04/21/13 Charles Grob

Psychedelic Science Conference 2013: Brad Burge of MAPS, Charles Grob and the benefits of Ayahusaca for human maladies, Ben Sessa a researcher on psychedelics in the UK

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Charles Grob
Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)



Cultural Baggage / April 21, 2013



DEAN BECKER: Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

“It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally Un-American.”

“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”
“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”

DEAN BECKER: My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on Eternal Drug War.


DEAN BECKER: Hello my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. This is Dean Becker. This week I’m reporting to you from Oakland, California. I’m attending the Psychedelic Science Conference 2013.

This conference they say is dedicated to the courageous scientist and healers who use rigorous and scientific methodology to understand the potentials of the psychedelic drugs, to the donors who have made this research possible by their generosity, to the policy makers who have permitted this research to go forward and the people who have volunteered as subjects in these studies.

They encourage Psychedelic Science Conference 2013 attendees to listen with an open mind and heart and to boldly ask questions in order to gain a deeper understanding. They say it is the sacred wisdom of our entire community that we make the world a better place.

With that let’s begin our coverage. Some of the great interviews I have which I’m sure we’ll be hearing over the next several weeks.


BRAD BURGE: My name is Brad Burge. I’m the Director of Communications for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

DEAN BECKER: A few weeks back you and I had a great discussion about this conference. We didn’t fill in a lot of details. What is going to happen?

BRAD BURGE: We’re here at Psychedelic Science 2013. We expected that we were going to have an international community gathering of scientists and researchers and therapists and students and artists and people who are interested in psychedelics and psychedelic research for all sorts of reasons. It’s actually come together in a way that’s a lot more exciting than that.

This conference is a huge success in the number of researchers that have joined us from all over the world. We have over 100 researchers just presenting in addition to probably 100 or 200 more not presenting and just here to share their work that they’ve been working on.

Added to that we have about 1,800 registered attendees coming here to Oakland for this event. That’s people who are interested in being out in the open about their enthusiasm and their interest in psychedelic research and a lot of great conversations are being had. The entire field has achieved a lot of legitimacy. We have a whole lot of research behind us and a whole lot to do.

DEAN BECKER: This brings to mind in so far of psychedelics and a lot of times cops try to say marijuana is a narcotic which I think is bogus. It is more rightfully aligned with the psychedelics and hallucinogens and yet marijuana seems to be (for lack of a better term) sucking hind tit in so far as psilocybin, MDMA studies and other progress. Speak to that, please.

BRAD BURGE: This is a great conference and we’re seeing a lot of progress in psychedelic research - MDMA, psilocybin, LSD research and looking at these drugs as treatment for all sorts of conditions. What we don’t see here is marijuana which, of course, is also a Schedule I drug and is part of MAPS’s mission to do the research that would be necessary to turn it into a federally-approved prescription medicine.

Why don’t we see the marijuana here? It is because the research has been blocked to an extent much greater than the psychedelic research which is kind of ironic. If you think of cultural attitudes toward psychedelics and marijuana where marijuana is very quickly becoming a more accepted, mainstream drug both recreationally and medically speaking.

If you look at the 18 states and D.C. and countries around the world who are relaxing restrictions on that and yet here we see that clinical research into using marijuana as a medicine has not happened and it’s been blocked. In fact just last week we heard back from the 1 st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, Massachusetts where we’ve been helping Professor Lyle Craker at the University of Massachusetts conduct a federal lawsuit against the federal Drug Enforcement Administration for refusing to give Lyle Craker a license to start a MAPS’s sponsored marijuana farm.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse right now is the only place, is the only organization from which researchers can get marijuana for research. They have a monopoly on that. They’ve held on to that and refused to sell researchers and MAPS marijuana for multiple FDA-approved, ethics board-approved studies using marijuana to treat PTSD and other conditions. So we heard back from the U.S. 1 st Circuit Court in this lawsuit which we’ve been working on for 12 + years to open this farm to get marijuana into the hands of researchers who need it to conduct the research. The 1 st Circuit Court has come back and has upheld the DEA’s decision not to grant us the license.

So after all this time, administrative hears with the DEA and finally this federal lawsuit it seems the federal judges are just completely siding with the DEA and preventing medical marijuana research from moving forward.

We have to ask why this is the case. What is it about marijuana that’s preventing this from happening? Why this federal blockade? Why this resistance to research even though so many people and states and medical organizations are coming out in support of the medical uses of marijuana?

I think it’s because marijuana is such a lynch pin of the War on Drugs. It’s culturally taboo. It actually initiated the War on Drugs in the United States in the 1930s. The whole “reefer madness” phenomenon has not stopped. We’re still living with that. So there’s this cultural paranoia we have with marijuana for sure that’s making regulators and federal judges resistant to opening up the doors for that research.

On the other hand there’s political and economic interest in maintaining marijuana as this drug war lynch pin, this piece of the puzzle that makes the drug war continue working. Keeping marijuana illegal keeps prisons full. It keeps prisons full of minorities, of young people and people with minor drug offenses and that funds an entire industry, an entire economy so there are entrenched economic interests that are resisting any sort of change to this.

Then, of course, you look at the drug cartels which rely on sales of marijuana across borders to support their other drug trafficking and military operations.

DEAN BECKER: Wrap us up here. Point folks to your website.

BRAD BURGE: Psychedelic Science 2013 we wanted to gather this international community of researchers together. Psychedelic Science 2013 is this big collaborative event, a celebration, a recognition of all the research that we’ve done and the progress that we’ve made.

MAPS has been working with the Heffter Research Institute and the Beckley Foundation and the Council on Spiritual Practice – three other phenomenal organizations that are making excellent strides in bringing psychedelic research in medicine forward.

We have a lot of work to do. There’s still a lot of cultural and political and economic resistance to seeing this research done and to moving these drugs further into the mainstream consciousness and into mainstream medicine. What this conference shows is that people aren’t afraid to talk about it and some of those cultural restrictions are loosening and this is an example – the size and the extent and the enthusiasm that I’ve seen at Psychedelic Science 2013 really shows that we’re prepared to move forward as a scientific field, as a medical community, as a group of people who are interested in psychedelics for all sorts of reasons. We’re really prepared to move forward and to conduct the research necessary to make these medicines work for people.


DEAN BECKER: Once again that was Brad Burge. He’s the Director of Communications for the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies which is the main sponsor for this conference. They’re in Oakland this year. They’re website is http://maps.org I urge you to check it out.


CHARLES GROB: My name is Charles Grob. I’m a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the UCLA School of Medicine. I’m the Director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Harbor UCLA Medical Center.

Over the past 25 years I’ve done a variety of academic-based research studies in a variety of hallucinogens including the first phase 1 study with MDMA and normal adult volunteers looking at the physiological and psychological range of effects.

I also conducted a study along with my colleagues Dennis McCuta and J.C. Calloway in the Brazilian Amazon studying the short-term and long-term effects of the Amazonian plant Ayahusaca specifically within the context of the Syncretic Brazilian church UDV.

Finally in the 2000s I conducted a study with my colleagues at Harbor UCLA Medical Center looking at the utility of a psilocybin treatment model for individuals with severe reactive anxiety to their diagnosis of advanced stage cancer. We completed our work several years ago and published our results in the January 2008 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

DEAN BECKER: Doctor Grob, you have shown positive results, means whereby people suffering the end stages of cancer are able to come to terms with it. Would that be a good way to present it?

CHARLES GROB: I think that’s reasonable. When someone is inflicted with a serious medical illness, a terminal illness it’s often accompanied by overwhelming anxiety, depression and demoralization. We found with our treatment which was a highly structured, monitored treatment that individuals subsequently reported significantly less anxiety, improved mood, an overall improved quality of life. They were able to step back and take a new perspective on their life and their current predicament and in many respects come to terms with the finality of the illness and the likelihood that they would not live for more than some months.

DEAN BECKER: This situation is national. It’s widespread. It’s lots of families are enduring this situation and yet the federal government wants to say that psilocybin is a Schedule I with no medical use. Your response to that, please.

CHARLES GROB: Psilocybin along with other hallucinogens were scheduled in the late 60s as a reaction of the cultural upheaval of that time.


DEAN BECKER: I’m going to jump in here and just say you’re listening to Doctor Charles Grob from the UCLA School of Medicine and many other credentials. I apologize for the phones beeping in.


CHARLES GROB: Here we are now many decades later and the question is has our culture matured sufficiently that we could handle conducting well-supervised, sanctioned medical research with these compounds to learn whether they have some utility and to understand whether there are safety parameters within which these studies and these treatments can be conducted.

Given that, as we’re all aware, there are very high rates of various carcinomas in the population. The field of oncology has progressed a great deal in regards to extending the duration of life, extending the quantity of time remaining however I would say there is general agreement that in many respects the quality of life still is very problematic and maybe even more so from the point of view that people live longer and they struggle longer with their illness and they’re psychological reactivity to it.

So the question then becomes might we have a treatment here that under optimal condition which much include a sanctioned, legal context do we have a treatment that might be valuable in helping individuals come to terms with the inevitable and help to facilitate improvement of their psychological and even psycho-spiritual status.

DEAN BECKER: I know the Baby Boomers are aging, aging out in some cases, and we have a lot of people who are experiencing these life circumstances – the onset of cancer or other maladies – and yet science doesn’t seem to have too many answers to correlate with what you’re trying to do, to provide a means to accept the circumstances.

I guess my question is why does not government give a damn?

CHARLES GROB: I’m not a policy expert per say but it strikes me that our process has become stuck in a mindset acquired many decades ago when psychedelics came out of nowhere and had an enormous impact on our culture, were identify as potentially catalyzing a health crisis – particularly among young people. There were with some research laboratories and research groups there was the problem of the drug extending beyond the research activity. It became exceedingly popular among young people who by their very nature tend to be adventurous and curious and who often don’t docilely respond to edicts of authority.

But here we are now more than 40 years beyond the 60s. Have we grown up as a culture that we can in a more mature matter come to terms with these compounds which are in many respects have the potential to facilitate salutatory effects, to facilitate improvements in mental function and even acceptance of serious life circumstance? Have we grown up? That’s really what it comes down to.

I think as the culture evolves in this direction the government in a slow fashion and eventually I would hope, I would expect it will follow along and represent the evolving culture and the evolving needs of the culture.

DEAN BECKER: I promised you 5 minutes. Is there a website you might want to point folks toward and some closing thoughts?

CHARLES GROB: I would suggest people take a look of the Heffter Research Institute, http://www.heffter.org The Heffter Institute on which I’m a co-founding board member has really done tremendous work over the last 20 years helping to develop and facilitate and find funding for academic-based studies looking at a variety of hallucinogens both in the pre-clinical laboratory setting as well as in clinical-driven research with populations of individuals suffering from psychological conditions which often do not respond well to conventional treatment.

Heffter has filled a void that was really created by the rejection of the hallucinogen model many years ago. I think on the website you’ll find a good deal of information as to the history of Heffter, the research studies we’ve funded and helped develop and our current roster of studies which is becoming more and more diverse. We are attracting the interest of leading investigators from many of the best medical schools of research from this country and abroad.

I think as we move into the future the Heffter Research Institute will be a very important part of developments.


DEAN BECKER: Alright, once again, that was Doctor Charles Grob. I interviewed him in Oakland attending the Psychedelic Science 2013 Convention - 1,800 strong. We’ll be back shortly with more from the conference but because this is the Cultural Baggage show on the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica Radio…


(Game show music)

DEAN BECKER: It’s time to play: Name That Drug by Its Side Effects.

Physical stimulation, appetite suppression, the prevention of altitude sickness through increased oxygen supply.


Time’s up!

The answer: as is so obvious in the lives of millions of Bolivians: coca, Mother coca.


DEAN BECKER: I’m going to fess up. I’m still in Oakland as this is being broadcast to the first couple of stations. I don’t have a hell of a lot of time to edit but luckily these people know what they are talking about. I wish you were here. I wish you could be here to understand the danger, the fear, the threat, the hypocrisy, the propaganda has no more meaning.

We’ve all done drugs. It’s time to fess up. It’s time to tell your brother, your boss, your preacher because we’ve all done it. It’s time to forgive one another. It’s time to forgive ourselves. It’s time to end this madness of drug war.

Now more from Psychedelic Science 2013. The sermon is over.


BEN SESSA: My name is Ben Sessa. I’m a psychiatrist. I work primarily with children who are deaf but I’m also involved in research with psychedelic drugs and have been for the last 8 years.

I live and work in Bristol in the UK. I’ve written extensively the editorials and reviews and commentary on psychedelic research for the last 8 years.

I do love teaching, encouraging different groups to look at psychedelic research trying to bring this medicine back into mainstream medicine. Last year I published a text book on the subject. At the moment I’m in the process of setting up the UK’s first ever MDMA psychotherapy study which we’re in the process of planning.

DEAN BECKER: Tell us the usage, what benefits might be derived from …

BEN SESSA: If you look at a drug like MDMA it’s as if the drug was specifically designed for trauma-focused psychotherapy. There are a number of barriers when working with a patient who has PTSD – severe past trauma – a number of barriers that make traditional treatments very difficult. Indeed, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has a very high level of treatment resistance. A good 50% of the patients never get better with traditional treatment. They stay with condition all of their lives.

So that’s an area of medicine that is crying out for any new definitive approach. MDMA acts as a kind of life vest or a bullet proof vest that the patient can wear when doing psychotherapy for PTSD. It’s got some very specific quality – strong sense of empathy and bonding and attachment and dis-inhibition, this paradoxically sense of relaxation and stimulation at the same time, a normal sense of positive well-being – but the most important effect of MDMA is it allows a person to access painful, repressed memories of trauma without being totally overwhelmed by the negative affect.

It’s not that it doesn’t hurt. It just doesn’t hurt as much so you can talk about some horrific experience of rape or assault from one’s childhood and talk in great detail to your therapist about it under the influence of MDMA. It really deserves a lot of research for this condition of PTSD.

DEAN BECKER: We here in the United States have been waging a drug war for 45 years since Nixon declared it or nearly 100 years since our Harrison Narcotic Act and yet we don’t seem to be solving or ending or influencing the overall scenario. Would you speak to that? Great Britain has a very parallel…

BEN SESSA: Yep, the War on Drugs is most peculiar. It should really be called the war on some drugs. I’m a doctor and a psychopharmacologist. I’m not really interested in what’s legal or what’s illegal. I’m interested in the relative harms, toxicity and benefits of a whole range of different pharmacological compounds.

When you look at them all using a number of different ways of measuring their harm or their benefit the drugs that we’ve chosen to have legal and reeking havoc on society are far more dangerous than the ones that we malign and demonize as illegal drugs.

There’s an extraordinary situation whereby the current classification of drugs doesn’t match the pharmacological damage of the drug. Now that’s weird and there’s a lot of answers for that.

Supporters of the War on Drugs would say, “OK, fair enough. Using your same argument we’ve got enough problems with alcohol and tobacco let’s not add anymore.”

That’s a reasonable argument except, like you say, it’s there anyway. The last 50 years of the War on Drugs fought by successive governments all over the world has done nothing, nothing to reduce drug use. Drug use has spiraled out of control – every single drug has spiraled out of control in every single country.

So quite simply as a scientist or as a politician I would just be thinking, “OK, fine but it doesn’t work.”

Prohibition simply doesn’t work. It doesn’t stop people from using drugs and the dangers are you can’t accurately measure or map who is taking drugs. You can’t tax drugs so there’s massive criminal underworld that runs the drug distribution service. There’s no CEOs. There’s not quality control. There’s no rights of responsibility for users. It’s a crazy situation.

Like cannabis is a bigger cash crop than rice yet nobody makes any money from it apart from the illegal drug dealers. So it’s an extraordinary situation.

Will politicians ever make the sensible move? Make a leap and say, “Do the sensible thing.”? I don’t know. …eh, don’t get me started.

DEAN BECKER: Too much money involved and too much legacy, too much bones buried behind this policy.

Let me ask you this, we here in the United States people talk about MDMA and say, “People will die of thirst or excess of water. Somehow it will influence and demonize our children.”

Your response to that?

BEN SESSA: As a doctor I would say there are no medical treatments or interventions that are risk free – none whatsoever. We have to look at every drug with a risk/benefit analysis hat on.

Take something really benign like a sticking plaster – really useful but it does have risks. It can hurt your hairs when you pull it off but the cost is worth the benefit because it stops the blood. Ok, that’s a good one.

Cancer chemotherapy – really toxic, all your hair falls out, you get sick as a dog, you could actually die from taking it but what’s the benefit? It stops you from dying from cancer. We’ll do it.

As a doctor every single day with every patient and every intervention I make I have this analysis in my head. What am I going to do? Is it going to help? Is it going to hinder? How much is it and where do the scales lie?

Now when you take MDMA and you put it through the same analysis - OK, here’s the risk. It may cause some degree of near toxicity although the debate is far from over on that. It may cause some difficulty sleeping. It may cause a little bit of unpleasantness in the jaw stiffness. Of course it has risks and toxicities but what’s the benefits? It could treat PTSD in this patient who has had 30 years of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and has never been able to be cured from it. Surely the benefit outweighs the risks.

Anybody that says that MDMA or LSD or cannabis are risk free – they don’t understand psychopharmacology. Of course they’re not risk free but it’s about do they satisfy the risk vs. benefit ratio and they all do by a very long way.

DEAN BECKER: Is there a website you’d like to point folks towards and some closing thoughts.

BEN SESSA: I chair and co-found the major British psychedelic conference and it’s called Breaking Convention. You can get us at http://breakingconvention.co.uk

Please all come along. It’s July 12 th through the 14 th in Greenwich in London 2013.


DEAN BECKER: Out of Great Britain that was Ben Sessa speaking at the Psychedelic Science 2013. We’re about out of time.

I just want to tell you that because of prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please, be careful.


DEAN BECKER: To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

Drug Truth Network archives are stored at the James A. Baker, III Institute for Policy Studies.

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org