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Sasha Shulgin

Alexander Sasha Shulgin


Alexander Shulgin - Psychonaut and godfather of the phenethylamines

Alexander "Sasha" Theodore Shulgin has synthesized and self-tested more than three hundred psychoactive substances in his experiments, which makes him one of the persons with the most personal and practical experience with psychedelics. The best-known discoveries he made are DOM and 2C-B - on the streets, DOM was called STP or Super LSD. He published the results of his work in four books and more than two hundred journal publications.

Alexander was born on June 17, 1925 in Berkeley, California to Theodore Stevens Shulgin and Henrietta D. Shulgin. His father was born in Orenburg, Russia and came to the United States in 1923, while Henrietta was born in Illinois. Both his parents were public school teachers in Alameda County.

In 1941 Alexander began studying organic chemistry at the Harvard University, but in 1943 he dropped out of school to serve in the U.S. Navy, where he would make his first experience with psycho-pharmaceuticals. Or better said, the lack of such - prior to a surgery, Alexander was given a glass of orange juice by a military nurse and he drank it in the assumption it would contain a psychoactive drug. Quickly after drinking the juice he fell asleep only find out the next day he had been given a placebo. This was when he got interested in psycho-pharmacology, because he was amazed at how "a fraction of a gram of sugar had rendered him unconscious." After his time in the Navy he went to Berkeley, California and earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1954. He completed his post-doctoral research work in the fields of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of California in San Francisco throughout the following years and after a short interlude at Bio-Rad Laboratories he began to work for Dow Chemical Company as a senior research chemist. In the late 1950s he had his first mescaline experience and "learned that there is a great deal inside him." His chance to delve much deeper into psychoactives came after he had developed the first biodegradable pesticide. Zectran was a very profitable patent and Dow Chemicals granted Alexander the freedom to conduct his own research on new drugs and their activity and he began to examine them through self-tests. He published his results in contemporary journals such as the Journal of Organic Chemistry and Nature magazine.

In the 1960s a small group of friends joined his testing sessions and all results of the experiments with phenethylamines and later tryptamines were painstakingly recorded, but after the big media stir about the abuse of street drugs, Dow Chemicals interdicted Alexander to stop publishing his experiences and results while working for them because they were afraid of the public reaction to Alexander's work and hence he left Dow Chemicals in 1965 to teach classes at the San Francisco General Hospital and in local universities. Meanwhile, he and his friends had developed the Shulgin Rating Scale to quantify the experiences and effects of each of the substances and they created reports for hundreds of psychoactive chemical substances. In 1967, at San Francisco State University, Alexander was introduced to MDMA by a graduate student in a medicinal chemistry group he advised.

MDMA (better known as Ecstasy or "E" on the streets) was first manufactured and patented by Merck in 1912, but since it had never been explored, Alexander developed a new synthesis method and in 1976 he gave the drug to Leo Zeff, a psychologist from Oakland in California who would administer small doses of the substance to his patients in his practice as an aid to talk therapy and introduced it to hundreds of psychologists across the nation. Through the acquaintanceship with Leo he met his future wife and most fervent supporter Ann, a lay therapist and psychedelic enthusiast.

Ann and Alexander got married in 1981. He also served as an expert witness and provided pharmacological samples for the DEA and in 1988 he wrote the definitive manual "Controlled Substances: Chemical & Legal Guide to Federal Drug Laws." In order to carry out his consulting work for the DEA, he was issued a Schedule I license, which granted him permission to set up an analytical laboratory and possession of synthesized scheduled substances.

In 1991, he and his wife published "PiHKAL - A Chemical Love Story," wherein the main title is an acronym that stands for "Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved". The book is separated in two volumes: The first part is a story of a pharmacologist and his wife and the second contains detailed synthesis instructions for over 200 psychedelic compounds (most of which Alexander discovered himself), bioassays, dosages and other commentary. In 1994, the DEA demanded ALexander to turn over his license for violating its terms and raided his laboratory. And although two announced and scheduled reviews had failed to find any irregularities in the 15 years prior to the publication of PiHKAL, he was fined $25.000 for possession of analytical samples. Richard Meyer, spokesman for DEA's San Francisco Field Division, stated that "those books were pretty much cookbooks on how to make illegal drugs" and that agents had told him that they had found copies of those books in clandestine labs they had raided. But Alexander and Ann continued to develop and test new psychoactive substances within the boundaries of the law and in 1997 they published "TiHKAL - A Continuation". This main title is an acronym for "Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved" and is about a family of psychoactive drugs known as tryptamines. Just like PiKHAL it consists of two parts, wherein the first part is a continuation of the fictional autobiography of a pharmacologist, while the second part is a collection of essays on topics ranging from psychotherapy and the Jungian mind to the prevalence of DMT in nature, Ayahuasca and the war on drugs.

In 2002, Alexander and Wendy Perry wrote "The Simple Plant Isoquinolines" to describe plants containing isoquinolines and details of their structures. Throughout the last few years he felt the effects of aging; on April 8, 2008 he underwent surgery to replace a defective aortic valve, on November 16, 2010, Sasha suffered a stroke, followed by another one December and he underwent a surgery to save his left foot from amputation. With the assistance of Tania Manning and Paul F. Daley he released the long-awaited comprehensive catalog of the known psychedelics "The Shulgin Index" in March 2011. Alexander is currently living in Northern California and is in the process of recovery and plans to continue his research as health permits.

Alexander believes the government should not enacts laws that interfere with one's personal behavior and also that it all depends on why, for what desired effect, how and how often drugs are used. Instead, providing precise instructions about responsible use might actually prevent abuse. As with coffee, alcohol, salt or fat, measure matters.