The Secret Chief

Stanislav Grof, MD

Published with the permission of MAPS


©dwij 2001

Article #4 in our series on Ethics
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Rick Doblin, Ph.D. and his scholarly colleagues made a commitment to be catalysts for changes in legislation as applied to the regulation of psychedelics for the purpose of scientific research and spiritual exploration. This subject calls for the dedication, wisdom and knowledge of statespersons: qualified educators, researchers and legislators who are willing to untangle the imposition of politically motivated laws that are based on fear, ignorance and misinformation.

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ick Doblin, Ph.D. is the founder and president of MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies). Doblin's dissertation (Public Policy, Harvard's Kennedy School of Government) was on "The Regulation of the Medical Use of Psychedelics and Marijuana." His master's thesis (Harvard) focused on the attitudes and experiences of oncologists concerning the medical use of marijuana. His undergraduate thesis (New College of Florida) was a twenty-five year follow-up to the classic Good Friday Experiment which evaluated the potential of psychedelic drugs to catalyze religious experiences. Doblin's commitment to drug law reform through the vehicle of research derives from a deeply felt sense of outrage at the infringement of personal freedom inherent in the laws criminalizing the use of psychedelics and marijuana. MAPS, publisher of the Secret Chief by author Myron Stolaroff, has positioned itself at the center of the conflict between scientific exploration and the politically-driven strategy of the War on Drugs. It is the only membership organization supporting this crucial research and has geared millions of dollars towards research and education.

Preface by Albert Hofmann, Ph.D.
Rittimatte, Switzerland

Medicinal use of the psychedelics was prevented by the official prohibition, and further research in this field was interrupted, while consumption continued in the drug scene. This irrational situation still largely exists today. For therapists, the use of psychedelics became a criminal matter, for which they could face punishment. One of the very few therapists who continued to use psychedelics, accepting the great risk of criminality, was the psychologist here referred to by the alias 'Jacob' and dubbed the 'Secret Chief.' Jacob had obtained mostly excellent results from his specially-developed techniques in the use of psychedelics, and he realized that this therapeutic method should not be withheld from sick people. His ethical obligation as a therapist, to help people, took priority for him over obedience to a dubious official prohibition. In the illegality of his time it was unthinkable to publish the excellent results of his therapy. It is therefore praiseworthy that today, nine years after his death, a friend has undertaken the task of publishing the details of the therapeutic methodology of this intrepid Ph.D. psychologist. The therapeutic results attained from this method constitute an important argument in the current growing discussion challenging medical circles, whether again to liberate psychedelics for psychotherapeutic practice.

The Secret Chief

Introduction by Stanislav Grof, MD
Mill Valley, CA

"Psychedelics, used responsibly and with proper caution, would be for psychiatry what the microscope is for biology and medicine or the telescope is for astronomy."- Stan Grof, MD.

After the publication of the first clinical paper on LSD by Walter A. Stoll in 1947, Albert Hofmann's serendipitous discovery of the psychedelic effects of LSD became practically an overnight sensation in the world of science. Never before had a single substance held so much promise in such a wide variety of fields of interest. For neuropharmacologists and neurophysiologists, the discovery of LSD meant the beginning of a golden era of research that could solve many puzzles concerning the intricate biochemical interactions underlying the functioning of the brain. Experimental psychiatrists saw this substance as a unique means for creating a laboratory model for naturally occurring psychoses, particularly schizophrenia. They hoped that it could provide unparalleled insights into the nature of these mysterious disorders and open new avenues for their treatment.

LSD was also highly recommended as a unique teaching device that would make it possible for clinical psychiatrists and psychologists to spend a few hours in the world of their patients and as a result of it to understand them better, be able to communicate with them more effectively, and improve their ability to help them. Early experiments with LSD revealed its unique potential as a powerful tool offering the possibility of deepening and accelerating the psychotherapeutic process, as well as extending the range of applicability of psychotherapy to categories of patients that previously had been difficult to reach such as alcoholics, narcotic drug addicts, and criminal recidivists. Particularly valuable and promising were the early efforts to use LSD psychotherapy with terminal cancer patients. These studies showed that LSD was able to relieve severe pain, often even in those patients who had not responded to medication with narcotics. In a large percentage of these patients, it was also possible to alleviate or even eliminate the fear of death, increase the quality of their lives during the remaining days, and positively transform the experience of dying. For the historians and critics of art, the LSD experiments provided extraordinary new insights into the psychology and psychopathology of art, particularly various modern movements as well as paintings and sculptures of native cultures. The spiritual experiences frequently observed in LSD sessions offered a radically new understanding of a wide variety of phenomena from the world of religion, including shamanism, the rites of passage, the ancient mysteries of death and rebirth, the Eastern spiritual philosophies, and the mystical traditions of the world.

LSD research seemed to be well on its way to fulfilling all the above promises and expectations when it was suddenly interrupted by unsupervised mass experimentation of the young generation and the ensuing repressive measures of a legal, administrative, and political nature. However, the problems associated with this development, blown out of proportion by sensation-hunting journalists, were not the only reason why LSD and other psychedelics were rejected by the Euro- American culture. An important contributing factor was also the attitude of technologized societies toward non-ordinary states of consciousness. All ancient and pre-industrial societies held these states in high esteem and they devoted much time and energy trying to develop safe and effective ways of inducing them. Members of these social groups had the opportunity to repeatedly experience non-ordinary states in a variety of sacred and secular contexts. Because of their capacity to provide experiential access to the numinous dimensions of existence and to the world of archetypal realms and beings, non-ordinary states represented the main vehicle of the ritual and spiritual life of the pre-industrial era. They also played an essential role in the diagnosing and healing of various disorders and were used for cultivation of intuition and extrasensory perception.

By comparison, the industrial civilization has pathologized non- ordinary states, developed effective means of suppressing them when they occur spontaneously, and has rejected or even outlawed the contexts and tools that can facilitate them. Because of the resulting naivety and ignorance concerning non-ordinary states, Western culture was unprepared to accept and incorporate the extraordinary mind-altering properties and power of psychedelics. The sudden invasion of the Dionysian elements from the depths of the unconscious and the heights of the superconscious was too threatening for the Puritanical values of our society. In addition, the irrational and transrational nature of psychedelic experiences seriously challenged the very foundations of the world-view of Western materialistic science. The existence and nature of these experiences could not be explained in the context of the mainstream theories and seriously undermined the metaphysical assumptions on which Western culture is built. For most psychiatrists and psychologists, psychotherapy meant disciplined discussions or free-associating on the couch. The intense emotions and dramatic physical manifestations in psychedelic sessions appeared to them to be too close to what they were used to considering to be psychopathology. It was hard for them to imagine that such states could be healing and transformative and they did not trust the reports about the extraordinary power of psychedelic psychotherapy. In addition, many of the phenomena occurring in psychedelic sessions could not be understood within the context of theories dominating academic thinking. The possibilities of reliving birth or episodes from embryonal life, obtaining accurate information from the collective unconscious, experiencing archetypal realities and karmic memories, or perceiving remote events in out-of-body states, were simply too fantastic to be believable for an average professional. Yet those of us who had the chance to work with psychedelics and were willing to radically change our theoretical understanding of the psyche and practical strategy of therapy were able to see and appreciate the enormous potential of psychedelics, both as therapeutic tools and as substances of extraordinary heuristic value.

In one of my early books, I suggested that the potential significance of LSD and other psychedelics for psychiatry and psychology was comparable to the value the microscope has for biology and medicine or the telescope has for astronomy. My later experience with psychedelics only confirmed this initial impression. These substances function as unspecific amplifiers that increase the energetic niveau in the psyche and make the deep unconscious dynamics available for conscious processing. This unique property of psychedelics makes it possible to study psychological undercurrents that govern our experiences and behaviors to a depth that cannot be matched by any other methods and tools available in modern mainstream science. In addition, psychedelics offer unique opportunities for healing of emotional and psychosomatic disorders, for positive personality transformation, and consciousness evolution. Naturally, tools of this power carry with them greater potential risks than more conservative and far less effective tools currently accepted and used by mainstream psychiatry, such as verbal psychotherapy or tranquilizing medication. However, past research has shown that these risks can be minimized through responsible use and careful control of the set and setting.

The legal and administrative sanctions against psychedelics did not deter lay experimentation, but they did terminate all legitimate scientific research of these substances. For those of us who had the privilege to explore the extraordinary potential of psychedelics, this was a tragic loss for psychiatry, psychology, and psychotherapy. These unfortunate developments wasted what was probably the single most important opportunity in the history of these disciplines. Had it been possible to avoid the unnecessary mass hysteria and continue responsible research of psychedelics, they could have become a tool that would make it possible to radically revise the theory and practice of psychiatry. This research would have brought a new understanding of the psyche and of consciousness that could become an integral part of a comprehensive new scientific paradigm of the twenty-first century. Most of the LSD researchers grudgingly accepted the legal and political sanctions against psychedelics and reluctantly returned to mainstream therapeutic practices. A few attempted to develop non- drug methods for inducing non-ordinary states of consciousness with the experiential spectrum and healing potential comparable to psychedelics. And then there were those who, like Jacob, the "Secret Chief," refused to accept legal sanctions that they considered irrational, unjustified, or even unconstitutional. These researchers saw the extraordinary benefits that LSD therapy offered to their clients and decided not to sacrifice the well-being of these people to scientifically unsubstantiated legislation. In addition to the therapeutic value of psychedelics, they were also aware of the entheogenic potential of these substances - their capacity to induce profound spiritual experiences. For this reason, they understood their work with LSD to be not only therapeutic practice, but also religious activity in the best sense of the word. From this perspective, the legal sanctions against psychedelics appeared to be not only unfounded and misguided, but also represented a serious infringement of religious freedom.

Jacob painfully weighed the pros and cons and made the decision to challenge the law, continue his work with psychedelics, and assume personal responsibility for his activity. He has already passed the judgment of his "family," the friends and clients whose lives he has profoundly changed. They remember him with great love and gratitude. It remains to be seen how he will be judged by history. It is certainly wise to obey the laws if our primary concern is personal safety and comfort. However, it often happens that in retrospect, history places higher value on those individuals who violated questionable laws of their time because of foresight and high moral principles than those who had issued them for wrong reasons.

Stanislav Grof, MD

The Secret Chief, by Myron Stolaroff, is available from the MAPS organization at

Doblin's thesis: "Good Friday Experiment" follow-up. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology:

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Editors note:

Our Ethics segment of the Forum is an effort to hear from many in our communities about the quality of performance and decorum expected from those in positions of leadership; we embrace the fact that each of us is a leader. This is a complex and paradoxical subject; simply about human interrelationship and intentioning. We'll be highlighting the views and dreams of many folks, while honoring a broad range of perspectives and insights on this journey. Our thanks to MAPS, Rick Doblin, Ph.D., and associates.

© dwij 2000
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