Alexander "Sasha" Shulgin has died at the age of 88, after battling various illnesses including liver cancer. The American chemist was famous for introducing MDMA to psychologists in the 70s and highly respected for his pioneering synthesis of over 200 psychoactive compounds. With his wife Ann he wrote the books PIKHAL and TIKHAL, acronyms for Phenethylamines I Have Known And Loved and Tryptamines I have Known And Loved respectively. He kept extensive diaries of experiences he'd had on drugs that he'd created and like all drug experiences, results varied from good to bad depending on substance, person and situation. The man was his own dedicated guinea pig – a guinea pig that probably had an absolute blast.
MDMA was actually first synthesized in 1912 by a drugs company called Merck, but its full potential was never fully explored until 1976, when Shulgin was given a sample by a student. Intrigued, Shulgin cooked his own batch using a new synthesis method and introduced it to a Californian psychologist called Leo Zeff, who began using it as part of his practice in treating patients with post-traumatic stress and advised other doctors about the possible benefits of MDMA.
By the 80s, MDMA was being swallowed by the gram by at raves all across Britain; acid house kicked off and people were on so much ecstasy that they actually thought the Happy Mondays were a good band. MDMA, the active component of ecstasy, spearheaded a cultural revolution, defined entire genres of music, helped strangers on nights out come together and freaked out the government and police. Even today, more Brits consume MDMA than energy drinks like Red Bull (at least, that's according to this study).
Shulgin had his own battles with the law. In 1994, the DEA raided his laboratory and claimed that PIKHAL and TIKHAL were "just cookbooks for making illegal drugs", citing their discovery of copies at underground drug labs. Prior to his health woes, which began in 2010, Shulgin had been working on two new tryptamines. And this was all at the age of 84.
According to reports, he died in bed peacefully surrounded by friends and family. In honour of Shulgin, let's have a look at 15 minutes of pure ecstasy:
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