MAPS Celebrates Its 35th Anniversary

If you are a regular reader of our articles you will surely have noticed us often (reverently) name-checking MAPS. No, new readers! This is not a geography blog! MAPS stands for Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Study. And, anyone who is invested, or even just interested, in the progress of psychedelic medicine has a lot to thank them for. The majority of the important studies into how psychedelics (ranging from MDMA, psilocybin, ibogaine to LSD and ayahuasca) can be used in a medical context include the involvement of MAPS. 

So, as MAPS will be celebrating being 35 years young this April 8th, we decided to pay tribute by tracing the non-profit organisation’s timeline, from humble beginnings, to the powerful psychedelics advocate it is today! 

Who Are MAPS?

First things first, how do MAPS themselves describe their organisation? Rick Doblin, the MAPS founder, explains thusly;

“MAPS’ mission is to conduct scientific research into psychedelics and marijuana and their therapeutic potential, to develop them into legal prescription medicines. A lot of our work is trying to design studies, get permission for studies, raise money for studies, and then conduct them.”

The fact that MAPS generates no profit for its founders, as well as its continuation in the face of legal red-tape, and mistrust from a society indoctrinated to fear psychedelic drugs, demonstrates true tenacity and belief in their mission. Doblin continues;

“…our broader mission is to educate the public honestly about the risks and benefits of these drugs and to establish a network of psychedelic clinics whereby these substances would actually be administered to patients.” 

Rick Doblin, PhD, founder of MAPS

The ‘War On Drugs Begins’

A noble mission, and a total no-brainer — in theory. But, as we are well aware, the heavy-handed ‘War On Drugs’ which started in 1971, put the kibosh on the fledgling psychedelic medicine movement — which for all we know could have had us living in some sort of Utopia by now. This of course created the desperate need for an organisation like MAPS to continue what had been started, in terms of psychedelic research. Serendipitously in 1971, just as the world of psychedelics was put under lock and key by the powers that be, a 17 year old American, Rick Doblin, took his first LSD trip. Finding that it offered him “…a certain kind of spiritual connection and a deepening of my emotion” — he could clearly see the difference between what the government was telling him, and what psychedelics actually were.

MAPS To Protect MDMA

The catalyst for the founding of MAPS came with the criminalisation of MDMA. Seeing that this substance with high therapeutic potential would soon be going the way of other psychedelics, Doblin started an organisation called Earth Metabolic Design, to work with as many scientists and psychiatrists and get a basis of pro-MDMA research and results. When MDMA did become illegal in 1984, Doblin and co sued the DEA to stop the total criminalisation of MDMA, leaving it able to be utilised as a therapeutic tool. Thankfully, they won. However, many more trials and hearings ensued, and eventually, unfortunately, the DEA got their way. Thus, in 1986 Doblin formed MAPS, initially to protect MDMA, with Doblin stating in 2011; 

“…MAPS was started in response to the fact that this was a miraculously promising drug that really could help people remarkably, and there was no way to move us forward with the current social structure.”

A Timeline Of Successes

Soon however, MAPS was involved in research on all kinds of psychedelic substances with therapeutic potential. It has been a bumpy yet thrilling 35 years for Doblin and co, with huge strides being made despite all odds —and the best way to explore their progress is through a timeline of their successes. Starting with its founding in 1986 and encompassing its previously unimaginable achievement of securing FDA approval to perform a Phase III study of MDMA to treat PTSD — here are some of the achievements that MAPS will be remembering for their 35th anniversary this year:


Rick Doblin founded the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Study as an official non-profit research organisation on the 8th of April 1986. Doblin sues the DEA for the first time. 


MAPS collaborates on a study protocol with researchers at Johns Hopkins University.


Doblin publishes the first edition of the MAPS Bulletin. It is titled “MDMA Can Become a Legal Medicine.” MAPS submits a second MDMA study protocol which is rejected by the FDA. 


MAPS continued to publish about MDMA research, requests for donations, and stopping animal-based psychedelic studies. A study on neuroendocrine and mood responses to intravenous L-tryptophan in subjects who had used MDMA is published. 


The FDA forms a body to oversee psychedelic research conventions, Beginning to make space for modern psychedelic science. MAPS host the first major psychedelic conference called Regulation or Prohibition: Psychedelics in the 1990s.


MAPS releases the first protocol for MDMA-assisted therapy for terminally diagonsed cancer participants with clinically diagnosed anxiety and depression. MAPS receives a $10,000 donation. Their annual budget is at this time less than $50,000.


The FDA officially allows psychedelic research in human participants. They later accept MAPS’ Phase 1 MDMA safety and tolerance study as protocol. 


MAPS hires their first employee Sylvia Thyssen. The 50th anniversary of LSD is celebrated, drug policy perspectives are explored, and a pilot study for medical marijuana is planned. 


Plans for clinical marijuana research are released, and the possibility of conducting research in Israel is explored. Support is voiced in congress for marijuana/AIDS research.


MAPS organises a study on whether ketamine-assisted psychotherapy for heroin dependence is effective. This takes place in Russia.  Work continues on protocol for MDMA-assisted therapy for end-of-life anxiety. 


MAPS concludes the first Phase 1 safety study with MDMA. California and Arizona pass the first medical marijuana bills.  


The Secret Chief: Conversations with a Pioneer of the Underground Psychedelic Therapy Movement by Myron J. Stolaroff, the first book by MAPS is published. A $1 million grant to study the risks of marijuana is awarded to researcher Donald Abrams. 


Doblin published a follow-up study 34 year years later to Timothy Leary’s Concord Prison Experiment. The study involved psilocybin therapy being given to prisoners to try and reduce instances of reoffending. 


The world’s first clinical trial to assess the effectiveness and safety of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is initiated by MAPS. This takes place in Spain.


Rick Doblin, Ph.D., and Michael Mithoefer, M.D., meet to plan work on MDMA/PTSD research in the U.S. The Spanish Ministry of Health accepted the world’s first controlled study of the MDMA for therapeutic benefit. Unfortunately, it is later shut down.


MAPS’ submits its protocol for a new study of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD to the FDA. Lyle Craker, Ph.D., hands in his first DEA application to produce marijuana for use in medical studies.


George Ricaurte publishes a paper on the neurotoxic (brain damaging) effects of MDMA when given to primates, it is later retracted due to a drug labeling error. However, due to negative media coverage, new prejudice is leveled at MDMA study. Political pressure stops the Spanish MDMA study. 


George Ricaurte’s paper on the neurotoxic effects of MDMA in primates is retracted by the journal Science. MAPS had sent multiple letters to the journal, and an investigation revealed that the data was invalid. This was because of a drug labeling error.


MAPS receives its first ever shipment of medical-grade MDMA, for their trial of MDMA assisted therapy for PTSD. They also sue the DEA for blocking marijuana research. 


MAPS hands in a protocol of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD in Switzerland.  


Phase 2 clinical trials of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD in Switzerland and Israel are initiated by MAPS. Two educational books are published, and Father of LSD Albert Hofmann’s 100th birthday is celebrated. 


MAPS and Dr. Peter Gasser make steps toward a Phase 2 clinical trial of LSD-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of anxiety and depression related to terminal illness in Switzerland.


A shipment of LSD arrived in Switzerland for the study of ‘LSD-Assisted Psychotherapy for Anxiety Associated with Advanced-Stage Illness’. The potential benefits of MDMA assisted therapy are reported on by CNN.


Health Canada agrees to the protocol for a study of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD. This takes place in Vancouver.. Members of the U.S. Congress write letters to support Lyle Craker’s request to produce marijuana for medical research.


MAPS publishes strong positive  results from the maiden Phase 2 pilot study of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD. MAPS start research into ibogaine for opiate addiction.


MAPS begins research into ayahuasca for addiction treatment. $5.5 million is left via bequest to MAPS from Ashawna Hailey. 


MAPS creates the Zendo Project to provide psychedelic peer support, safety, and education for the Burning Man community in Black Rock City, Nevada.


Promising results from MAPS studies of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD in Switzerland, and ayahuasca for addiction treatment are published. Over 1,500 people travel from around the globe to attend MAPS’ Psychedelic Science 2013 conference in Oakland, CA.


MAPS releases the findings from the first study of the therapeutic uses of LSD in over 40 years., MAPS is awarded a $2 million grant from the state of Colorado for marijuana research. They found MAPS Public Benefit Corporation (MAPS PBC).


MAPS creates The MDMA Therapy Training Program train a new generation of psychedelic therapists. The website Reddit gifts $82,765.95 to MAPS among other non-profit organizations picked by the Reddit community.


MAPS initiated a study of Cognitive-Behavioral Conjoint Therapy (CBCT) with integrated MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD in couples.Through Global Psychedelic Dinners The MAPS community raises over $140,000 in donations. There are 80 in total. 


The FDA gives breakthrough therapy status to MDMA for the treatment of PTSD. Results from the studies of ibogaine for opiate addiction are published by MAPS. Dr. Bronner’s promises $5 million to MAPS.  3,000 people attended Psychedelic Science 2017.


MAPS raises $8 million by achieving the completion of the Pineapple Fund’s $4 million matching grant. How to Change Your Mind, a book by Michael Pollan,  highlights MAPS’ research and brings psychedelic science to a wider audience. 


Doblin, Ph.D., gives the first official TED Talk about psychedelics. MAPS releases results from the combined analysis of the six Phase 2 studies of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD that have taken place over the past few years.


The FDA grant an expanded access program for MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD. The Capstone Campaign by MAPS donors raises $30 million for psychedelic research. Positive results from MAPS first Phase 3 trial are released. 


This year MAPS will be publishing the full results from the first Phase 3 clinical trial of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD. They will also be launching a new membership program for donors. And, they will be celebrating 35 years of groundbreaking research! 

The Future Is Psychedelic

So there you have it, a potted history of the dedicated psychedelic organisation. And, it does seem things are only on the up! Perhaps by the time MAPS’ 50th anniversary rolls round, all the amazing things they have been fighting for will be achieved. As founder, Rick Doblin says of their projected psychedelic future; 

“I also think we are going to move into a post-prohibition world… People are going to want to experience a variety of these substances for personal growth, for spirituality – not just illness…we’ll have achieved what the hippies of the 60’s naively thought was right around the corner. “

You can count us in, Rick! 

*interview excerpts from

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