Can Psychedelic Therapy Reset Our Social Media Brains? with Rick Doblin

December 15, 2022

When you look at the world, it can feel like we're in a precarious moment. If you’ve listened to past episodes, you know we call this the meta-crisis — an era of overlapping and interconnected crises like climate change, polarization, and the rise of decentralized technologies like synthetic biology. It can feel like we’re on a path to destroy ourselves.

That's why we’re talking to Rick Doblin, the founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS. They’re a nonprofit focused on educating and researching the benefits of using psychedelic therapy to address PTSD and promote humane ways of relating worldwide. 

Doblin’s vision is for nothing less than a transformation of society through psychedelic-assisted therapy – not for the drugs themselves, but for their ability to help us react to one another with compassion, appreciate differences, and accept criticism.

Given the perma-crisis we face, it’s provocative to think about a tool that, when prescribed and used safely, could help us overcome rivalrous dynamics out in the world and on social media. If we rescue our hijacked brains, we can heal from the constant trauma inflation we get online, and shrink the perception gap that splits us into tribes.

Both MAPS and Center for Humane Technology want to understand what helps minds heal and be free. We invite you to keep an open mind about a different kind of humane technology as you listen to this episode. 


Doblin attributes a quote to Stan Grof about psychedelics helping your ego be “transparent to the transcendent.” In his book Pathways to Bliss, Joseph Campbell wrote, "When a deity serves as a model for you, your life becomes transparent to the transcendent as long as you realize the inspiring power of that deity. This means living not in the name of worldly success and achievement, but rather in the name of the transcendent, letting the energy manifest through you.” Grof was likely paraphrasing Campbell’s work and applying it to psychedelics. 


Rick Doblin, Ph.D., is the founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). He received his doctorate in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he wrote his dissertation on the regulation of the medical uses of psychedelics and marijuana and his Master’s thesis on a survey of oncologists about smoked marijuana vs. the oral THC pill in nausea control for cancer patients. His undergraduate thesis at New College of Florida was a 25-year follow-up to the classic Good Friday Experiment, which evaluated the potential of psychedelic drugs to catalyze religious experiences. He also conducted a thirty-four year follow-up study to Timothy Leary’s Concord Prison Experiment. Rick studied with Dr. Stanislav Grof and was among the first to be certified as a Holotropic Breathwork practitioner. His professional goal is to help develop legal contexts for the beneficial uses of psychedelics and marijuana, primarily as prescription medicines but also for personal growth for otherwise healthy people, and eventually to become a legally licensed psychedelic therapist. He founded MAPS in 1986, and currently resides in Boston with his wife and puppy, with three empty rooms from his children who have all graduated college and begun their life journeys. Learn more about Rick by listening to his Origin Story and watching his TED Talk.

Episode Highlights

Major Takeaways

  • Psychedelics are a powerful psychotechnology that can help us ‘be who we need to be’ in the face of the meta-crisis. Psychedelics don’t produce the experience, they reveal the experience that there's a deeper way in which we’re connected with all of life. If we can not only intellectually understand but also experience that sense of connection in a therapy-guided setting, then we emerge with more compassion and appreciation for differences. 
  • Psychedelics don’t have to be drugs. Humphry Osmond coined the term psychedelic in the ‘50s, and defined it as “mind manifesting.” In this regard, dreams are psychedelic since they bring feelings and thoughts out from our memory bank. Other catalysts - whether it's hyperventilation, fasting, or marathon running - are all equally psychedelic in their own different ways.
  • Psychedelic therapy can help people work through their burden of trauma from the past. Successful psychedelic therapy, for instance with MDMA, can “clean the lens of the ego” and remove perceived threats of otherness and difference.  This grounded sense of connection can be the basis for working through our conflicts with other people.
  • Social media and psychedelics are both transformational experiences. When using social media, our views of other people’s beliefs, cultures and religions are clouded by misperceptions. A tool like psychedelics can offer a 'reset’ and a potential new approach to self-understanding as we reach for solutions to the meta-crisis.
  • MDMA therapy is coming very soon. MAPS is now in its second Phase 3 study of MDMA, an assisted therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder. And it's in the final step before the FDA would approve prescriptions of MDMA by trained therapists. 

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