Known as the “Grandfather of ecstasy'
Alexander "Sasha" Shulgin, the chemist and pharmacologist known for creating hundreds of psychoactive drugs and popularising MDMA, has died at his home aged 88.
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His wife, Ann Shulgin, confirmed his death via Facebook. She wrote: "Sasha died today [2 June], at exactly 5 o'clock in the afternoon. He was surrounded by family and caretakers and Buddhist meditation music, and his going was graceful, with almost no struggle at all."
Shulgin was known for discovering, creating and personally testing hundreds of psychoactive chemicals and documenting the results, along with his wife, in his books and papers.
Shulgin published the popular TiHkal (Tryptamines I Have Known And Loved) and PiHKAL (Phenethylamines I Have Known And Loved) with his wife, Ann. Shulgin was formerly a chemist for The Dow Chemical Company before he moved on in 1965 to pursue his own research, which he performed at his house in Berkeley, California.
The first psychedelic experience Shulgin had was with Mescaline in 1960. After talking the drug for the first time, he wrote: "I understood that our entire universe is contained in the mind and the spirit. We may choose not to find access to it, we may even deny its existence, but it is indeed there inside us, and there are chemicals that can catalyse its availability.''
Throughout his life, Shulgin had synthesised and self-tested hundreds of psychoactive chemicals, including MDMA – which became known as the drug ecstasy.
“In 1976 Shulgin was introduced to MDMA by a graduate student in San Francisco”, DJ Mag reports. “He developed a new synthesis method and passed the finished results to his therapist friend Leo Zeff. Zeff began using it for sessions with clients, and soon word spread about the effects of MDMA — or XTC — on people’s emotional states. As has been well documented, ecstasy then spread to the club culture in New York, Chicago, Ibiza, and then the UK and across Europe”.
In 1978, Shulgin and chemist David Nichols published the first paper outlining the positive effect of MDMA on humans.
According to George Greer, a psychiatrist who in the early 80s conducted MDMA therapy sessions with 80 patients, ''Without exception, every therapist who I talked to or even heard of, every therapist who gave MDMA to a patient, was highly impressed by the results" reported the New York Times in a feature about Shulgin.
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In an article for Time Magaine in 2002, he said: "Drugs don't do things. They only catalyse what's already there. No drug has skill. It's you who has skill. You only have to know it."