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Letter in Support of John Halpern
by Neal M. Goldsmith, Ph.D.
v1.0 - May 1, 2006
Adapted from original post to a mailing list
Citation:   Goldsmith NM. "Letter in Support of John Halpern". May 1 2006;
Dear All,

I read the early 2006 articles circulated online detailing the controversy about John Halpern and would like to comment. My conclusion from all the discussion is that while John clearly made mistakes in judgment in his relationship with Pickard, his cooperation with the DEA was limited in scope. On the other hand, I have enormous respect for John's research career—past, present and significantly, future—and I feel strongly that the benefits of John's work overwhelmingly outweigh his past mistakes in judgment.

A July 5, 2001 article from Rolling Stone goes into some depth over what happened to Pickard and who were the key players. While we're passing out judgments on responsibility and ethics, the following quote from the article reveals Pickard's values:
"More than anything, in the course of several meetings in the Topeka jail, Pickard sounded embarrassed by the current federal case against him, frustrated that the whole business couldn't be sorted out in a gentlemanly fashion by rational men. At a detention hearing in January, Pickard stood before a federal judge and offered, in essence, to trade his freedom for somebody else's: 'If released, even in the most severe constraints, I would immediately proceed to report to the federal building [and] cooperate even aggressively with DEA in any matters that they wish.' The judge, however, refused to grant Pickard bail."
So, since there have been articles and discussions about mistakes, I think the time is overdue to talk about the benefit side of the equation. After all, John is poised to conduct research that could significantly influence mainstream American opinion on the use of psychedelics in research and practice. We'd better be careful before we forgo the huge potential benefits of John continuing his work at Harvard.

For example, if he has dying cancer patients in a study actively getting MDMA who find this treatment helpful, that is a more important and bigger benefit than his limited cooperation with the DEA, no? If he gets an RO1 (NIH Research Project Grant) on peyote as a treatment for Native Americans with alcoholism, when those results come out, that also would be of huge importance down the road.

Here is a link to some of John's Peyotl work: Psychological and Cognitive Effects of Long-Term Peyote Use Among Native Americans. Another example of John's work may be found at

Most people don't know that John has worked, mostly pro bono, on the UDV/Santo Daime cases. How about the fact that the only substance other than peyote to gain a religious exemption in any of the U.S. states--Ayahuasca in Oregon for the Santo Daime--was done with John's input? Recently, John was first author on an amicus curiae brief that was filed before the Supreme Court on behalf of the UDV. Now that the Supreme Court has issued its favorable ruling, it seems reasonable to assume that John's position helped influence their opinion.

The link is to this amicus curiae brief, in support of the UDV's right to use ayahuasca. Halpern and colleagues write a cogent and, at times, scathing rebuttal in OPPOSITION to the positions of the Department of Justice and the DEA. This is just another example of why there is every reason to trust Halpern's intentions.

My point is that many don't realize just how dedicated John is to the work we are all pulling for. John's impact has been beneficial and large and given his career track, should continue to increase. It is enormously helpful to have John working for us and since John's mistakes were ones that many might have made, let's get on with our important work—and let's let John get on with his contribution and support him in that effort.



P.S. In keeping with "full disclosure," I want to also say that I have worked with both Rick and John (sat on panels; written articles). In fact, my working with them is the very source of my direct information—information that most readers trying to make up their mind simply don't have—about Rick and John's character and the intentionality behind their work.

Neal M. Goldsmith, Ph.D.
neal at