Beneath the molecular diagram was the simple caption “MAKE ME!”
January 20, 2012 1:48 PM   Subscribe

SiHKAL: Shulgins I Have Known and Loved: After spending days, weeks, months poring over the work [PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story; TiHKAL: The Continuation; lab books] of psychonaut-in-chief, Alexander Shulgin, Hamilton Morris mustered up the chutzpah to give him a call and request an interview. The result is this: an epic love-fest on the man who birthed Ecstasy in a test-tube. Hamilton visits the Shulgin residence (in San Francisco, naturally) and tempers his fanboy freakout with a rare and intensive look at the home and laboratory that caused the balls of millions to trip. For those who prefer text, here is the video in article form. [Shulgin previously: 1; 2]
posted by troll (15 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
I saw the Shulgins speak at Burning Man in 2006. Such a sad tale, they were like the sweet, cool grandparents I always wished I had. Amazingly polite, friendly and down to earth during the Q&A session. They mentioned that their lawyers had advised against publicly speaking at such an event, but they decided getting the truth out was more important than serving their own interests at that point in life.

lest anyone assume that I was on a BM-everything-is-beautiful trip, the next day I saw Alex Grey give a lecture in the same camp and walked out thinking he was a pompous dick.
posted by mannequito at 2:04 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just to clarify, Shulgin didn't invent ecstasy—he popularized a synthesis for it. He did, however, invent dozens of other related psychedelics, and tested them himself or among his friends, and published the synthesis steps for them, and earned the wrath of the DEA for his trouble.

This was how science used to be done; single-minded obsession combined with self-sacrifice. There is much we have gained and much we have lost by moving beyond this system.
posted by dephlogisticated at 2:41 PM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

Long before he'd ever published Pikhal, I got a very nice (snail mail) letter from Sasha thanking me for an article I'd written on MDMA, probably for The Face.

It felt a bit like getting a fan letter from Bob Dylan or something.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:45 PM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

They used to have a phone number listed where you could leave a voicemail and you could meet them for tea if you checked out. Even though the Shulgins live less than 15 miles from me I've never gotten up the courage to call.
posted by JackarypQQ at 3:19 PM on January 20, 2012

For those who don't know, the Shulgins have fallen on hard times and are facing medical costs that aren't fully met from Medicare. They weren't ever rich and don't have much in the way of savings.

Full details here.

On the article - read it a while back and enjoyed it, but wished it had been more about Shulgin and less about the guy writing it.
posted by Infinite Jest at 3:41 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

On a sidenote, the sight of that loathsome verbicide birthed has totally harshed my buzz.
posted by y2karl at 3:54 PM on January 20, 2012

My favorite passage from the introduction to PiHKAL was a modest admission that he is actually a mediocrec chemist, but by entering a field in which so few chemists practiced he became a world-class chemist in his field.
posted by localroger at 4:08 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine once called Alexander Shulgin for an interview, but they ended up yapping to each other for over an hour. I was in the same room, and it was fun to see my friend dancing around in excitement, while trying to stay cool over the phone.
posted by broken wheelchair at 5:39 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not that it impacts the content too much, but the interviewer has to be the king of vocal fry.
posted by I've wasted my life at 5:57 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

As I was reading PiHKAL back in the 90s, I had to stop occasionally and stare at the cover to be sure it was non-fiction.

I'm still not sure it isn't just an alternate history fantasy of some sort.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:14 PM on January 20, 2012

An old friend of mine once described Sasha as the very reincarnation of the alchemist Merlin.
posted by lalochezia at 6:49 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was so afraid this was going to be a .
posted by clarknova at 3:37 AM on January 21, 2012

Serious question: how has he not killed himself? Surely one of those psychoactive compounds should have been able to mess him up permanently.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:30 AM on January 21, 2012

how has he not killed himself?

This is explained in great detail in PiHKAL. He starts with extremely small, LSD-esque doses and carefully notes even the most minor reactions as he increases the dose. If one of his creations had a nasty side effect he would notice it and stop increasing the dose before it became dangerous.

Also, it should be noted that Shulgin is targeting a certain class of receptors which are not generally associated with lethal effects and he's very experienced at gauging his own responses. It's not like he's testing potential nerve gas on himself; his compounds aren't designed to stop your heart or kill your nerves through excitotoxicity, and if he stumbled onto something like that by accident his protocol would limit the damage.

And as TFA even notes in a couple of specific examples, people who OD on the compounds he creates generally do so at much larger doses than Shulgin himself ever tested.
posted by localroger at 6:29 AM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I serendipitously watched dirty pictures, a documentary about him, last night. It was pretty good, even if the editing was... idiosyncratic...

I was amused that it had significant footage from burning man and referred to it only as "somewhere in the desert".
posted by flaterik at 1:03 PM on January 21, 2012

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