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'Godfather of Ecstasy' Alexander Shulgin Dead at 88

Pharmacologist famously synthesized MDMA, and created over 200 psychedelics

Alexander Shulgin, pharmacologist and chemist known for his creation of new psychoactive chemicals.
Brian Snyder/Landov
June 3, 2014 4:57 PM ET

Pharmacologist and "godfather of ecstasy" Alexander "Sasha" Shulgin died Monday evening after a battle with liver cancer, The Independent reports. He was 88.

In a note on Facebook, Shulgin's wife, Ann, wrote: "Sasha died today, at exactly 5 o'clock in the afternoon. He was surrounded by family and caretakers and Buddhist meditation music, and his going was graceful, with almost no struggle at all."

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Shulgin famously synthesized MDMA, ecstasy's purest form, in 1976, and initially passed it on to his therapist friend, Leo Zeff. As The New York Times reported in an expansive 2005 profile on Shulgin, MDMA garnered the reputation as a miracle drug in many therapeutic circles, helping patients quickly achieve breakthroughs that otherwise would have taken years.

Shulgin began his career with Dow Chemicals, creating his first psychoactive molecule there, an amphetamine that wasn't as strong as LSD and was eventually sold by biker gangs in New York. When Dow discovered the origin of the chemical, their relationship with Shulgin deteriorated, and the scientist left, setting up his own lab in Berkeley, California in 1965 where he could research psychedelics.

According to Times story, by his own estimate Shulgin created over 200 psychedelic compounds, often testing them on himself, his wife and their friends. The profile also quotes a passage Shulgin wrote after his first experience with psychoactives, kickstarting the pharmacologist's long, strange trip:

"I understood that our entire universe is contained in the mind and the spirit. We may choose not to find access to it, we may even deny its existence, but it is indeed there inside us, and there are chemicals that can catalyze its availability."

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