“How long will this last, this delicious feeling of being alive, of having penetrated the veil which hides beauty and the wonders of celestial vistas? It doesn’t matter, as there can be nothing but gratitude for even a glimpse of what exists for those who are open to it.” – Alexander Shulgin
Russian-American chemist and pharmacologist Alexander ‘Sasha’ Shulgin passed last Monday. Shulgin is best known for introducing psychology to his synthetic discovery MDMA, which would later help shape dance culture to what it is today. Sasha was 88.
Shulgin was a Harvard student who after graduating joined the US Navy in 1943. After WWII ended he completed his post-doctoral in psycho-pharmacology, in which he gained an interest during military service. He started out at Dow Chemical as senior research chemist. He found out soon enough that he would rather work solo and invent his own, consciousness-expanding creations at his self-made lab in his home in Berkeley, California.
Shulgin became an icon of the psychedelic movement in the US, synthesizing previously unknown psychoactive substances and testing them on himself, making detailed reports of his experience later transformed in a number of books, including PiHKAL (Phenethylamines I Have Known And Loved) and TiHKAL (Tryptamines I Have Known And Loved). Through his experiments, Shulgin reportedly synthesized over 200 new psychoactive substances and rated them according to his personal Shulgin Rating Scale.
His career and fame took flight in 1976 when he came across the MDMA substance (already synthesized back in 1912) and experienced its euphoric effects first hand. He then introduced the drug to hundreds of US psychologists as an aide patient therapy. About a decade later the drug gained popularity when the underground dance scene in the East Coast and Western Europe started taking the drug in its most prominent form: ecstasy.
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In 2010 Shulgin’s health deteriorated and spent some time in hospital in San Francisco. After the media reported on his condition and the fact that he could not pay for his medical bills, admirers of Shulgin held a fundraising campaign. The collected donations would cover proper treatment for the scientist in his last years.
Around that time Shulgin also gave a popular interview with VICE’s Hamilton Morris, which was published in May 2010 under a title ‘The Last Interview With Alexander Shulgin’.
In March 2010, director Etienne Sauret released the “Dirty Pictures” documentary on Shulgin’s life and scientific research, describing him as a “rogue chemist who discovered the effects of MDMA and over 200 other mind-altering drugs.”