Newspaper article International New York Times

Alexander Shulgin, Psychedelics Researcher, Dies at 88

Newspaper article International New York Times

Alexander Shulgin, Psychedelics Researcher, Dies at 88

Article excerpt

A legitimate scientist and a counterculture hero, Dr. Shulgin introduced the controversial drug popularly known as Ecstasy for potential therapeutic use.

CORRECTION APPENDED

Alexander Shulgin, a chemist who specialized in the creation of and experimentation with mind-altering substances, and who introduced the controversial drug popularly known as Ecstasy for potential therapeutic use, died on June 2 at his home in Lafayette, Calif. He was 88.

The cause was cancer, his wife, Ann, said.

Dr. Shulgin, whose interest, as he put it once, was "in the machinery of the mental process," was both a rogue and a wizard, a legitimate scientist and a counterculture hero. Over more than four decades, working generally within the law (if occasionally on the edge), trying out his concoctions on himself, his wife and a few friends, and publishing his results, he was the creator of almost 200 chemical compounds capable of rejiggering the quotidian functions of the mind.

As The New York Times Magazine cataloged Dr. Shulgin's output in 2005: "stimulants, depressants, aphrodisiacs, 'empathogens,' convulsants, drugs that alter hearing, drugs that slow one's sense of time, drugs that speed it up, drugs that trigger violent outbursts, drugs that deaden emotion -- in short a veritable lexicon of tactile and emotional experience."

His work resulted in patents -- his drugs have been used in treating hypertension, reducing nicotine cravings and addressing senility, among other things -- but it has also been appropriated by recreational users, sometimes to dangerous effect. In 1967, one of his compounds, popularly known as STP, whose effects include hallucinations and a sense that time has slowed down, was deployed in high doses by San Francisco thrill seekers, sending dozens, if not hundreds, to emergency rooms with fears that they would never return to normal.

Dr. Shulgin had something of a peekaboo relationship with the authorities. On the one hand, he had a strong relationship with the Drug Enforcement Administration; Bob Sager, formerly head of the agency's Western Laboratory, was a close friend. Dr. Shulgin often advised drug agents, served as an expert witness in drug trials, wrote a reference work on controlled substances used by law enforcement and for many years was licensed by the D.E.A. to do research on Schedule I drugs, those identified as having no clearly defined medical use and a high potential for abuse.

On the other hand, he sometimes ran afoul of the drug agency. Many of the compounds he worked with were not originally illegal because they had not existed until he created them, but once they did exist and had gained a public reputation, the drug agency often designated them Schedule I. In 1993, the D.E.A. raided his lab, and he was fined $25,000 for violating the terms of the Schedule I license and had to turn it in. …

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