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  • Writer's pictureSasha Sisko

The Doblin Effect

Updated: May 3, 2023

Co-written by Alaina M. Jaster & Sasha Sisko

On our final episode of the season we were joined by Sasha Sisko, an independent journalist, to discuss their public call for the resignation of Rick Doblin as Executive Director of MAPS. In this blog post we share Sisko's investigative points, resources, and more to allow folks to explore the content of the episode in more depth.

"When people hold positions of leadership, it's important they hold themselves to the highest ethical standards and take responsibility for their actions. If Dr. Doblin is not willing or able to do this, then it would be appropriate for him to step down and allow someone else to lead MAPS who can prioritize the safety and well-being of patients as well as the integrity of its clinical research." - Sasha Sisko

1. Living Caveman

While appearing on the Joe Rogan podcast, Dr. Doblin engaged in harmful rhetoric describing Native American culture. Mr. Rogan discussed the possibility of exploring space to find “an intelligent life form that was more primitive than us like cave people like some 2001 shit with the monolith." Without any sort of prompting whatsoever, Dr. Doblin responded by saying that we wouldn’t have to leave planet earth when he said that “we already know by looking at these tribes in the Amazon that are, as if, living cavemen". While discussing their thoughts on how Native Americans allegedly "fought against each other so much", the term "predator" came up. As Dr. Doblin out it: "That was their sport in a way, I mean, and they had that as killing. It was a way of becoming, you know, trained as a predator"

Shortly after this video was released, Ismail Ali (who serves as MAPS’ director of policy and advocacy) privately told over Twitter DMs that he had “brought the issue of Rick’s statements up again and [it] sounds like folks will review after the intensity of the cover story [podcast] has been addressed. I understand why you’re concerned and want to affirm that I care about the issue a lot as well”. A statement was never publicly released and in August of 2022, Sisko released an open letter condemning Dr. Doblin’s rhetoric and implored MAPS to have the podcast removed out of respect for Native communities, this request was ignored.

Just 3 weeks ago, Doblin went back on Rogan’s podcast and didn’t take a single moment to address the incident during the three hour-long podcast. In the meantime, it should be acknowledged that (in June of 2020) MAPS released a self described “Statement of Solidarity” which asserted that MAPS is “working every single day to integrate a deeper anti-racist practice into our work. We have made slow, deliberate progress, and acknowledge that we have a long way to go. We commit to doing the work for collective liberation.” Dr. Monica Williams, a MAPS affiliated researcher, has described racism as a “major public health concern” given that it has been scientifically demonstrated to negatively impact the physical and psychological health of minorities targeted.

It goes without saying that Indigenous Americans have stewarded the use of psychedelic plants and fungi for millennia and if not for them the modern psychedelic community would not exist as it is right now. Our community is indebted to Indigenous communities for every single piece of knowledge and wisdom they have offered with respect to the nature of plant-based psychedelic substances. The entire psychedelic industry has literally been built on a foundation of scientific evidence laid by people who are not widely represented within the present-day “psychedelic community”. Perhaps Doblin’s remarks are a good explanation for why that is.

"An elder was sharing last night how storytelling is a de-colonial method and these stories need to be told, but what stuck with me the most was when she said, 'Not all stories have happy endings. We have to sit with that discomfort in order to begin the healing process." -- Autumn BlackDeer PhD, MSW, indigiqueer scholar/activist from the Southern Cheyenne Nation and Assistant Professor at Denver University.

2. Messianic Rhetoric, Net Zero Trauma & Spiritualized Humanity

Dr. Doblin has repeatedly proclaimed that two of MAPS’ biggest goals that they’re working towards are that of a “Global Spiritualized Humanity by 2050” and an “Net-Zero Trauma World” by either 2050 or 2070, depending upon which statements you’re referring to. This mission is "centered in healing" and aims to form a sort of spiritual collective.

This buzzword-laced slogan is an implausible and unverifiable goal given that there is absolutely no way in which researchers could accurately quantify not just the trauma that’s, shall we say, being created, but also the acts or behaviors that are negating trauma. How could researchers accurately quantify such matters on a local, national, and global scale?

Dr. Doblin has already recognized the clinical literature indicates that MDMA does not reliably induce full mystical-type experiences. Dr. Doblin often cites that one trial with 33 participants found that only 9 of the 33 had a full mystical-type experience after bring given a full dose of MDMA --- less than 30%. Furthermore, MAPS has concluded from their research that “there is no correlation between healing from PTSD symptoms and the mystical experience”. So, how can Dr. Doblin claim in the same breath that MAPS aims to create a spiritualized global society where “net zero trauma” occurs? This is the fundamental flaw of Dr. Doblin’s self-proclaimed long-term goal for MAPS.

Further, Dr. Doblin has discussed the experimental use of MDMA for refugees as part of this Net Zero Trauma World, in which MAPS could help the situation by engaging in an experiment with war-torn ukranian refugees via experimental group therapy. During the World Happiness Festival, he discussed single use MDMA (which has never been tested) as a pharmacological treatment on this vulnerable population. He also questions if MAPS will be able to engage in proper follow up , manage and support psychologically distressed refugees in this hypothetical study. One must keep ethical considerations in mind when enrolling marginalized populations in clinical trials because of (not only) their vulnerability, but due to several other factors.

Article 6 of the Nuremberg code states: The degree of risk to be taken should never exceed that determined by the humanitarian importance of the problem to be solved by the experiment. Article 8 states: The experiment should be conducted only by scientifically qualified persons. The highest degree of skill and care should be required through all stages of the experiment of those who conduct or engage in the experiment.

"I would go on record to say that whatever trauma they have alleviated has been replaced by an inescapably terrible situation that they have found themselves in where Dr. Doblin continues to cover-up patient abuse which in turn has re-traumatized MAPS patients in question. It isn't just those people who have been hurt. People have lost faith in their leaders and we want to find a better way forward," - Sasha Sisko.

3. Practicing Without a License

Dr. Doblin often touts that MDMA will become FDA-approved because of their mission, belief, money and time. Approval by the FDA is based on the results of rigorous and impressively-conducted clinical trials that aptly demonstrate the safety and efficacy of the drug. While adequate research funding is certainly important for conducting high-quality clinical research, it is not a guarantee of success. There are many factors that can affect the success of a clinical trial, including the study design, patient recruitment and retention, adherence to study protocols, and other factors that may be beyond the control of the researchers.

One of the factors that goes into FDA-approval is safety and efficacy of a drug treatment or novel therapy. Interestingly, MDMA-assisted therapy trials focus solely on the MDMA aspect ignoring that this type of therapy is novel. Per the MAPS treatment manual, the use of several different techniques can be used during an MDMA session and this is up to the discretion of the therapist. MAPS manual also states that only one person in a session needs to be a licensed therapist. Outside of MAPS therapy manual, Dr. Doblin has encouraged people without medical licensure to practice MDMA-assisted psychotherapy and has admitted that he has provided drug-assisted therapy to folks without a license. Reflecting on the incident on Tim Ferriss’s podcast, he acknowledged that he wasn’t “qualified to work with somebody that's [on] the razor's edge of death and life [who's] so much worried about committing suicide". Regardless, Doblin went ahead with his plan and gave her MDMA & LSD on 2 separate occasions. He would later describe the first session as being “a tour of all of her lifetime history of traumas”.

While discussing his work as an alleged "therapist" on Anne Phillipi's podcast, Dr. Doblin admitted that he "occasionally [sat] for people in difficult straights". Dr. Doblin has admitted on the record that he's "worked with people several days before they died". He described giving MDMA to these terminally-ill cancer patients as a "risky situation". He has described the situation in the following terms: “These people were dying anyway [and] we all decided to take the risk."

Doblin's open encouragement of people practicing drug-assisted psychotherapy without appropriate licensure is deeply concerning as could potentially put vulnerable individuals at risk. Psychotherapy is a highly specialized field that requires extensive training and expertise. Beyond this, engaging in such behavior places people at risk for severe legal consequences. His attempt to normalize unquestionably felonious behavior is indicative of a deep disregard for the reasons why such laws are put in place. Encouraging such behavior inherently places Dr. Doblin’s receptive followers at risk for legal consequences.

Furthermore, the fact that Dr. Doblin continues to repeatedly insist that appropriate licensure is not required to practice psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy suggests a profound lack of concern for professional standards and ethical conduct, and may also indicate a broader culture of disregard for safety and ethical considerations within MAPS. Given these additional concerns, it becomes even more important for MAPS's leadership to take appropriate action to address the situation and ensure that appropriate standards of professionalism and ethical conduct are upheld.

4. Cover Story

For a complete picture of what is discussed in regards to patient abuse, safety concerns & more please refer to the Cover Story: Power Trip Podcast episodes 6 and 7, as well as Power Tripping on youtube.

Briefly, Doblin describes their Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials as a complete success, with little to no adverse events or safety concerns. Participants came forward following the release of the data discussing their experiences in the clinical trials. More than one participant has expressed that they felt increased suicidal ideation following the clinical trials and has expressed that their experiences were not accurately reported in the data. One participant has talked about how they wanted the therapy to work so badly that they felt compelled to give answers reflecting a positive outcome, despite worsening symptoms. This speaks volumes to the rhetoric and expectancy put on patients who are vulnerable, as well as the misrepresented data that could be due to others feeling compelled to the same thing.

Further, patient sexual abuse by MAPS clinical trial therapists has also been reported and covered extensively. During a clinical trial, video footage shows a patient experiencing an emotional reaction to the MDMA and her therapists respond by touching, cuddling and holding her down during the experience. Following the clinical trial, the participant was encouraged to continue partaking in therapy with therapist Richard Yensin where he continued to manipulate and sexually abuse her. The participant filed a lawsuit against the therapists in 2018/2019 but MAPS didn’t initiate a compliance review until late 2021 — more than five years after the videos were recorded.

In 2019, MAPS stated "Monitoring of study records throughout the course of the trial & afterward didn't indicate signs of ethical violation […] the protective measures in place included having two therapy providers in every therapy visit, video recording of all therapy visits, monitoring of study and therapy activities, and clinical supervision. In this case, none of these measures were sufficient." Per MAPS protocol, it’s a requirement to review video footage of the clinical protocols for the trials and yet this abuse was never discovered or reported.

Dr. Doblin also claimed on the Psychedelics Today podcast that MAPS was not “liable” for involving Yensen in the MAPS study, claiming MAPS "vetting system was good. We wouldn't have been able to predict this would have happened". However, back in 2016, MAPS published video footage of Richard Yensen at a talk he gave at CIIS where he publicly admitted to being (almost) unable to handle the intense sexual energy of at least one prior patient.

Following the release of the video online, MAPS published just two brief web pages on their website regarding the incident does not compensate for the fact that Meaghan's sexual assault was undeniably left out of the scientific literature. Yes, MAPS put out statements on their website, but by not including this story in an academic publication, many scholars will be left in the dark on the matter. Many don't understand that MDMA (like other psychedelics) can induce states of high suggestibility and psychological/emotional vulnerability.

Lastly, Dr. Doblin downplays the most egregious of behavior from Yensen in order to safeguard MAPS. He does this through the use of what evasive euphamisns such as referring to the situation as a "sexual relationship," "bad behavior," or "unethical sexual misconduct." The latter being the closest to admitting the abuse happened. Sexual abuse, by definition, involves a power imbalance in which one person uses force, coercion, or manipulation to engage in sexual activity with another person without their consent. Referring to sexual abuse as a "sexual relationship" minimizes the harm done to the victim and perpetuates the false notion that the abuse was in some way consensual or acceptable. It also places blame on the victim, suggesting that they somehow contributed to or participated in the abuse.

Final Thoughts

While the information provided is extensive and heavy, we encourage our readers and listeners to truly listen. We encourage everyone to dig into the references, question things, do your own research but please, do not ignore when people in positions of power act without consequence. See below for a video containing relevant evidence for what is discussed on the podcast.

We are aware that this post and episode are controversial and we also ask that people respond with kindness and an open-mind and refrain from responding with violence or malice. Here at YBOS we like to give everyone a voice if they present a cohesive and factual argument, so please engage with us and if you're interested on being on the podcast send us an email via our contact page.

If you like what you heard and would like to support Sasha's efforts please see the petition here.

The lone critic standing up against the tide of history can really make a difference. -Rick Doblin, PhD

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