors are easier to treat than the wounds of the defeated. U.S. veterans returning from combat are the victors in the sense that they get to return home to a safe place. Their minds and bodies may be in pieces, but at home they have a chance to rest and to explore different treatments. We just can’t access some of the global populations most in need of psychedelic treatments, as evidenced by the Jordanian FDA’s refusal to let us start research in that country.
We believe that military personnel and civilians are equally deserving of the best possible care we can give them. Helping a soldier reintegrate into a normal life, stop having nightmares and flashbacks, and giving them a chance to lead a healthy and happy life are not the same as supporting the wars in which they fought.
The best we can do now to expand access to these treatments for everyone—not just for military personnel but for those suffering from PTSD as a result of war, terrorism, sexual assault, violent crime, natural disasters, childhood trauma, or any other cause—is to increase the amount of mainstream support we receive from the media, policymakers, and the public at large. If government agencies can embrace MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD research, we’ll have opened a door for psychedelic treatments for everyone who can benefit from them.
Thank you for answering our questions, Brad. Best of luck with the anthology!