Tuesday, February 27, 2007

dr. ecstasy

great article on alexander shulgin. excerpt:
It was an acquaintance of Shulgin's named Humphry Osmond, a British psychiatrist and researcher into the effects of mescaline and LSD, who coined the word ''psychedelic'' in the late 1950's for a class of drugs that significantly alter one's perception of reality. Derived from Greek, the term translates as ''mind manifesting'' and is preferred by those who believe in the curative power of such chemicals. Skeptics tend to call them hallucinogens.
Shulgin is in the former camp. There's a story he likes to tell about the past 100 years: ''At the beginning of the 20th century, there were only two psychedelic compounds known to Western science: cannabis and mescaline. A little over 50 years later -- with LSD, psilocybin, psilocin, TMA, several compounds based on DMT and various other isomers -- the number was up to almost 20. By 2000, there were well over 200. So you see, the growth is exponential.'' When I asked him whether that meant that by 2050 we'll be up to 2,000, he smiled and said, ''The way it's building up now, we may have well over that number.''
The point is clear enough: the continuing explosion in options for chemical mind-manifestation is as natural as the passage of time. But what Shulgin's narrative leaves out is the fact that most of this supposedly inexorable diversification took place in a lab in his backyard. For 40 years, working in plain sight of the law and publishing his results, Shulgin has been a one-man psychopharmacological research sector. (Timothy Leary called him one of the century's most important scientists.) By Shulgin's own count, he has created nearly 200 psychedelic compounds, among them stimulants, depressants, aphrodisiacs, ''empathogens,'' convulsants, drugs that alter hearing, drugs that slow one's sense of time, drugs that speed it up, drugs that trigger violent outbursts, drugs that deaden emotion -- in short, a veritable lexicon of tactile and emotional experience. And in 1976, Shulgin fished an obscure chemical called MDMA out of the depths of the chemical literature and introduced it to the wider world, where it came to be known as Ecstasy.
In the small subculture that truly believes in better living through chemistry, Shulgin's oeuvre has made him an icon and a hero: part pioneer, part holy man, part connoisseur. As his supporters point out, his work places him in an old, and in many cultures venerable, tradition. Whether it's West African iboga ceremonies or Navajo peyote rituals, 60's LSD culture or the age-old cultivation of cannabis nearly everywhere on the planet it can grow, the pursuit and celebration of chemically-induced alternate realms of consciousness goes back beyond the dawn of recorded history and has proved impossible to fully suppress. Shulgin sees nothing strange about devoting his life to it. What's strange to him is that so few others see fit to do the same thing.

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