Berkeley Memorial For Its 'Fearless Scientist' Alexander Shulgin - Psychedelic Drug Creator And Activist
Saturday, August 2, there was a memorial service for Berkeley-born chemist Alexander Shulgin, who died recently aged 88. Mike Power, reporting for the Guardian newspaper (above) described his work as "fearless" because
... his chosen discipline -- the design and synthesis of psychedelic drugs -- was one of the most maligned and least understood. Shulgin invented hundreds of new psychedelic drugs, which he tested on himself, his wife, Ann, and friends, documenting their preparation and effects.
But he wasn't satisfied with mere discovery -- he argued passionately for the rights of the individual to explore and map the limits of human consciousness without government interference.
Shulgin is best known for his discovery of an easier way to make MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine) known as the notorious club drug "ecstasy."
He helped discover its use in the treatment of psychiatric patients and although the drug was later banned, it is being rediscovered by scientists interested in its considerable therapeutic properties. He did not support the casual use of MDMA, saying it had been "sidetracked into the Yahoo generation."
Shulgin was born in Berkeley, and also studied for his graduate and post-graduate degrees at University of California at Berkeley, and spent most of his life living and working in the Bay Area.
Here is a wonderful account of the memorial by Laura Childs: Goodbye to the Godfather of Psychedelics: Shulgin Now "Tripping in the Cosmos" | California Magazine
The oft-smiling Shulgin “really liked double-entendre and triple-entendres and if it bordered on the edge of something sexy, that was even better,” he recalled. He loved puns, palindromes, limericks and wordplays.
Mariavittoria Mangini remembered one of his favorite jokes, about Gandhi, who walked barefoot, ate very little and suffered from bad breath. “This made him a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis,” she delivered the punchline, which elicited a roar of laughter from the audience.
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Here's an excellent 1997 interview by Ros Davidson at The Guardian:
He has testified as an expert on both sides of drug trials and wrote the classic reference book on US law and drugs, Controlled Substances: Chemical And Legal Guide To Federal Drug Laws. Then, six years ago , and to the dismay of the authorities, the Shulgins declared their love of psychedelics and belief that all drugs should be legal.
His, and his wife Ann's arguments about the nature of drug use and the punishment of drug users, more than two decades ago, were radical at the time, but ultimately prophetic:
Drug-induced states, argue Sasha and Ann, are so intrinsic to human nature that the use of intoxicants such as tobacco, opium, cannabis, coffee or alcohol can be traced back to the dawn of time. They advocate legalising all drugs, addictive or not. It should be a matter for personal choice, they say, something that is taxed but as available as tobacco and booze.
Drug-related crime would drop, drug-fighting money would be saved and drug use might even fall without the attraction ofillicitness. The only laws needed, Sasha says, would be to prevent people driving when high, drugging someone else without their permission, or giving substances to children. Drug users who get into trouble should be helped, not treated like criminals, adds Ann, as are people addicted to valium or alcohol.
Those arguments they have now become widely accepted as reasonable, and they were very influential in the decrimininalization of marijuana use across many US states, including in the epicenter 0f "The War Against Drugs": Washington, DC.
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Shulgin synthesized and bioassayed (self-tested) hundreds of psychoactive chemicals, recording his work in five books and more than two hundred papers. He was a fixture in the psychedelic community, who has spoken at countless conferences, granted frequent interviews, and instilled a sense of rational scientific thought into the world of self-experimentation and psychoactive ingestion.
In April of 2010, Sasha and Ann Shulgin were honored for their lifetime of achievements in the field at the Psychedelic Science in the 21st Century conference in San Jose, CA, where a portrait of the couple painted by Alex Grey was unveiled for the first time.
On November 17, 2010, Sasha had a stroke. His recovery went well, but he continued to face a variety of age-related health challenges. On June 2nd, 2014, he died at home in bed surrounded by friends and family.
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