Sunday, November 2, 2014

Dr. Alexander Shulgin and his wife Ann: 40 years in the drug underground

Ah, Interview magazine: Amid the glam and glossy of its pages, where flesh is always a great fashion accessory, one issue includes a real twist: a chat with Dr. Alexander Shulgin and his wife Ann about their forty-year search for the chemical pathways to inner beauty.
The effect is somewhat like finding a hidden copy of High Times magazine inside this week's issue of People at the check-out counter: "Hey, isn't that Blake Lively on the cover? What's she doing in handcuffs?"
Michael Martin's conversation with Sasha and Ann Shulgin is in conjunction with Etienne Sauret's documentary, Dirty Pictures, which profiles the couple whose four decades of experiments with psychedelics and other compounds has put them at odds with the law and made them, understandably, heroes of the pharma underground. The title is a reference to the script of chemical compounds written on the label of each new drug.
Now 88, Shulgin looks the part of the psychedelic genie who in his own lab has created 200 psychoactive drugs -- many based on the formula for MDMA, or ecstasy -- and who just as willingly cooperates with the demands of the DEA as each new compound, eventually, makes its way to the Feds' list of scheduled drugs. They are careful to state that, as the DEA places each new discovery on its list of regulated drugs, the Shulgins "throw my samples into the fireplace." That regulation process may take four years or more.
Shulgin says at that point "I let others make it if they want to, or make it commercially if they want to ... I want nothing more to do with it. ... I don't tend to go back to things that are known. I look for new things." He mentions 2C-B as a compound he considers as important as MDMA. "It became commercially available in Germany. It was called Nexus. And a South American tribe used it as a sacramental medicine. Then it became Schedule 1, and that's it."
"We don't have any scheduled drugs in the lab or house," Ann says. "We are always aware that the DEA is very interested and very hostile, and so we have no intention of doing anything that would tempt them to invade us again."
Ann and Alexander Shulgin (2010)
Excerpted from the Interview article: In 1991, the Shulgins published the book PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story, which describes their relationship and work—a bit too explicitly for some, who saw it as a drug cookbook. Coincidentally or not, three years later, the DEA raided their home and lab but found nothing illegal. Still, Shulgin was asked to surrender his DEA Schedule 1 license and was fined $25,000. A sequel, TiHKAL,followed in 1997, and now the pair are finishing up a giant index of psychoactive drugs. ...
MARTIN: Sasha, it’s your birthday today. How are you going to celebrate?
SASHA: Live ’til 86. ...
MARTIN: In the film, you seem to have a large social circle. Who are those people who are always hanging out at the house?
SASHA: [laughs] You handle that one, Ann.
ANN: There are a lot of people in the world who are interested in the action of these materials. And I don’t know how many people have come up to Sasha, or to both of us, and said, “You’ve changed my life.” Many have found perhaps they were in a state of severe depression, and they’ve taken MDMA.
SASHA: We haven’t changed their lives—they’ve changed their own lives.
ANN: And MDMA helped them gain access to parts of themselves that they hadn’t been able to open up before. It’s a very important experience for a lot of people. We have friends who don’t use psychoactive materials but who are still interested in how the brain works and psychology and spiritual training. It’s a very large and very intelligent bunch of people. We have two big parties each year where people bring food and drink and get to know each other. It makes a very good party.
SASHA: We have two rules: One is that you can’t come before noon. The other rule is you can stay as long as you want. ...
MARTIN: Sasha, a 2005 New York Times Magazine profile of you was titled “Dr. Ecstasy.” In the film, it’s said that you resent that label. Why?
SASHA: Well, first of all, I don’t know what “Dr. Ecstasy” means. Define ecstasy. What does it mean?
ANN: On the street as a drug, it means anything the chemist wants to put in it.
SASHA: Therefore it has no meaning.
ANN: The term ecstasy is a street name. The drug is illegal, and there is no quality control. There is no way to tell if there is any MDMA in it. One research group found that at a particular rave, one third of what was being sold as ecstasy had some MDMA in it. The rest did not, which is one of the dangers of making things illegal. There’s no protection. The authorities feel there should be no protection, but their views are somewhat different than ours. ...
(Interview magazine photos by Jeff Minton and Scott Houston)

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