Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin
Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, PhD, (1925-2014) was one of the most pioneering chemists of the 21st century.
He is most often remembered for his rediscovery and synthesis of a chemical known as MDMA, commonly known as Ecstasy, a drug Shulgin suggested would be a powerful aid in therapy.
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, Zectran. Ultimately, Shulgin went on to pursue 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, the late Ann Shulgin, and a small circle of trusted friends.
The Shulgins and their friends kept diligent notes on their experiential research forays, and later founded Transform Press in 1991 out of their shared passion and commitment to an uncensored examination of psychoactive compounds. Through Transform Press they co-authored and published PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story (1991) and TiHKAL: The Continuation (1997), a sequel to PiHKAL, standing for “tryptamines I have known and loved.” Shulgin’s work has been featured in two Netflix documentary series: “The Business of Drugs” (2020) and “How to Change Your Mind” (2022).
Shulgin in the 1980s, Shulgin taught a popular course on drugs and society at San Francisco State University. In 1987, he recorded his lectures and interactions with his students, and those transcriptions became the series, The Nature of Drugs: History, Pharmacology, and Social Impact. Volume 1 published in 2021, and Volume 2 is forthcoming in 2023.
(Author photo by Charles R. Lucke)