Professor X

Not your usual psychedelic explorer:

With his gray beard, shock of white hair, and wrinkled tribal-patterned shirts, he certainly looks the part of a counterculture icon. But unlike Timothy Leary or Terence McKenna, Shulgin doesn’t proselytize for psychedelic drugs. Instead, he invents new compounds, runs experiments to determine their pharmacological effects, and publishes his recipes. His 1976 synthesis of MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), aka ecstasy, is the best-known result of his work. But he’s also created dozens of other psychoactive compounds, including DOM (2,5-dimethoxy-4-methylamphetamine), more commonly known as the potent ’60s psychedelic STP, and 2C-T-7 (2,5-dimethoxy-4-(n)-propylthiophenethylamine), now sold on the street as “tripstasy”and suspected in the overdose death of a Tennessee teenager last year.

Together with Ann, Shulgin has written two books that have become cult classics: PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story (short for “Phenethylamines I Have Known And Loved”) and TIHKAL: The Continuation (about tryptamines). They have long tested his compounds on themselves, in the tradition of scientists a century ago, then written about them in a style that mixes dispassionate technical detail (“A suspension of 9.5 g LAH in 750 ml well stirred and hydrous Et20 was held at reflux under an inert atmosphere”) with wide-eyed psychedelic utopianism (“I saw the cloud toward the west. THE CLOUDS!!! No visual experience has ever been like this.”). His approach inspired the so-called psychonauts, a small group of scientifically sophisticated young explorers who post chemical syntheses, experimental results, and “Train Wrecks and Trip Disasters” at Erowid.org. “Shulgin has given the scientific approach a role model,” says one psychonaut who, under the pseudonym Murple, self-publishes studies on next-generation psychedelics like 2C-T-7. Wired [thanks, David]