By Alexander Shulgin
The Nature of Drugs: History, Pharmacology, and Social Impact, Volume I, was transcribed from the original lecture tapes recorded at SFSU in 1987. Ostensibly taught as an introductory course on drugs and biochemistry, this transcription is a unique document being both a historical record of Sasha’s teaching style and the culmination in many ways of his philosophy on drugs, psychopharmacology, states of consciousness, and societal and individual freedoms pertaining to their use, both medicinal and exploratory. The Nature of Drugs is the story of humanity’s relationship with psychoactive substances from the perspective of a master psychopharmacologist and will enthrall anyone intrigued by this subject.
The Nature of Drugs Presentation
The course will be published in two volumes. Volume I presents Shulgin’s view on the origin of drugs, the history of U.S. drug law enforcement, human anatomy, the nervous system, the range of drug administrations, varieties of drug actions, memory and states of consciousness, and research methods. The discussions in Volume I lay the groundwork for Sasha’s philosophy on psychopharmacology and society, what defines a drug, the nature of a person’s relationship with a given compound, and for extensive examinations of dozens of compounds in Volume II.
Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin was undoubtedly one of the most pioneering chemists of this century. Completing his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley in 1955, Shulgin went on to get a job at the Dow Chemical Company, where he invented a highly lucrative, biodegradable pesticide by the name of Zectran. Shulgin ultimately pursued his own research program, synthesizing psychoactive substances after an experience with mescaline. He subsequently left Dow in 1966, setting up a home-based laboratory on his ranch in Lafayette, California, where he synthesized more than two hundred novel psychoactive compounds. A bold explorer of the frontiers of neurochemistry, Shulgin tested the majority of the substances he synthesized on himself, his wife and co-researcher Ann, and a small circle of trusted friends. He and his friends kept diligent notes on their experiential research forays. He and his wife Ann co-authored the psychonautic tome, PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story in 1991. In 1996, the Shulgin’s published a sequel, TiHKAL: The Continuation, standing for “tryptamines I have known and loved.”
Alexander Shulgin in The Business of Drugs
Shulgin is most often remembered for his rediscovery and synthesis of a chemical known as MDMA, this work with synthetics has recently been featured in a new Netflix documentary series The Business of Drugs. The second episode, entitled “Synthetics” is devoted to exploring the chemical legacy that Alexander Shulgin left in his wake, and the psychotherapeutic potential he saw in MDMA. While the episode details the current dangers of the underground synthetics market––a market Shulgin never anticipated––the episode continually circles back to the extreme benefit of MDMA in therapeutic settings, and how improper scheduling has halted crucial research and utilization within the field of mental health.