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Pyschedelic Pioneer Ann Shulgin Dead at 91

Ann Shulgin, a fierce advocate for psychedelics and a groundbreaking researcher, died last weekend at the age of 91. 

Alongside her husband Alexander, Ann Shulgin was a fierce proponent of psychedelic therapy, and stood by his side as the pair co-authored two ‘at-home-guides’ to psychedelics. Even without formal training as a psychotherapist, Ann Shulgin used her own experience, both in using and administering psychedelics, to try and break the stigma around the substances and their potential therapeutic uses. 

Shulgin’s daughter told the Associated Press that Ann died due to complications of a pulmonary disease. 

In an interview around the time of her husband’s death, Ann Shulgintold the AP that she was the “psychologist” and Alexander was the “scientist” in the pair’s extensive research into how psychedelics could potentially treat a wide array of psychiatric maladies. 

The Shulgin’s combined for a pair of books that are widely considered to be groundbreaking works in the field of psychedelic research. The first, titled “PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story” (PiHKAL stands for ‘Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved’), includes a narrative introduction and a list of 179 ‘recipes’ for psychedelic compounds. 

In fact, Alexander Shulgin actually invented a majority of the compounds, which were listed along with instructions for synthesis, suggested dosages and other research and suggestions about how psychedelics fit into what we know about the scientific world. The book details the “magical half-dozen”, a group of six phenethylamines dubbed most important, that includes mescaline and five other compounds that were devised by Alexander Shulgin himself.

All six compounds are currently labeled as Schedule I drugs by the Drug Enforcement Agency, meaning that they are deemed to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

The government’s position on the Shulgin’s research led to a DEA search of Alexander’s lab after the publication of PiHKAL, and eventually caused the government to request Alexander to relinquish his license to work with Schedule I drugs. In a statement at the time, DEA spokesman Richard Meyer said the government’s position was simple: They believed the Shulgin’s work was inspiring illegal activity.  

“It is our opinion that those books are pretty much cookbooks on how to make illegal drugs. Agents tell me that in clandestine labs that they have raided, they have found copies of those books.”

The Shulgins were not deterred by the DEA’s action, however, and would go on to author a follow up book, called “TiHKAL: The Continuation” (with TiKHAL standing for ‘Tryptamines I Have Known And Loved’). In addition to featuring 55 more of Alexander’s psychedelic ‘recipes’, the narrative introduction for the follow up also included essays discussing DMT, ayahuasca and discussing American drug policy. 

Through all of their work together, Ann Shulgin remained adamant about the assertion at the basis of her and her husband’s work: Psychedelics should be treated like any other form of medicine. 

“If certain drugs, which affect the mind and consciousness, are used with education and information so that you don’t misuse them, it’s the same as aspirin,” she said in an interview discussing TiKHAL. “If you take 75 aspirin tablets, you’re going to be extremely ill. If you take more than that, you’re probably going to die.” 

Beyond simply questioning the role of psychedelics in modern medicine, Shulgin made it part of her life mission to cut through the stigma and find answers for patients. 

“Our entire emphasis is on information, factual information, against propaganda, which is all the government seems capable of giving,” she said. “And we feel if people are going to use any of these substances, which they are going to use, laws or no laws, they should know how to do so as safely as possible.”  

The Shulgin’s belief in the power of psychedelics was seemingly palpable to anyone who crossed paths with the pair. In a 2017 book titled “A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage and My Life” essayist Ayelet Waldman details a meeting she had with the Shulgins. 

Waldman recalls Alexander referring to MDMA as “a low-calorie martini”, and how Ann reflected on her own experience administering the drug in a therapeutic setting. 

“She said that in her couples counseling practice she could accomplish more in a single six-hour session with MDMA than in six years of traditional therapy,” Waldman said. “Her patients could plumb their most vulnerable depths, safely and even joyfully, with the kind of trust that even years of therapy couldn’t engender.”

Image: Jon Hanna, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Author

  • Patrick Radigan is a recovering sports journalist who had his eyes opened to the world of drug policy reform while covering a court case of a cannabis consultant found not guilty on trumped up possession charges. Since that case, he's covered legalization issues in multiple states, monitored tribal movements in the legal cannabis space and is now turning his attention to the wide spectrum of legalization and policy matters surrounding natural medicine alternatives. Patrick has written stories for newsprint, shot video for television news and got his start covering biofuels and soil science for a climate magazine. Originally from South Dakota, Pat earned a pair of journalism degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and now resides in Colorado.