RIP Sasha Shulgin

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RIP Sasha Shulgin

Today is a sad day, the American chemist, pharmacologist and re-discoverer of MDMA, Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin passed away on Monday evening aged 88.

Known as the godfather of ecstasy, Sasha was best known for introducing MDMA, the pure, sought after ingredient in ecstasy to the psychological field of study. It resulted in him becoming a worldwide icon for the psychedelic movement.

It is not just MDMA that we have Sasha to be thankful for. Throughout his career he has discovered, synthesised, personally tested, and recorded information on hundreds of psychedelic compounds (including 2C-B and 2C-T-7), leading many to believe that he had over 4000 trips over the course of his life. These detailed reports on each of his discoveries led him to write a number of books, most namely PiHKAL (Phenethylamines I Have Known And Loved) and TiHKAL (Tryptamines I Have Known And Loved).

Sasha began his career in chemistry at Harvard University, where he studied Organic Chemistry. He later joined the navy towards the end of the Second World War, where he developed a keen interest in psychopharmacology – leading him to do a post-doctoral course exploring it. After this Sasha went on to work for Bio-Rad Laboratories and later Dow Chemicals. However, the career was not fulfilling his interests, and in 1965, Sasha left the rat race to peruse his own chemistry related goals, setting up a laboratory in his house.

It wasn’t until 1976 that his research took a major turn, when the substance MDMA became known to him. MDMA was first synthesised in 1912 by Merck, a German pharmaceutical company. However, it wasn’t until it reached the hands of Sasha that it really spread. In collaboration with the psychologist Leo Zeff, Sasha introduced MDMA to hundreds of psychologists as a way to supplement talk therapy – a potential that is once again being recognised and addressed after many years of absolute prohibition. It was this practical application for the drug that led it to take the recreational market by storm, garnering it the title a one of the all-time party drugs – a title that remains to this day.

In recent years, Sasha suffered from both a stroke and the diagnosis of liver cancer. On Monday the 2nd of June, Sasha passed away peacefully in his home, surrounded by his family. His wife described his passing as graceful, with almost no struggle at all.

We owe this titan of chemistry a great debt. RIP Sasha Shulgin, your body may have passed but your spirit will live on, you will always be remembered.