In 1988, Rick Strassman set out to do what seemed to be impossible: convince the US government to let him give people illegal drugs.But not just any illegal substances. Strassman, a psychiatrist at the University of New Mexico, wanted to dose subjects with one of the most potent psychedelics ever discovered: dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a neurotransmitter and tryptamine molecule that naturally occurs in the plant and animal kingdoms, including in humans. Strassman hoped to investigate the physiological and psychological effects of DMT, the so-called "spirit molecule," but knew that getting approval to do this research was a long shot.
In the nearly three decades since Strassman's groundbreaking DMT study, little has changed for researchers hoping to study the effects of psychedelic compounds on humans. Although psychedelic research is experiencing a sort of renaissance, getting approval to study these substances is more difficult than ever.
"'I don't care if you guys are smoking mushrooms back there, just keep out of the paper, get your grants and keep your cards close to your chest.'"
"I spoke with the chairman of the research unit and he said, 'I don't care if you guys are smoking mushrooms back there, just keep out of the paper, get your grants and keep your cards close to your chest,'" Strassman remembered.After gaining approval from the university, Strassman then had to make his pitch at the federal level, specifically the DEA and the Food and Drug Administration. The DEA was responsible for doling out Schedule I licenses, which authorized licensees to possess these illicit substances. The FDA, for its part, would give Strassman approval for what's known as an IND, or Investigative New Drug trial, which would allow him to administer the Schedule I substance to human subjects.There was only one problem: The DEA wanted to see the FDA's IND license before granting its Schedule I license, and the FDA, in turn, wanted to see that Strassman was approved to use the Schedule I substance before granting the IND. It was a catch-22.But as Strassman began to facilitate unprecedented degrees of contact between these two federal agencies, he realized he had a far more pressing problem to deal with: how to procure the DMT for the trials in the first place. In order to get his Schedule I license from the DEA, he would have to show that the DMT was pure, and that he would only have access to a limited and necessary amount of the substance.
This also means that MAPS will have to find a new source for its MDMA since the drug must be manufactured under GMP conditions. Even though pharma companies like Sigma-Aldrich have websites set up where you can order small quantities of every imaginable psychedelic, these won't meet the phase 3 GMP requirements. Natalie Ginsberg, a MAPS policy and advocacy manager, said so far just finding a manufacturer for the stuff has been hard enough.
"Rescheduling would release a lot of these barriers that exist only for Schedule I substances."
Strassman likewise said he'd like to see psychedelic substances rescheduled, though he realizes researchers are caught between a rock and a hard place. To keep psychedelics as Schedule I substances makes researching them prohibitively hard, but to call for reclassifying them as Schedule II substances is unlikely to succeed either.Schedule II substances, including stimulants like cocaine and Adderall, can be prescribed by everyone from dentists to veterinarians. As Strassman sees it, trying to argue that something like LSD should be as easily accessible as Adderall is a non-starter. Instead, he advocates for a new, intermediate schedule between I and II, that would make the substances easier to study, but not absurdly easy for a layperson to obtain."I think that category of clinical reality ought to be combined with a legal category of the scheduling," Strassman said. "People wouldn't be able to possess and give these drugs without special training and without certification and supervision, but if you keep them kind of behind the lock and key of Schedule I, you're also not going to be able to give them to people who might benefit."
Read More: How to Legally Buy a Kilo of Pure MDMA