The Shulgins:Psychoactive Pioneers


The Shulgins and their Alchemical Angels by Alex Grey

For Valentine’s Day, I decided to focus on something far more substantial than chocolate covered marshmallow hearts and cheap thongs that lodge themselves in my asscrack, courtesy of an overenthusiastic lover with an embroidered lace fixation. Let’s talk about love shall we? In my opinion, Sasha and Ann Shulgin are one of the finest examples of this underrated adjective, considering that they’ve been together for over 30 years. While the majority of marriages in the Western world continue to implode at an alarming rate, the Shulgins’ have withstood the test of time. Is there a valuable lesson we can learn from these psychedelic sweethearts? Perhaps they are onto something that most of us remain clueless about…

Let’s take a closer look at these Venerable Valentines and their labour of love for psychoactives that has brought them together, and, one might add, kept them together through many years of ups and downs.

Alexander Shulgin (or Sasha as he is affectionately known) is an American pharmacologist and author of Russian descent. This champion of subversive psychoactivism is popularly referred to as the “Godfather of MDMA.”  Born June 17th 1925, he is credited with re-synthesizing the drug after a lengthy period of obscurity since its initial discovery in 1912.  Though he never intended for MDMA to become a party drug, he has accepted its popularity from a social standpoint, and even attended a rave once. Sasha’s love affair with psychedelics began when he tried mescaline for the first time. It blew his mind. The experience triggered a lifelong exploration and categorization of mind altering substances that would come to define his legacy:

 “I first explored mescaline in the late ’50s. “Three-hundred-fifty to 400 milligrams. I learned there was a great deal inside me.” – L.A. Times 1995

After earning a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1955, Shulgin went to work at Dow Chemical Company as a senior research chemist.  With the successful development of Zectran, the first biodegradable (and highly profitable) pesticide, Shulgin was granted carte blanche by the company and his own lab – wonderful assets for any aspiring chemist. Dow hoped that their brilliant apothecarist would continue to create compounds that would line the pockets of their investors. Instead, Alexander came up with increasing numbers of patents for psychoactives, which was far from what Dow Chemical had originally intended.

Ever the sharpminded tack, Sasha quit while he was ahead, and carried on synthesizing psychedelics in a makeshift lab he’d constructed in a shed behind his house (the nerve!). During the mid 1960’s, Sasha became a private consultant and lectured at local universities and the San Francisco General Hospital.  He even worked with the DEA as an expert on controlled substances, which led to him testifying in court cases for both the prosecution and the defence as an authority on the subject matter. Ironically, the DEA raided his lab in 1994 and fined him $25,000 for violation of his Schedule 1 license, though no illegal substances were ever found in his possession, even during subsequent raids.

What really got the DEA’s panties in a knot was the publication of “PIHKAL: A Love Story” which Sasha co-authored with his wife Ann, in 1991. If you look closely at the tripped out illustration at the beginning of this article, you will see PIHKAL and TIHKAL disguised in the winged eyes above the Shulgins’ heads. PIHKAL is an acronym for Phenythlamines I  Have Known And Loved. A quick perusal through this fantastic tome revealed 179 recipes for synthesizing a variety of psychoactives, including  2C-B, 2C-T-2 and MDMA, plus meticulously detailed accounts of their effects, chemical structures and recommended dosage. Obviously, the DEA was not thrilled by the prospect of a publicly accessible “cookbook on drugs,” though realistically speaking, amateurs would not have access to the kind of equipment required to produce these superduper compounds. TIHKAL (Tryptamines I Have Known And Loved) soon followed suit, which featured tryptamines such as DMT and psilocybin and instructions for cooking up 55 psychedelic recipes, many of which Shulgin had discovered himself. Now why would such a lovely, middle aged couple put themselves at risk from incurring the wrath of Uncle Sam? The Shulgins are motivated not by profit margins, but by a desire to ensure that information about psychoactives remain in the hands of the public. They truly believe in the power of these substances, as tools of self-exploration and a potential salve for the psyche, when used under the right circumstances and within appropriate settings. Which brings us to Sasha’s lifelong partner in psychedelic aviation, Ann Shulgin. 

Born March 22nd 1931, Ann worked as a lay therapist using MDMA and 2C-B to facilitate sessions involving married couples, when these substances were still legal. Ann met Alexander in Berkeley in 1979. Needless to say, these kindred spirits fell deeply in love and married in Sasha’s backyard in 1981. So you could say the Shulgins were into eco-marriage before it became fashionable. Together they came up with “The Shulgin Scale,” a unique rating system for the effects of various psychoactives, which they tested out on themselves and a select group of friends in the 60’s and 70’s. Ann has spoken at numerous conventions, contributed to other publications and has travelled around the globe with her husband as an expert on the use of psychedelics in therapy. She is a staunch supporter of her husband’s work and believes MDMA should never have beeen criminalized:

“MDMA is an insight drug,” she says with a determined passion. “It helps you open doors to yourself. You can see yourself for what you are. You can feel a compassion for who you are.” – Time Out, March 2002

It is evident that these two brave souls were united for a higher purpose; to serve humanity in truth and light, and to encourage a greater awareness of the redemptive qualities of psychoactives, contrary to what the government would have us believe. Such remarkable acts of selflessness have come at a rather high cost. The Shulgins are not sitting on a pile of cash, happily retired, as many would like to believe. They have recently fallen on difficult times. In 2010, Sasha suffered a stroke and subsequently developed an ulcer on his leg, which almost led to amputation. They do not have life insurance, and their small pension cannot cover the medical bills which have piled up as a result. Incredibly, the Shulgins are still alive and very much in love. Their amazing longevity defies the popular belief that doing drugs will send you to an early grave. Collectively speaking, Ann and Sasha have done hundreds of drugs, yet they are still alive. What gives? It is obvious to anyone with half a brain that all drugs are not created equal. Some are good, some are bad. The Shulgins were smart enough to distinguish between the former and the latter, so now they are a living testament to this rather intriguing anomaly. They are shining examples of subversive defiance towards state endorsed mind control propaganda. What the world needs is love – and more psychoactivists like these seasoned Old World Warriors.

Despite ongoing hardships, Ann has stood by Sasha’s side, even as he continues to battle health problems and dementia. At 80 years of age, she is taxed physically and emotionally, yet remains optimistic about life and her husband’s condition. In an open letter that courageously addresses their challenging situation, Ann stated: 

I am still a believer in Sasha, because the essential man is still — dementia or not — the person he always was: loyal and loving and tremendously life-affirming and funny as hell.  He still makes good jokes (and lousy ones), and he loves me the way I always wanted to be loved.  He wasn’t clever about money, but what he did care about was — and still is — chemistry, and the fabulous things you  can discover in the world of molecules, and how deeply satisfying it is to send what you know out to the world in the form of books, and how moving it is to hear from hundreds and hundreds of people in all the countries of the world (except Antarctica) writing to tell you how you saved their lives, or marriages, or sanity.  Sasha was, and is, a truly good man, a nice and kind man, and he deserves the best we can give him at the end of his life.  He has a dark side, but I’ve been able to live with it without any regrets, as he seems to have been able to live with my dark side without more than an occasional shrug.  His I.Q. was equal to Einstein’s, but he’s been a much sweeter person than Einstein ever was.  And, unlike most of the extremely high I.Q. people in this world, Sasha never had the slightest touch of malice or cruelty. He’s been a good man to know and love. 

Now that, to me, is what true love’s all about. Think of it as an equation if you will: 


* Note: The Shulgins’ remarkable accomplishments are too numerous to be included in this blogpost. I strongly recommend that you do further research  if you are interested. There is a wealth of information on this dynamic duo, including literature, fascinating clips on youtube, and a documentary called “Dirty Pictures.”

Here is a link to a fantastic website devoted entirely to the Shulgins:

To find out more about how you can help the Shulgins cover Sasha’s medical expenses visit:

Copyright © 2012 Frankie Diamond. All rights reserved. Excerpts of less than 200 words may be published to another site, including a link back to the original article. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety and posted to another site without the express permission of the author.



One response »

  1. Thanks for posting this. It is sad that a man who has given so much to so many of us is in the financial situation he is today- not out of any wrongdoing on his part- but due more to a love of exploration and sharing then of self gain.

    I would urge everyone reading this to consder how much they have spent on substances that they would never have experienced if it werent for Ann and Sasha- and to think about how much this has enriched their lives- and donate what they can. It is a very meaningful way to say thank you to a man who has done more to enrich the human experience then most.

    I highly recommend atching the video from the MAPS Shulgin Tribute Dinner here: . Especially illuminating are some of the comments from Nick Sand, best known as one of the great LSD chemists.

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