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For Doblin, winning FDA approval for the medical use of psychedelics—which he believes is now in view, for both MDMA and psilocybin—is a means to a more ambitious and still more controversial end: the incorporation of psychedelics into American society and culture, not just medicine. This of course is the same winning strategy followed by the campaign to decriminalize marijuana, in which promoting the medical uses of cannabis changed the drug’s image, leading to a more general public acceptance.

Not surprisingly, this sort of talk rankles more cautious heads in the community (Bob Jesse among them), but Rick Doblin is not one to soft-pedal his agenda or to even think about taking an interview off the record. This gets him a lot of press; how much it helps the cause is debatable. But there is no question that especially in the last several years Doblin has succeeded in getting important research approved and funded, especially in the case of MDMA, which has long been MAPS’s main focus. MAPS has sponsored several small clinical trials that have demonstrated MDMA’s value in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. (Doblin defines psychedelics generously, so as to include MDMA and even cannabis, even though their mechanisms of action in the brain are very different from that of the classical psychedelics.) But beyond helping those suffering with PTSD and other indications—MAPS is sponsoring a clinical study at UCLA that involves treating autistic adults with MDMA—Doblin believes fervently in the power of psychedelics to improve humankind by disclosing a spiritual dimension of consciousness we all share, regardless of our religious beliefs or lack thereof. “Mysticism,” he likes to say, “is the antidote to fundamentalism.”

• • • COMPARED WITH RICK DOBLIN, Bob Jesse is a monk. There is nothing shaggy or uncareful about him. Taut, press shy, and disposed to choose his words with a pair of tweezers, Jesse, now in his fifties, prefers to do his work out of public view, and preferably from the one-room cabin where he lives by himself in the rugged hills north of San Francisco, off the grid except for a fast Internet connection.

“Bob Jesse is like the puppeteer,” Katherine MacLean told me. MacLean is a psychologist who worked in Roland Griffiths’s lab from 2009 until 2013. “He’s the visionary guy working behind the scenes.”

Following Jesse’s meticulous directions, I drove north from the Bay Area, eventually winding up at the end of a narrow dirt road in a county he asked me not to name. I parked at a trailhead and made my way past the “No Trespassing” signs, following a path up a hill that brought me to his picturesque mountaintop camp. I felt as if I were going to visit the wizard. The shipshape little cabin is tight for two, so Jesse has set out among the fir trees and boulders some comfortable sofas, chairs, and tables. He’s also built an outdoor kitchen and, on a shelf of rock commanding a spectacular view of the mountains, an outdoor shower, giving the camp the feeling of a house turned inside out.

We spent the better part of an early spring day outdoors in his living room, sipping herbal tea and discussing his notably quieter campaign to restore psychedelics to respectability—a master plan in which Roland Griffiths plays a central role. “I’m a little camera shy,” he began, “so please, no pictures or recordings of any kind.”

Jesse is a slender, compact fellow with a squarish head of closely cropped gray hair and rimless rectangular glasses that are unostentatiously stylish. Jesse seldom smiles and has some of the stiffness I associate with engineers, though occasionally he’ll surprise you with a flash of emotion he will immediately then caption: “You may have noticed that thinking about that subject made my eyes get a little watery. Let me explain why . . .” Not only does he choose his own words with great care, but he insists that you do too, so, for example, when I carelessly deployed the term “recreational use,” he stopped me in mid-sentence. “Maybe we need to reexamine that term. Typically, it is used to trivialize an experience. But why? In its literal meaning, the word ‘recreation’ implies something decidedly nontrivial. There is much more to be said, but let’s bookmark this topic for another time. Please go on.” My notes show that Jesse took our first conversation on and off the record half a dozen times.

Jesse grew up outside Baltimore and went to Johns Hopkins, where he studied computer science and electrical engineering. For several years in his twenties, he worked for Bell Labs, commuting weekly from Baltimore to New Jersey. During this period, he came out of the closet and persuaded management to recognize the company’s first gay and lesbian employee group. (At the time, AT&T, the parent company, employed some 300,000 people.) Later, he persuaded AT&T management to fly a rainbow flag over headquarters during Gay Pride Week and send a delegation to march in the parade. This achievement formed Bob Jesse’s political education, impressing on him the value of working behind the scenes without making a lot of noise or demanding credit.

Jesse moved to Oracle, and the Bay Area, in 1990, becoming employee number 8766—not one of the first, but early enough to have acquired a chunk of stock in the company. It wasn’t long before Oracle fielded its own contingent in San Francisco’s Gay Pride Parade, and after Jesse’s gentle prodding of senior management Oracle became one of the first Fortune 500 companies to offer benefits to the same-sex partners of its employees.

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