He spent three decades synthesizing new psychedelic drugs in his California backyard lab, and he was credited with creating more than 100 previously unknown psychoactive compounds, but he was best known for a drug he didn't invent:
Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, who in the 1970s rescued the circa-1912 pharmaceutical from obscurity by suggesting it would be viable for mental therapy, died yesterday at the age of 88, the organization Erowid announced:
The former Dow Chemical Co. research chemist synthesized drugs with the approval of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, which gave him a license to analyze narcotics so that he could be an expert witness.
He said he invented more than 150 drugs while he also worked a day job as a scientific consultant after leaving Dow.
The Bay Area resident was of particular use in cases where the compounds were exotic or rare: Few “designer drugs” appeared to be outside his expertise and, often, he was their inventor.
“A lot of the materials in Schedule I are my invention,” Shulgin once told us. “I'm not sure if it's a point of pride or a point of shame
The books Pikhal and Tikhal cataloged Shulgin's recipes. But after this reporter profiled Shulgin in the Los Angeles Times the DEA got cold feet about the arrangement.
Wife Ann told us back then that the souring had been a few years in the making:
Before Pihkal, we had a real good relationship with the DEA. They have few people they can talk to who are on the other side of the fence who are honest.
The feds' objections were too late, though, and the chemist became an icon just as the rave scene – particularly massive in L.A. – adopted the tactile, feel-good drug as its own.
“I still haven't found anything like it to this day,” Shulgin told us in '95.
Ecstasy was outlawed by the federal government in 1985, after it had already become somewhat of a club drug in Dallas and beyond.
Shulgin moved on to other compounds, trying each one himself or allowing trusted friends to partake for research purposes.
“Inventing new psychoactive drugs,” Ann said to us, “is like composing new music.”
One drug that Shulgin called 5-TOM had a paralyzing effect, he said. But he wasn't afraid. He believed it was all worth it in the name of human discovery. And he wanted drugs like ecstasy legalized.
Erowid said Shulgin had been “battling various illnesses” for several years and was recently diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. He had a stroke in 2010, the organization said.
In announcing his death, Erowid described him this way:
Sasha Shulgin died at 5pm this afternoon. He was a psychedelic chemist, a visionary, and a cognitive liberty advocate. He was also a dear friend, mentor, and role model to Earth & me (Fire).
We were lucky to know him.