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Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, who introduced MDMA (Ecstasy) to many psychologists in the 1970s, improved its synthesis, and inadvertently helped to launch one of the most popular recreational drugs in the world, was born in Berkeley on this date in 1925. Shulgin and his wife Anna discovered and compounded, and experimented and documented their experiences with over 230 psychoactive substances. He completed his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of California in 1954 and did postgraduate work in psychiatry and pharmacology before going to work as a senior research chemist at Dow Chemical. In the late 1950s he began to experiment with mescaline, and after developing the first biodegradable pesticide for Dow, he gained enough financial independence to become a full-time psychedelics explorer. This was expedited by a Drug Enforcement Administration Schedule I license for his own analytical laboratory, a license that enabled him to assist the DEA as an expert witness, but was revoked after about twenty years when the Shulgins published PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story (PIHKAL = Phenethylamines I Have Known And Loved), a detailed 1991 account of their drug experimentations. A second book, TIHKAL: The Continuation (TIHKAL = Tryptamines I Have Known And Loved) came out in 1997. The Shulgins have “unwavering belief,” wrote Dennis Romero in the Los Angeles Times in 1995, “that these drugs have untold powers and that we, as a society, are ignorant of these powers — like early man who shied away from fire. Yet Shulgin’s words are almost always sober: ‘I’m very confident that there will come a time when this work will be recognized for its medical value.’ ” To see him discussing his work with psychedelics, look below.
“Use them with care, and use them with respect as to the transformations they can achieve, and you have an extraordinary research tool. Go banging about with a psychedelic drug for a Saturday night turn-on, and you can get into a really bad place, psychologically. Know what you’re using, decide just why you’re using it, and you can have a rich experience. They’re not addictive, and they’re certainly not escapist, either, but they’re exceptionally valuable tools for understanding the human mind, and how it works.” —Sasha Shulgin