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Dr. Alexander Shulgin is a noted chemist who has been studying the 
chemistry and effects of the psychedelics for over 30 years.  He is 
probably most widely known for his book 'PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story' 
(Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved).  He is also the discoverer of 
DOM (at one time known as "STP"), MMDA (not MDMA) and many other 
psychedelics, and was indirectly responsible for the introduction of 
MDMA to psychotherapy in the late '70s.

If you have any interest in psychoactive drugs and haven't read PiHKAL, 
I strongly recommend that you order and read it.  It is available for 
$22.95 postpaid (+ $1.38 tax for California residents) from:
	P.O.Box 13675
	Berkeley, CA

The following is a description of my visit this fall to Dr. Shulgin, 
known as Sasha to his friends.  It should be of some interest to those 
who enjoyed his book or are interested in the psychedelic drugs in 
general.  I wrote it mainly to satisfy other Net people's curiosity 
about what Sasha, his house, and his laboratory are like (and of course 
to satisfy my own impulse to write.)

I have a few ground rules I would like readers of this article to 
1.	Sasha values his privacy -- I will not give out his address, phone 
number, or email address to anyone;
2.	All names except Sasha's, his wife Ann's, and mine have been altered;
3.	This was all written from memory -- don't expect total accuracy, and 
all dialogue is approximate;
4.	I'm not a chemist, so you should not rely closely on me or consult me 
on technical points -- consult one of the resident chemists on 
alt.psychoactives, sci.chem, or or talk to someone reliable 
you know;
5.	(Obvious to the clueful, but...) I don't deal in or currently possess 
any illegal drugs or psychedelics; please don't ask me where to get 


Earlier this year (while using a different account) I posted several 
descriptions of experiments I had made about 10 years ago with plants 
containing natural psychedelics.  One of these was Syrian Rue (Peganum 
harmala) which contains the harmala alkaloids, a family of psychedelic 
beta-carbolines.  Much to my surprise, I received a letter from Dr. 
Shulgin himself, asking for my permission to include excerpts from my 
description in his next book.  I was thrilled -- I had just ordered and 
was reading his book 'PiHKAL', and I had adopted him as my newest hero.  
I wrote back a chatty letter giving him permission to reprint my 
account, and we began an occasional correspondence, first by letter and 
later by email. 

This fall I was in California for several weeks, and was able to 
persuade Sasha to allow me to visit him at his house east of the Bay 
Area.  I was invited to arrive mid-morning on a Sunday; Sasha warned me 
that it would be something of an open house situation, with guests 
possibly coming and going.  Although I arrived with a long list of 
questions I wanted to ask, I left with most of them totally forgotten in 
the flow of conversation.

Sasha's house is located on the side of a fairly steep hill.  I located 
his drive and turned up it, past an open gate marked "Keep Closed At All 
Times" to an old garage by a sprawling ranch-style house in warm earth 
tones.  I parked and descended the steps to the courtyard; recognizing 
the potted cacti as large peyote cacti, I knew I must have found the 
right place.  On entering the house, I immediately met a genial, 
slightly stooped white-haired and bearded man.  

"I'm Sasha," he said, extending his hand.  I introduced myself, and 
Sasha introduced me to his wife Ann, who was nursing a cold with a pot 
of herb tea.  (I had little chance to meet her during the course of the 

The house was comfortably untidy and a little dusty, with books stacked 
on every horizontal surface; slightly dark, but with a gorgeous view 
across a valley to the north.  It reminded me slightly of the home of 
another writer I know -- here order had taken second place to creation.  
We cleared some space at the dining table and sat down to coffee.

Sasha quizzed me briefly about my email name; I explained briefly that I 
really was the Pope of my own little sect of the SubGenius, and he was 
delighted.  "The Church of 'BoB'?  Yes, I think I've heard of them."  
From then on, the conversation raced all over the map.   Sasha is an 
extraordinary raconteur and conversationalist, and as lively and witty 
in person as in his writings.

He began by talking about the recent conference on shamanism he'd been 
to at San Luis Potosi.  After summarizing the conference, he noted that 
the city had proved difficult to get around in -- the conference had 
been moved from one hotel to another at the last moment, and in trying 
to find the new hotel, it had turned out that all of the city maps 
included a number of streets, interchanges, and landmarks which did not 
yet exist but were slated for construction one day.

He showed me a newly acquired specimen of peyote which he was preparing 
to plant, and we chatted a little about the MDMA and 5HT-1 receptor 
controversy.  Sasha believes that MDMA will eventually prove to be much 
less neurotoxic to humans than to rats (though he qualified this as just 
his opinion); apparently many areas of brain chemistry function somewhat 
differently in rats than in the "higher mammals."  He also cited several 
studies on dogs and monkeys (one critical one as yet unpublished) which 
showed a lack of neurotoxic effects in humans at the levels predicted by 
the rat studies, and hinted that there might be some government pressure 
via the granting agencies to slow or halt publication of studies which 
show no MDMA toxicity.  Everyone seems to agree that there is some toxic 
level of MDMA consumption; it's just not clear what that level is for 
humans.   Hopefully Grenville's(?) study at UCSD will reveal some bounds 
for that figure.

The conversation jumped again with new introductions when Sara, a friend 
of Sasha's came in.  She admired the peyote button, and asked a few 
questions about the effects of DMT (N,N-dimethyl-tryptamine), a very 
short-acting psychedelic.  Sasha answered gnomically, "DMT always seems 
to me to have a very dark aspect to it", and then passed the question to 
me.  I admitted that I had smoked 5MDMT (5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyl-
tryptamine), but not DMT itself, and that I didn't know how they 
compared.  I did observe that once when I tried a small dose of 5MDMT 
when I was severely depressed (fearing to risk a big dose with the wrong 
mental "set") instead of sending me on a trip it seemed to kick me 
abruptly and permanently out of the depression and back to my normal 
state of mind.  Sasha was intrigued as to the possible mechanism for 
this (restoring depleted serotonin levels?) but had no answers.

This topic put him in mind of something else which had recently happened 
to him.  He asked me if I had ever heard of a church in New York which 
used psychedelics as part of their sacrament.  

"Was this the Church of the Tree of Life?" I asked dubiously.  "No, no, 
no!  Nothing like that at all.  No comparison.  These people are 100% 
sincere Jesus believers.  They take it to see God.  They sent me some of 
their literature -- you can't make up stuff like that.   It could only 
come from true believers."

Apparently a journalist from New York had recently contacted him to ask 
him about the effects of DPT (N,N-dipropyl-tryptamine.)  Sasha obliged 
with the standard information -- dosage, duration (circa 2 hours), 
active orally or parenterally (i.e., via eating, smoking, or snuffing) 
and type of effects (classic psychedelic.)  Then he began quizzing the 
journalist about how he had heard of him, and the story emerged:  the 
journalist had found out about the church's psychedelic sacrament (being 
used very responsibly, by his account) and had contacted the DEA for 
more information on it, which they should have had.  Rather than 
answering him, they had referred him to their designated expert -- Dr. 
Alexander Shulgin.  Sasha speculated that since DPT is not specifically 
scheduled by name, unlike DMT and DET (N,N-diethyl-tryptamine), and 
since it is apparently being used in a bona fide religious context, 
possibly the DEA would rather just not know about it.  As they could be 
slammed by the media with equal ease for ignoring it ("tolerating 
blatant drug abuse") or for cracking down ("religious persecution") 
someone in the department may have made the judgement call that it was 
safer for them to know nothing at all about the situation until 
officially forced to take cognizance of it.

While Sara was off giving her friend Joe a tour of the house, Sasha 
showed me a whole book on Syrian rue which argues that it was the source 
for the "soma" of the ancient Aryan Rig-Vedas.  (Unfortunately, I didn't 
jot down the author and title.)  Sasha chuckled over the fact that this 
author and Gordon Wasson (who has written on the theory that Soma was 
the agaric mushroom) have each constructed a theory which he himself 
believes is totally air-tight, and each airily dismisses the other's 
theory.  They don't talk at conferences.

The conversation flowed from there to the other natural source of the 
harmala alkaloids, namely ayahuasca or yage', the hallucinogenic drink 
compounded from Banisteriopsis Caapi and related vines.  I had read the 
Burroughs and Ginsberg books on ayahuasca from the early '60s, and a few 
anthropological books such as Harner's 'Hallucinogens and Shamanism.'  
Consequently, I had believed that it was used largely by remote Indian 
tribes and by the poor in rural areas.  Sasha corrected me.  According 
to him, use of ayahuasca has now become an accepted phenomenon in the 
Brazilian middle-class.  On occasion, wealthy Brazilians in the U.S. 
import the vine, paying up to several hundred dollars per dose.  Some of 
the other plants which go into the traditional brew are unavailable here 
and can not be imported, because Customs has them on record as 
containing DMT.  As one part of the Brazilian tradition is that the 
compounding of the drink is solely at the discretion of the individual 
curandero (healer), curanderos in the U.S. may substitute psilocybin 
mushrooms or even LSD in the brew on occasion to produce the desired 
combination of effects.

Along the same lines, many resorts and restaurants in Thailand have 
traditionally served "magic mushroom" omelettes for their hipper 
tourists.  They are now coming under pressure from the government to cut 
this out; the result, according to Sasha, is that some are now serving 
ordinary mushroom omelettes with LSD added to the filling.  No net 
improvement in any sense, and rather less picturesque.  (Note to the 
curious: while I have heard some people complain that psilocybin 
mushrooms have a nasty flavor, this must be limited to a couple specific 
species of the genus; the only types I've ever tried had a pleasantly 
bland flavor that would have been quite suited to an omelette.)

Around this time, another morning guest, Fred, joined us.  Eventually I 
managed to slow the conversation enough to get a tour of the work areas.  
Sasha showed me his writing study: floor to ceiling library shelves, an 
old IBM XT, and a brand-new 486 PC clone, which he is still transferring 
files to.  On the desk was a letter from one of his correspondents, with 
a sample vial of a new indole-based psychoactive to look into.  I got a 
brief look at the "clean lab" (spectrometers and more books) and then 
went out along the garden path to the little outbuilding with the "wet" 
lab.  It was quite as fantastical as described in his book -- every 
cubic inch, it seemed, filled with glassware and chemical apparatus, and 
old leaded glass cabinets along one wall filled with reagents.  

Sasha pointed to one bottle filled with a mass of needle-like white 
crystals suspended in clear liquid.  "What's that?" he quizzed me.  I 
peered at the label... C(NO2)4.  "Surely that's some kind of explosive?" 
I answered.  He looked pleased.  "Tetra-nitro-methane.  As a liquid it's 
not too bad -- the tri-nitro- is worse -- but once it gets cool enough 
to crystallize, I try not to touch the bottle again until spring."  I 
got a brief glance at his latest project, a synthesis for DBT (N,N-
dibutyl-tryptamine.)  As both the dimethyl- and diethyl- tryptamines are 
so important, Sasha has decided to survey as many of the N,N-dialkyl-
tryptamines as he can synthesize.  So far, he is only up to the butyls.

The last stop on the tour was the reagent storage shed, set back on a 
far corner of his property and safely away from any neighbors, with 
highly reinforced shelving.  OSHA has recently been more strict about 
enforcing workplace safety regulations, which affect many hospitals and 
labs which must keep small quantities of some highly hazardous reagents 
on hand.  In some cases, they've been ordered to stop storing reagents 
which they still need intermittently, and which there is no good way to 
dispose of safely.  In such cases, Sasha has made arrangements to step 
in and rescue the reagants from the workplaces; the labs or hospitals 
can still call him if they need to borrow the reagants, while he 
provides safe storage in return for free access to the reagents for his 
syntheses.  A win-win situation.

On the way back, Sasha proudly pointed out his San Pedro cacti 
(Trichocereus pachanoi, a mescaline-containing cactus.)  One looked 
nearly five feet tall.  It appeared that some of them had been trimmed 
back periodically -- I wonder why...

Over lunch, Fred, Sasha, and I chatted about topics less directly 
related to psychoactives.  We talked over possible changes in the 
general government attitude under the Clinton administration; Sasha 
believes he has seen some subtle softening in the DEA and FDA positions 
in the last few months, while they wait to see what Clinton's postition 
will be.  We rambled through the lack of walnut trees in Walnut Creek 
and Walnut Grove, the ineptitude of FEMA at disaster management and 
response, the decidedly sinister nature of some of the Federal Executive 
Orders on record, the varying lingua franca required to communicate in 
foreign countries, and the convenience of bribery in visiting or living 
in the Third World.

We did discuss the status of the upcoming book for a while.  For those 
who don't know, it was leaked on the Net a while back that Sasha is 
working on 'TiHKAL' (Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved).  This book 
will do the same job for all of the indole or tryptamine-derived 
psychoactives that PiHKAL did for the phenethylamines.  Thus it would 
cover DMT and all the di-alkyl-tryptamines mentioned above, DMT 
analogues and derivatives like 5MDMT, psilocybin and psilocin, the beta-
carbolines such as harmine and harmaline, everyone's favorite problem 
child LSD and its related ergot alkaloids, and doubtless many compounds 
which the rest of us have never heard of.  There will also be an 
appendix on new phenethylamines which have been reported to him during 
the last year.  Apparently the publication of PiHKAL has brought a 
number of researchers "out of the closet" with more material for him to 

Sasha thinks he has most of the material he needs; the problem is in 
getting the time to sit down and write it.  He had sworn off conferences 
to get more writing time; then he was invited to deliver keynote 
addresses at two conferences, one on 'Drugs as Sacraments', the other on 
'Drugs and Civil Disobedience.'  He is feeling sorely tempted by both, 
as he would be able to choose his own topics.  (Personally, I wish I had 
the time and money to attend such conferences, never mind speaking at 

Eventually I had to make my apologies and leave, as I was late for 
another appointment.  I left with my head buzzing with ideas to think 
about.  Somehow I retained enough dignity to not beg for any free 
samples.  I hope I shall be able to return one day for another visit.

Happy New Year, everyone.

  -- Clifton