Alexander Shulgin, the godfather of Ecstasy

Ecstasy’s emergence as a popular recreational drug can be traced back to one man. Although the drug was first synthesised by Merck in 1914, it was initially thought to be useless, and immediately forgotten. It wasn’t until 1976 that an eccentric chemist, Alexander Shulgin (above), resynthesised it on the suggestion of a former student.

Shulgin wasn’t particularly impressed with its effect, describing it as being like “…a particularly lucid alcohol buzz,” but he did find that, “It opened up a person, both to other people and inner thoughts…” He wondered if perhaps it would be useful in psychotherapy and recommended its use. By the late 70s a number of therapists were encouraging their patients to use it – and with some success. In the following decades word eventually spread, and its recreational use began to take off.

Meanwhile Shulgin continued to research hallucinogens, synthesising and testing them first on himself, then on his wife and friends. He carefully catalogued the effects of every single one in his self-published works, ‘Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved,’ and ‘Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved’.

Unsurprisingly, Shulgin has now become a hero of the counter-culture.
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About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 4 February 2005

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