Alexander Shulgin is a renowned American pharmacologist and chemist who’s research lies in the field of psycho-pharmacology. Shulgin is an important psychedelic chemist who has created and studied over 300 separate substances. He is admired for his ability to instil rational scientific thought into the world of psychedelics and illicit substances. Shulgin is best known for his introduction of MDMA to the scientific and psychological community.
Shulgin is both admired and demonized in the drug community. For anti-drug proponents, he actively contributes to the development of harmful drugs, to others he is a pioneer in the field. His work is without a doubt, important. He has published two books – Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved (or TiHKAL) and Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved (also known as PiHKAL) and numerous research papers on psychedelic compounds.
Shulgin studied organic chemistry at Harvard before pursuing his PhD in biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. He did further post-doctoral work in pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco. Shulgin’s first success story came from the development of the first biodegradable insecticide which he discovered when employed at the Dow Chemical Company. This chemical breakthrough gave Shulgin the opportunity to further his own interests at the company and he began to work on psychedelics. This relationship was relatively short lived as an unfortunate incident involving a chemical that he discovered. The chemical was almost as powerful as LSD but with the stamina of an amphetamine. After an accidental mass dosing of people with this powerful drug and the resulting chaos, the connection was made back to Shulgin and his employment with Dow Chemical Company ceased.
Soon after this unfortunate incident, Shulgin began to pursue his own independent work into psychedelic substances. He became a consultant and worked with the DEA providing advice regarding controlled substances to law enforcement. He was given a DEA Schedule I license which allowed him to legally carry out his analytical and scientific work on controlled substances in the laboratory that he has at his own home. This license was revoked in 1994 after a raid on the Shulgin residence and laboratory during which time the DEA found administrative and environmental infractions to the license regulations. After being found guilty and fined, Shulgin decided to not challenge the termination of the license but continued to work on the study of psychedelics outside of Schedule I substances.
One interesting fact regarding Shulgin is that his research is primarily conducted on himself. He always tests the compounds he discovers as a way of both understanding the physical and psychological changes that occur and as a way to protect others from potentially harmful chemicals. Shulgin, his wife Ann and a small group of close friends are guinea pigs for the compounds he discovers. All participants record their experience with the substances including visual, auditory and physical changes that they undergo. These notes make up a significant amount of the research work of Alexander Shulgin.
The most well known drug that Shulgin is associated with is MDMA. This drug was in fact invented in 1912 and re-synthesized by Shulgin in 1976. MDMA is a powerful psychoactive drug that when taken produces feelings of intimacy, self confidence, empathy and euphoria. MDMA has been found to be a successful drug for psychotherapy as it makes people open to discussing intimate thoughts, feeling close to others, acceptance and empathy. Prior to the drug being made illegal, therapists and psychiatrists successfully treated many patients who suffered from a range of conditions, using MDMA. These symptoms they treated included depression, drug addiction, phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
MDMA was used by Shulgin and his associates for a number of years in psychotherapy settings. It is believed that the drug provides a powerful mechanism for people who are suffering from significant psychological blocks to be unblocked. MDMA can grant access to traumatic emotional events which can advance healing and people can begin on their road to recovery. This is particularly important for those who have been the victim of rape, sexual assault or violent crime and the memories can restrict their lives, ruin relationships and cause people long-lasting pain. Interestingly, MDMA has also been found to cut physical pain, even chronic pain.
Shulgin has stated in the past that he was saddened by the scheduling of MDMA before significant medical research was able to be conducted on the substance. He and other advocates believe that the drug can offer important advancements in psychotherapy.
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