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The Nature of Drugs: History, Pharmacology, and Social Impact

By Alexander "Sasha" Shulgin and Ann Shulgin

Foreword by Mariavittoria Mangini

The Nature of Drugs presents Sasha Shulgin’s popular San Francisco State University course on what drugs are, how they work, how they are processed by the body, and how they affect our society. The course also delves into social issues and reactions involving drugs, and discussions of governmental attempts at controlling them and features Sasha’s engaging lecture style peppered with illuminating anecdotes and amusing asides.

“Legendary chemist, nuanced psychonaut of molecular structure-activity relations, deep thinker on issues of societal policy, engaging storyteller, inspirational teacher, and all-around good human being — Sasha Shulgin takes us on an alchemical educational journey as if we were sitting there as students in the class from which this text arose. What a gift!”— David E. Presti

“If you’re curious about any drug, from caffeine to LSD, this is the book for you. What an absolute treat to learn from the best, to have Professor Shulgin as your personal instructor, with all of his charming, self-effacing asides and his witty encyclopedic knowledge on display.” — Julie Holland

Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin

The late Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin was undoubtedly one of the most pioneering chemists of this century. Completing his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley in 1955,Shulgin went on to get a job at the Dow Chemical Company, where he invented a highly lucrative, biodegradable pesticide by the name of Zectran and ultimately pursued his own research program, synthesizing psychoactive substances after an experience with mescaline. Shulgin left Dow in 1966, setting up a home-based laboratory on his ranch in Lafayette, California, where he synthesized more than two hundred novel psychoactive compounds. A bold explorer of the frontiers of neurochemistry, Shulgin tested the majority of the substances he synthesized on himself, his wife and co-researcher Ann, and a small circle of trusted friends. He and his friends kept diligent notes on their experiential research forays. He and his wife Ann co-authored the psychonautic tome, PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story in 1991. In 1996, the Shulgin’s published TiHKAL: The Continuation, a sequel to PiHKAL, standing for “tryptamines I have known and loved.” Shulgin is most often remembered for his rediscovery and synthesis of a chemical known as MDMA, commonly known as Ecstasy, and Shulgin suggested that MDMA would be a powerful aid in therapy. (Photo by Charles R. Lucke)

Related: Continuing the Shulgin Legacy: Synergetic Press & Transform Press Agree to a Co-Publishing Deal

Ann Shulgin

Ann Shulgin co-founded Transform Press in 1991 with her husband, Sasha Shulgin, out of their shared passion and commitment to an uncensored examination of psychoactive compounds. Through the Press they co-authored and published PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story (1991) and TiHKAL: The Continuation (1997), the two cult classics based on their psychedelic experiences. The publications generated regular discussion groups on psychedelics and psychopharmacology which the Shulgins led together for many years. They also contributed jointly to several other publications including, The Secret Chief, The Secret Chief Revealed, Entheogens and the Future of Religion, and Ecstasy: The Complete Guide.

Ann has served as a lay therapist facilitating the use of MDMA and 2CB in therapeutic settings while those substances were still legal. She brings a Jungian orientation to her examination of psychedelic experiences, with a particular emphasis on the integration of the Shadow and an overarching theme of spirituality and unification with the divine in all things.

Since Sasha’s passing, Ann serves as the advising authority on the Shulgin research legacy and the Shulgin estate. She continues to write and give talks within the psychedelic community.


The Nature of Drugs: History, Pharmacology, and Social Impact, Volume I, was transcribed from the original lecture tapes recorded at SFSU in 1987. Ostensibly taught as an introductory course on drugs and biochemistry, this transcription is a unique document being both a historical record of Sasha’s teaching style and the culmination in many ways of his philosophy on drugs, psychopharmacology, states of consciousness, and societal and individual freedoms pertaining to their use, both medicinal and exploratory. The Nature of Drugs is the story of humanity’s relationship with psychoactive substances from the perspective of a master psychopharmacologist and will enthrall anyone intrigued by this subject.

The Nature of Drugs Presentation

The course will be published in two volumes. Volume I presents Shulgin’s view on the origin of drugs, the history of U.S. drug law enforcement, human anatomy, the nervous system, the range of drug administrations, varieties of drug actions, memory and states of consciousness, and research methods. The discussions in Volume I lay the groundwork for Sasha’s philosophy on psychopharmacology and society, what defines a drug, the nature of a person’s relationship with a given compound, and for extensive examinations of dozens of compounds in Volume II.

Sasha Shulgin teaching at UCSF

Alexander Shulgin in The Business of Drugs

Shulgin is most often remembered for his rediscovery and synthesis of a chemical known as MDMA, this work with synthetics has recently been featured in a new Netflix documentary series The Business of Drugs. The second episode, entitled “Synthetics” is devoted to exploring the chemical legacy that Alexander Shulgin left in his wake, and the psychotherapeutic potential he saw in MDMA. While the episode details the current dangers of the underground synthetics market––a market Shulgin never anticipated––the episode continually circles back to the extreme benefit of MDMA in therapeutic settings, and how improper scheduling has halted crucial research and utilization within the field of mental health.

Related: Continuing the Shulgin Legacy: Synergetic Press & Transform Press Agree to a Co-Publishing Deal

Additional information

Weight 2 lbs
Dimensions 9 × 6 × 1 in

Hardback, eBook

Pages 288



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