Alexander Shulgin Biography

(Rediscoverer of MDMA)

Birthday: June 17, 1925 (Gemini)

Born In: Berkeley, California, United States

Alexander Shulgin was an American biochemist, organic chemist, medicinal chemist, psycho-pharmacologist, pharmacologist, and author. He is best remembered for introducing various drugs like 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, which is commonly known as ecstasy or MDMA, to psychologists for psycho-pharmaceutical use, in the late 1970s. Shulgin is also credited with the discovery and personal bioassay of more than 230 psychoactive compounds for their entactogenic and psychedelic potential. A respected figure, Alexander Shulgin contributed immensely to various fields. He worked with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the late 1960s and taught at the San Francisco General Hospital and in several universities. Nicknamed the godfather of psychedelics, Alexander Shulgin is also known for his detailed and precise documentation of personal experiences with psychedelics. These experiences were published in the form of two books, namely PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story and TiHKAL: The Continuation.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Alexander Theodore Shulgin

Died At Age: 88


Spouse/Ex-: Ann Shulgin (m. 1981)

father: Theodore Stevens Shulgin

mother: Henrietta D. Shulgin

children: Theodore A. Shulgin

Born Country: United States

Chemists Biochemists

Died on: June 2, 2014

place of death: Lafayette, California, United States

Cause of Death: Liver Cancer

Notable Alumni: University Of California, San Francisco, University Of California - San Francisco

City: Berkeley, California

U.S. State: California

More Facts

education: Harvard University, University of California at Berkeley, University of California, San Francisco

Childhood & Early Life

Alexander Theodore Shulgin was born on June 17, 1925, in Berkeley, California, USA, to Henrietta D. Shulgin and Theodore Stevens Shulgin. Alexander Shulgin was raised in Alameda County where Henrietta and Theodore worked as public school teachers.

Alexander Shulgin, who started exhibiting high level of intelligence from a young age, began attending the prestigious Harvard University as a scholarship student, at the age 16. He dropped out in 1943 to serve the U.S. Navy during World War II.

While serving on USS Pope, Shulgin developed a thumb infection which required a surgery. Prior to the surgery, Shulgin was given a glass of orange juice, which he drank assuming that the juice was laced with a sedative before falling asleep rapidly. However, he later learnt that the juice was not adulterated and that placebos can influence the human mind.

Alexander Shulgin returned to Berkeley after serving in the Navy and earned his PhD in biochemistry in 1954 from the University of California, Berkeley. He then went on to complete post-doctoral work in the areas of pharmacology and psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco.

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Alexander Shulgin started his career as a research director at Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. He then began working as a senior research chemist at The Dow Chemical Company (TDCC) in the late 1950s.

Shulgin aspired to conduct independent research and pursue his own interests. Therefore, he left Dow in 1966 and spent a couple of years studying neurology at the UCSF School of Medicine.

He established a home-based lab in a place called the Farm, which he owned. He also taught various subjects at the San Francisco General Hospital and in the local universities to raise money for his research.

Thanks to his friend Bob Sager, who headed the DEA's Western Laboratories, Shulgin began to develop a relationship with the law enforcement agency. He started working with the DEA and supplied them with samples of various chemical compounds.

Shulgin’s relationship with the DEA improved when he wrote a law enforcement reference book on certain controlled substances for which he received many awards from the agency. By now, he had obtained a Schedule I license from the DEA which enabled him to possess and synthesize otherwise illicit drugs.

In 1976, Alexander Shulgin developed a new synthesis method for MDMA and introduced the chemical to a psychologist named Leo Zeff, who used it as an aid to talk therapy. By the late 1970s, Zeff had introduced the chemical to hundreds of lay therapists and psychologists around the nation.

Major Works

In the 1960s, Alexander Shulgin and a small group of friends developed the Shulgin Rating Scale, a methodical way of ranking the effects of various drugs, with a vocabulary to help them recount the physical, auditory, and visual sensations.

Alexander Shulgin personally tested hundreds of drugs, including analogues of various tryptamines and phenethylamines. He then went on to publish several of his reports in his papers and books. He also published his findings in popular journals like The Journal of Organic Chemistry and Nature.

In 1991, Alexander Shulgin and his wife Ann came up with a book titled PiHKAL, which stands for Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved. In 1997, they published another book titled TiHKAL, which stands for Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved.

Shulgin performed pioneering work into the descriptive synthesis of several chemical compounds. Some of his significant discoveries include compounds of the DOx family, such as DOM, and compounds of the 2C family like 2C-B.

Personal Life & Death

Alexander Shulgin met lay therapist Laura Ann Gotlieb in 1979 through Leo Zeff and married her in 1981. While it was Shulgin's second marriage, Ann had been married thrice before.

One of the most popular and important members of Mensa International, Shulgin frequented Mensa events in California. He was also a Bohemian Club member.

In his book PiHKAL, Shulgin claimed that the use of certain drugs enabled him to understand that the universe is contained in the spirit and the mind. He also claimed that certain chemicals can help realize and experience a world submerged in human spirit. In 1994, the DEA cancelled his license and penalized him for possessing substances sent to him for quality testing and for violating the license's terms.

He spent much of his later life in the Farm. He suffered a stroke in 2010 and started exhibiting early signs of dementia.

In 2014, Shulgin's wife stated that he had developed liver cancer. Alexander Shulgin breathed his last on June 2, 2014, just a couple of weeks before his 89th birthday.

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