Ecstasy chemist Shulgin, 88, dies in California (Update)

Jun 03, 2014 by Paul Elias
A Sept. 6, 2008, photo released by Greg Manning is of Alexander Shulgin in San Francisco. Shulgin, a respected chemist famed for dusting off a decades-old recipe for the psychedelic drug ecstasy, died Monday, June 3, 2014, at his Northern California home. He was 88. (AP Photo/Greg Manning)

Alexander Shulgin, a respected chemist famed for dusting off a decades-old recipe for the psychedelic drug ecstasy, died Monday at his Northern California home. He was 88.

Shulgin's wife, Ann, said liver cancer was the cause. She said he had been diagnosed about a year ago and was surrounded by family and friends when he died at "the farm," his sprawling residence and lab in a remote part of Lafayette, California, about 22 miles (35 kilometers) east of San Francisco.

Shulgin created more than 200 chemical compounds for use in psychotherapy, and tested them on himself, his wife and a small group of friends and others at his home, recording each experience in lab notebooks. He didn't invent MDMA, better known as ecstasy, but rediscovered the compound created in 1912 some 65 years later and introduced it as a possible mental health treatment. He and his wife published two seminal books on chemical compounds.

Shulgin said he was interested only in MDMA's potential use in therapy and was unhappy to see its abuse as a recreational drug.

Shulgin was born in Berkeley, California, and dropped out of Harvard University to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He later earned a doctorate in biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, and worked for Dow Chemical Co. for many years. At Dow, Shulgin created several top-selling biodegradable pesticides, and the company allowed him to open a personal laboratory and pursue research of his choosing. He chose to explore psychoactive compounds.

He left Dow in 1965 and began teaching at universities around the San Francisco Bay Area while continuing to research psychoactive compounds. His wife said he was introduced to MDMA in 1976 and worked out a way to easily synthesize the compound. Ann, a "lay" psychologist, helped explore MDMA's use in therapy.

"He was the scientist and I was the psychologist," Ann said of their 35-year partnership. "He was a genius."

Students and teachers made pilgrimages to his residence throughout the last 40 years.

"He was really quite a prolific chemist," said Dr. Patil Armenian, an emergency room doctor and a toxicology researcher who visited Shulgin's home four times. "Everybody in the toxicology community respects him."

The first time Armenian visited Shulgin about four years ago she needed help with a toddler who was acting strangely and was thought to have ingested one of the compounds made by him.

The last time Armenian visited was in August, Shulgin was suffering from dementia and she had to introduce herself even though he was previously familiar with her.

"And he still knew his chemical structures," Armenian said.

Armenian said that researchers are slowly renewing study of MDMA after it fell into ill-repute several years ago because of abuse as a recreational drug. The federal government reported that emergency room visits from those who took the drug increased from 4,500 to more than 10,000 between 2005 and 2011.

A memorial for Shulgin is being planned.

Explore further: 'Legal highs,' PMMA and zombie panic

5 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Ecstasy derivative targets blood cancers

Oct 06, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- A team of UWA researchers have found they may be able to alter the club drug ‘ecstasy’ to kill certain types of blood cancers at the same time boosting the potency and reducing ...

Mephedrone boosts illegal drug use

Apr 23, 2013

Experienced clubbers are more likely to add the former 'legal high' mephedrone to their drug repertoires rather than use it to replace popular established club drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine, according to new research ...

'Legal highs,' PMMA and zombie panic

Feb 18, 2014

Recent deaths in both Canada and the UK linked to PMA/PMMA in ecstasy pills has brought public scrutiny to this little known drug. With Canadian producing most of the ecstasy in the North American market, this timely paper ...

Ecstasy use on rise again among U.S. teens

Dec 03, 2013

(HealthDay)—The number of U.S. teens who wind up in the emergency room after taking the club drug Ecstasy has more than doubled in recent years, raising concerns that the hallucinogen is back in vogue, ...

Recommended for you

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

11791
Jun 03, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
manifespo
1 / 5 (1) Jun 04, 2014
She surely Tikhal'd my Pikhal

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.