Here Are the Drugs Americans Did in 2016.

By Terry Gotham

Every 3 months, the DEA releases the “Emerging Threat Report.” This document catalogs the various substances that have been seized and analyzed by the DEA over a 3 month period. Every year, the DEA compiles that data into an annual report, which in my opinion, is the best window into the drug taking habits of Americans available anywhere. The 2016 results are in, and I have to tell you, it isn’t pretty.

2016 was a fentanyl jamboree folks. While in years past, we’ve dealt with “bath salts” and N-Bomb and Flakka, these substances didn’t seem to be growing in popularity this year.  The chart above is pulled directly from the DEA report and breaks down the most popular emerging opioids & pain meds. 70% of the identifications were fentanyl, which means that 7 out of every 10 opioid drugs seized was fentanyl. What’s even more terrifying is the sheer number of fentanyl analogues that were discovered in drug seizures. As my regular readers know, the adulterant problem in the recreational drug taking community becomes fatal once opioids are stepped on with fentanyl. 42% of fentanyl seizures test for fentanyl and heroin, which indicates that more and more users are getting fentanyl in addition to heroin. It’s becoming more likely to encounter multiple types of fentanyl over the course of your use. That is a whirlwind of risk for dependent or recreational users. 9 of the 15 opioid substances identified (60%) were identified for the first time. To reiterate, there are 9 totally new fentanyl analogues in the wild that our EMTs, emergency medical staff & even toxicologists have little to no experience with.

I can’t make it any more clear than that folks. Fentanyl is being found routinely with cocaine & meth. That whole “why would dealers mix uppers & downers” question can be put to rest. It’s happening, and it’s happening so often, it’s classed as a “routine” occurrence by law enforcement.

Next up, the synthetic cannabinoids. The two most popular fake pot offerings, FUB-AMB & 5F-UR-144 accounted for 34% of the identifications. Yes, those are the names of the two most popular new drugs people are smoking when they want to get high and don’t want to smoke cannabis. The long tail of synthetic cannabinoids has grown over the last couple of years, but only 3 of the 37 different substances identified in 2016 were totally novel. This could be an indication that novel synthetic cannabinoids are not being developed because of market saturation or due to recent emergency scheduling, but we don’t have good data on preferences between synthetic cannabinoid brands or why some die out while others flourish.

Cathinones are following predictable if not slightly heartening paths. While we are still seeing a significant number of them in seizures & identifications, only 5 of the 24 substances were novel. Dibutylone, Ethylone, Methylone, a-PVP, and 4-MEC make expected chart appearances, but the novel drugs on the chart are interesting. 4-CEC, 3-CMC, 3-MEC are chemical analogues of 4-MEC, which is known as “second-generation” mephedrone. 4-methoxy-a-PV8 and 4-fluro-a-PHP are the next iterative cycle after a-PVP. These novel cathinones are entirely analogues of drugs that have been scheduled in the last 6 years. You can almost set your watch to it. And now, for something completely different.

Three. That’s it. 1 identification of 2C-B & two iterations of the problematic NBOMe substance that scared the hell out of us a few years ago. To me, this is an encouraging sign that the kids are alright. If fewer people are doing NBOMe because the community recognized the risk it posed  and rejected it, that could be startlingly strong evidence that harm reduction works. If lethal chemicals are not supported within a community to the point where they don’t have a market, as no hippie wants to go to jail for selling a drug you can die from taking, then that means something is getting through.

It’s important to stress, all of these numbers could be grossly under-counting the true depth of fentanyl analogue and novel psychoactive substance proliferation. This data is generated from the substances that have been both seized and analyzed in a timely manner. Even the DEA doesn’t have enough funding to test everything being seized, and of course, there could be analogues or novel substances that simply haven’t been seized by law enforcement or documented by clinicians or recreational users. To put what we know in perspective, I’ll go to the DEA’s words themselves:

There were 21 substances reported for the first time in CY 2016, meaning they have not been encountered for at least the last two years. This equates to one new substance approximately every two and a half weeks.
~DEA Emerging Threat Report 2016

Ultimately, the data presented here by the DEA itself, supports the hypothesis that the War on Drugs creates more dangerous drugs, especially opioids. Pain medication users can’t afford prescription meds and heroin is has become problematic to import. So, dealers just make their own opiates or import a novel analogue of fentanyl to pass off as heroin for your clients. Fast forward a couple of years and we’ve got the overdose crisis plaguing most states. The iteration on a-PVP & 4-MEC/mephedrone is in direct response to laws passed in this decade. Those drugs would likely not be in circulation to the volume required to end up in a seizure without their precursors being scheduled. That’s the main thing I’d really like anyone still reading to take away from this: None of these drugs being consumed in the vast quantities that they are, would be ,if drugs that are already illegal, weren’t. If you are willing to stop you addiction from any drug buy kratom online and get what you desire.

Of course heroin would still cause overdoses, and people abusing psychomotor stimulants would have problems if drugs were legal. To say otherwise would be impudent & myopic. But, as I illustrated previously, hospital & ER staff had a pretty good handle on how to take care of heroin/morphine/prescription painkiller overdoses. How many emergency workers do you know that have ever heard of 4-CEC or a-PHP? Exactly. One crucial benefit from decriminalizing or legalizing hard drugs is that we’ll have a much cleaner substance pool for recreational users to draw from. This will return us to a careflow that is familiar and scaleable. No hospital has the resources to keep up with 9 new fentanyl analogues a year, and if TrumpCare passes, it will be even more difficult.

Can LSD Make You A Billionaire?

"Shitty Acid", by artist Brian Lewis Saunders

“Shitty Acid” by Brian Lewis Saunders

Who wants to be a billionaire?

Just eat acid. That’s all you gotta do. If you believe CNN, that is…

Cult leader Lifestyle Guru Tim Ferriss shares his thoughts on using drugs to expand consciousness as an acceptable way for the tech industry to solve problems.

“using smart drugs is like pouring gasoline on the fire. Hallucinogens used very very intelligently help you decide where to put the fire”

Silicon Valley are now promoting hallucinogenic drugs on CNN. Is it time to legalize yet?

“psychedelics have a rich history in Silicon Valley. One of the most iconic users? Steve Jobs” 

Other iconic users include Douglas Englebart (inventor of the mouse and desktop interface), John Gilmore (co-founder of Sun Microsystems and the MAPS association for psychedelic studies), and Stewart Brand (founder of the Whole Earth Catalog and the WELL).

The Billboard Liberation Front was one of the San Francisco groups that seeded Burning Man

The Billboard Liberation Front was one of the San Francisco groups that fed into the early Burning Man. This art piece was produced by John Gilmore, and “dropped” in 1995

Author Ryan Grim sees Burning Man as the latest incarnation of Silicon Valley’s desire to be inspired by hallucinogens.

wired 1996Burning Man co-founder Danger Ranger, contributed to Mondo 2000’s Berkeley party house and got wired with WIRED. He attributes hanging around with this crowd (with their Stanford chemistry lab supply) as providing valuable “connections” to Burning Man that brought the tech crowd in to join up with the Cacophony Society’s Merry Pranksters. WIRED beat the drum for the tech industry with their Bruce Sterling cover story in 1996. Danger Ranger joined the Burning Man Project in 1990, prior to that with John Law he was a co-founder of the Cacophony Society, which grew out of their earlier involvement in the Suicide Club, which also begat the BLF. The Billboard Liberation Front “dropped LSD” in 1995, sponsored by Gilmore as the project’s Creative Director. First a giant neon ad for LSD, next to the freeway, ironically high-jacked by art guerilla cyber punks; next, a cover story on WIRED with a neon glowing Burning Man and a Mad Max-themed video from Dr Dre.

Even LSD mega-promoter Timothy Leary got all Cyberdelic, saying that the PC is the LSD of the 1990’s and admonishing Bohemians to turn on, boot up, jack in“. Presumably, in the 21st century the LSD of the Teenies is going to be Oculus Rift and the Burner-built Microsoft Holo Lens, where you can plug into Burner-built Second Life to attend Burning Man virtually at their Burn2 Regional.

From Wikipedia:

cyber punk maskTimothy Leary, an advocate of psychedelic drug use who became a cult figure of the hippies in the 1960s, reemerged in the 1980s as a spokesperson of the cyberdelic counterculture, whose adherents called themselves “cyberpunks”, and became one of the most philosophical promoters of personal computers (PC), the Internet, and immersive virtual reality…

In contrast to the hippies of the 1960s who were decidedly anti-science and anti-technology, the cyberpunks of the 1980s and 1990s ecstatically embraced technology and the hacker ethic. They believed that high technology (and smart drugs) could help human beings overcome all limits, that it could liberate them from authority and even enable them to transcend space, time, and body. They often expressed their ethos and aesthetics through cyberart and reality hacking.

steampunk mask 2R. U. Sirius, co-founder and original editor-in-chief of Mondo 2000 magazine, became the most prominent promoter of the cyberpunk ideology, whose adherents were pioneers in the IT industry of Silicon Valley and the West Coast of the United States 

io9 has a list of 10 great inventors who took drugs. At least 6 of the 10 were trippers:

6. Steve Jobs — LSD
LSD was a big deal for Steve Jobs. How big? Evidently, Jobs believed that experimenting with LSD in the 1960s was “one of the two or three most important things he had done in his life.” What’s more, he felt that there were parts of him that the people he knew and worked with could not understand, simply because they hadn’t had a go at psychedelics. This latter sentiment also comes through in his recently-published biography, wherein Jobs goes so far as to associate what he interpreted as Bill Gates’ dearth of imagination with a lack of psychedelic experimentation:

“Bill is basically unimaginative and has never invented anything, which is why I think he’s more comfortable now in philanthropy than technology. He just shamelessly ripped off other people’s ideas.”

“He’d be a broader guy,” Jobs says about Gates, “if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger.”

5. Bill Gates — LSD
Which is funny, because Bill Gates totally did experiment with LSD, though an excerpt from a 1994 interview with Playboy reveals he was much less open about it than Jobs:

PLAYBOY: Ever take LSD?
GATES: My errant youth ended a long time ago.
PLAYBOY: What does that mean?
GATES: That means there were things I did under the age of 25 that I ended up not doing subsequently.
PLAYBOY: One LSD story involved you staring at a table and thinking the corner was going to plunge into your eye.
GATES: [Smiles]
PLAYBOY: Ah, a glimmer of recognition.
GATES: That was on the other side of that boundary. The young mind can deal with certain kinds of gooping around that I don’t think at this age I could. I don’t think you’re as capable of handling lack of sleep or whatever challenges you throw at your body as you get older. However, I never missed a day of work.

Francis Crick — LSD

Francis Crick — of the DNA-structure discovering Watson, Crick, and Franklin — reportedly told numerous friends and colleagues about his LSD experimentation during the time he spent working to determine the molecular structure that houses all life’s information.

In fact, in a 2004 interview, Gerrod Harker recalls talking with Dick Kemp — a close friend of Crick’s — about LSD use among Cambridge academics, and tells the Daily Mail that the University’s researchers often used LSD in small amounts as “a thinking tool.” Evidently, Crick at one point told Kemp that he had actually “perceived the double-helix shape while on LSD.” 

Read the full list at

As the Guardian points out, many people tried acid, but only one became Steve Jobs. Similarly, although many Burners take acid, less than a tenth of one percent are Billionaire Burners.

Taking LSD can make you lose your mind, like Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett who was a frequent acid tripper, and never recovered from one particularly large dose. In her brief article Operation Chaos, Mae B Russell  suggests that rather than coincidence, this may have been a deliberately engineered capability of the drug which was developed during World War II as a chemical weapon. LSD was researched by the military/intelligence complex for many decades, distributed for in hundreds of millions of doses (often gifted), and synthesized into many more variants than just “LSD-25”.

The whole acid scene began in Silicon Valley, and disseminated out of the Bay Area into Hollywood and then the rest of the world. How many of San Francisco’s Summer of Love Sixties hippies became billionaires? There are definitely a few. For every self-made billionaire in the Bay that did drop acid, there are many more who did not. Acid cannot make you a billionaire any more than going to Burning Man can make you a billionaire.

Mondo 2000’s original cyberpunk R U Sirious now looks back on the cyberdelic revolution rather ruefully:

Everything from Wetware to Techno Erotic Paganism image: Gord Fynes/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Everything from Wetware to Techno Erotic Paganism image: Gord Fynes/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Anybody who doesn’t believe that we’re trapped hasn’t taken a good look around. We’re trapped in a sort of mutating multinational corporate oligarchy that’s not about to go away. We’re trapped by the limitations of our species. We’re trapped in time. At the same time identity, politics, and ethics have long turned liquid. […] Cyberculture (a meme that I’m at least partly responsible for generating, incidentally) has emerged as a gleeful apologist for this kill-the-poor trajectory of the Republican revolution. You find it all over Wired – this mix of chaos theory and biological modeling that is somehow interpreted as scientific proof of the need to devolve and decentralize the social welfare state while also deregulating and empowering the powerful, autocratic, multinational corporations. You’ve basically got the breakdown of nation states into global economies simultaneously with the atomization of individuals or their balkanization into disconnected sub-groups, because digital technology conflates space while decentralizing communication and attention. The result is a clear playing field for a mutating corporate oligarchy, which is what we have. I mean, people think it’s really liberating because the old industrial ruling class has been liquefied and it’s possible for young players to amass extraordinary instant dynasties. But it’s savage and inhuman. Maybe the wired elite think that’s hip. But then don’t go around crying about crime in the streets or pretending to be concerned with ethics

For a true “rich history of psychedelics in Silicon Valley”, a good introduction is John Markoff’s “deliciously scandalous” book What The Dormouse Said:

markoff dormousetechnology never happens in a vacuum. The book was an effort to try to pin down how personal computing first emerged around the Stanford campus at two laboratories in the 1960’s: one was run by John McCarthy, and was called the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; and the other was run by Doug Engelbart and known as the Augmentation Research Center or the Augmented Human Intellect Research Center. Before there was Xerox PARC, which most people know about, and before the two Steves (Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak) in the garage creating the Apple computer, many of the technologies that became the personal computer were developed in these two laboratories on either side of the Stanford campus during the 1960’s. I tried to capture that work and the environment in which it took place, which was deeply influenced by the 1960’s counterculture and by the anti-war movement. [Source: Ubiquity]

image: Trey Ratcliff/Flickr (Creative Commons)

image: Trey Ratcliff/Flickr (Creative Commons)

image: Kordite/Flickr (Creative Commons)

image: Kordite/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Entheogens and Etymology


Set, and Setting

Over the weekend we brought you a story: “What’s In My Baggie?”, which mentioned cutting-edge designer drugs that were being handed out at the festival.

As well as “what’s in your baggie”, you should be aware of “who’s really dosing you”…and the power of rhetoric and suggestion to influence impressionable young minds.

Jan Irvin of Gnostic Media has published an article exposing how the origins of the psychedelic movement are different from what most of the people taking hallucinogenic drugs believe:

gnostic mediaEntheogens: What’s In A Name?

A lot of work has gone into this 58-page document, which is worth reading in its entirety. For those who don’t have time for that, let me try to extract the most relevant parts for Burners:

Today there are many names for drug substances that we commonly refer to as “hallucinogens,” “psychedelics,” “psychoactives,” or “entheogens,” et al. But it hasn’t always been that way. The study of the history and etymology of the words for these fascinating substances takes us, surprisingly, right into the heart of military intelligence, and what became the CIA’s infamous MKULTRA mind control program, and reveals how the names themselves were used in marketing these substances to the public, and especially to the youth and countercultures

…‘Set and setting’ is the key component to suggestibility with these substances, and through studying the etymology and history of these words we saw ‘neologisms’ – or new words, psychedelic and entheogen, that were used for marketing purposes and to “seed” the idea of the type of experience one should have while under their influence: If you told them it mimicked psychosis, it mimicked psychosis. If you told them it was mind manifesting, they had a mind‐expanding experience. And if you told them it was a religious experience, well, they just might have a religious experience.

…directly targeting youth to encourage their drug use and destructive behavior: “if you want to bring about mutations in a species, work with the young.”   

What is beginning to become apparent is that a destruction of the self is being sold as a method of so-called “spiritual progress” and “enlightenment” by people who are…social/public relations experts.

And contrary to common understanding, we saw the prohibition of drugs as a tool of drug use enticement and control for rebellious youth to consume these substances

…we saw the targeting of: “artists, writers, poets, jazz musicians, elegant courtesans,  painters, rich bohemians…That’s how everything of culture and beauty and philosophic freedom  has been passed on.”
So it appears that Huxley’s idea of beauty means the degradation of society.  You destroy one part (the masses) to elevate the other (the elite) – which does not seem able to elevate itself on its own. 

…how could creating hippies be a CIA tactic and how would such a tactic affect them?  
If we consider that by having people “navel gaze” and focus on psychedelics as mind expansion, as opposed to real solutions to problems like social stratification, dumbing us down, and the like, then it distracts them from focusing on these real problems as the source of all of society’s ills, and more importantly, taking action to change them

Read the entire paper here. A long read but worth it;  meticulously researched and cogently argued.

What a “set and setting” is provided, by this self-service cult in the desert, worshipping The Man.

can you pass the acid test“What we do literally is we take peoples’ sense of reality, and we break it apart. Burning Man is a transformation engine. It has hardware and it has software. You can adjust it and tweak it, and we’ve done that. We take people out to this vast, dry place – nowhere, very harsh conditions – and it strips away their luggage. The things that they had brought with them, the idea of who they thought they were. And it puts them in a community setting where they have to connect with each other. It puts them in this place where anything is possible. In doing so, it breaks the old reality, and it enables them to realize that you can create your own reality, you can do anything.”

Danger Ranger, Burning Man founder

“We’re a self-service cult. You wash your own brain”

Larry Harvey, Burning Man founder.

Even when The Man is burned to a cinder, he is re-born anew: an indestructible symbol of organizing our society.

We keep getting told “Burning Man is more than just a festival”. But exactly what it is, then, is never really defined. It’s up to each Burner to get out of it what they want. For many, Gifting is its own reward. An environment free from commercial transactions was a big drawcard, used to enlist an army of volunteer workers who’ve been used to create a highly lucrative brand. Lately, some seem to see TTITD as ripe for a greater level of commercial exploitation – and see those who’ve labored with love to make it what it is as standing in the way of what it could be. From the statements of the founders, changing people’s personalities and using Burning Man to change the world seem to be the major priority, more so than loyalty to their citizens or even profits for themselves.

For further consideration, I also highly recommend Jan’s excellent paper with Joe Atwill: Manufacturing the Deadhead: A Product of Social Engineering

BMOrg have said repeatedly that they consider themselves to be social engineers. Many Burners are Deadheads, and vice versa.

I give the CIA a total credit for sponsoring and initiating the entire consciousness‐movement counterculture events of the 1960s… the CIA funded and supported and encouraged hundreds of young psychologists to experiment with this drug. The fallout from that was that the young psychiatrists started taking it themselves discovering that it was an intelligence enhancing, intelligence raising experience.

~ Timothy Leary


image: APictureOfIt

image: APictureOfIt

Of course, the drug dose does not produce the transcendent experience. It merely acts as a chemical key — it opens the mind, frees the nervous system of its ordinary patterns and structures. The nature of the experience depends almost entirely on set and setting. Set denotes the preparation of the individual, including his personality structure and his mood at the time. Setting is physical — the weather, the room’s atmosphere; social — feelings of persons present towards one another; and cultural — prevailing views as to what is real. It is for this reason that manuals or guide‐books are necessary. Their purpose is to enable a person to understand the new realities of the expanded consciousness, to serve as road maps for new interior territories which modern science has made accessible.

—Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, Richard Alpert: The
Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead

what the Russians have done is to stimulate the native peoples to undertake a native revival while they themselves admire the resulting dance festivals and other exhibitions of native culture, literature, poetry, music and so on…The system gets overweighed until some compensatory machinery is developed and then the revival of native arts, literature, etc., becomes a weapon for use against the  white man…

The findings of this experiment support very strongly the conclusion that it is very important to foster spectatorship among the superiors and exhibitionism among the inferiors

– Gregory Bateson


Some related stories from Burners.Me:

Brainwashing – the New Billionaire Obsession

Creating God in the Digital Age

Soma Showcases Burner Culture on the Embarcadero


A Temple of Set

RIP Sasha Shulgin

Alexander-Shulgin-en-el-Burning-ManBurner Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin passed away this afternoon around 5pm. He was 2 weeks away from his 89th birthday. He had been dealing with serious health issues since at least 2010.

Shulgin has been called “the godfather of drugs”. In his life, he synthesized and documented more than 200 different psychoactive compounds. He is credited with the re-introduction of Ecstasy (MDMA) into America – he called himself “the stepfather of Ecstasy”. It was prescribed legally by psychiatrists in the early 80’s as a marriage counselling tool, and millions of doses had been legally distributed to Texas nightclubs by 1984.

Shulgin served in the US Navy. He was a member of Bohemian Grove, a long term DEA collaborator, and a multiple Burner.

Shulgin said that of everything he ever created, he preferred 2CB. It combines hallucinations and euphoria, and lasts a long time.

He also created one mysterious compound that was so good, he immediately destroyed it and burned his notes. Such a substance, he felt, should not be unleashed on mankind.

Shulgin’s work lives on in his books TIHKAL and PIHKAL.

Over the past four decades, Dr. Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin has created more than 200 psychedelic drug compounds, many involving MDMA—better known by its street name, ecstasy. The Northern California–bred scientist is the subject of a new documentary, Dirty Pictures…He met his wife, Ann, in 1979, and they immediately bonded over a mutual interest in visionary plants. At age 79, she is his research and writing partner. Dirty Pictures shows the Shulgins’ sampling new drug compounds with friends and associates—they call this experimenting. These scenes are intercut with the Shulgins’ travels—to the Burning Man festival in Nevada, to Egypt, to a symposium in New York City—and interviews with an amiable DEA agent and a chemist who’s developing psychedelic drugs for use in medicine but has never actually tried them himself. 

…MARTIN: The film shows you visiting Burning Man, which is not exactly known for pharmaceutical purism. But we never learn how you feel about the festival.

ANN: Approximately one third of the people at Burning Man take psychoactive drugs. The rest take alcohol. There’s not that much psychoactive drug taking.

SASHA: I think a lot of people assume they gather doped-out on psychoactive drugs. They don’t have them; they don’t even want them. They just happen to take a little bit of something or another and turn on and spin around a while.

ANN: If you haven’t been to Burning Man, you should do it once. It’s an extraordinary experience. Some of the best artwork I’ve ever seen in or out of a museum. Amazing. We’d love to go back, but it’s too expensive.

SASHA: We’ve been there three times, and that’s enough.

Here’s some video of Sasha at Burning Man in 2008. There are 8 parts up on YouTube:


Here are a couple more interviews with Shulgin. This one is by Dennis Romero for the LA Times, in 1995 (via

Sasha Shulgin, Psychedelic Chemist


Alexander Shulgin, psychedelic chemist

LAFAYETTE, Calif. — Perhaps it was a sign of things to come when a seven-story Monterrey Pine came crashing down on the property of old Alexander T. Shulgin–Sasha, they call him–missing his musty cobweb-entangled drug lab by inches.

        It could have been a good sign because the cantankerous 70-year-old wasn’t around the back-yard workshop conducting one of his legendary experiments, which have been known to involve him downing any number of the new psychedelic drugs he invents in the name of science. Imagine losing your mind on some unknown compound with unknown powers (some of this stuff makes LSD look like Vitamin D)–and a tree the length of three buses rocks your world to Richter proportions. The aliens have arrived!

       Maybe, though, it was a sign of nefarious things to come. Like the DEA guys who came knocking only days later, sniffing around the lab in search of improprieties. Or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency people who checked out the lab that day last June, taking notes while nosing around the beakers. (They found everything in order, says a representative.) The feds have arrived!

       To tell the truth, Sasha Shulgin doesn’t much care anymore what the government thinks.

       He’s tippy-toed around the law and the lawmen for long enough–30 years now. Since the mid-’60s, the tall, lanky, silver-haired chemistry professor has quietly invented drugs under the cover of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration license that allows him to analyze contraband so he can give expert testimony in drug trials. It doesn’t exactly allow him to invent the stuff, though, and Uncle Sam appears to be getting cold feet about Shulgin’s exploits.

       But Shulgin’s life’s work is practically complete and he’s ready to shout it out. “I feel the need of a public voice with some level of academic background . . . ” His message: “All drugs should be made legal.”

       bohemian owlWith or without the DEA’s approval, the public is now able to see pages and pages documenting all the world’s known psychedelic drugs–many of them invented by The Man himself: the compound structures, the lab names, street names and, more importantly, what they do to people or, more precisely, what they’ve done to him and wife Ann, his 64-year-old partner-in-chem.

       Part I, a book they call “Pihkal,” was self-published in 1991. Part II, to be called “Tihkal,” is due at the end of the year. The two books provide recipes for almost every mind-bending drug known to humankind. To Shulgin, the books provide scientific knowledge that proves drugs are a tool for the human mind. “The track record,” he says, “is that there is great promise.”

        No one else on the planet has done more drugs, they say, than Sasha and Ann Shulgin. He is known for reviving the almost-century-old designer drug ecstasy, earning him the title “stepfather of MDMA.”

       “What he almost single-handedly attempted to do,” says psychedelic supporter and Nobel Prize-winning chemist Kary Mullis, “was to chart out this whole area of compounds.” Says psychedelic godfather Timothy Leary, “I consider Shulgin and his wife to be two of the most important scientists of the 20th Century.”

       The Shulgins are legends among some academics–LSD inventor Albert Hofmann, now retired in Switzerland, is a friend. But they are little known to the outside world–they were never a part of the counterculture.

       shulgin ann and sashaShulgin’s work has put him in the odd position of being a source of information for both the Establishment (during his decade working for Dow Chemical and his two decades testifying for both the prosecution and the defense in drug cases) and psychedelic drug advocates (his science has been used to bolster the cause for legal psychedelic drug research on humans, which is now taking place after a 20-year hiatus).

        “There’s nothing wrong with making information available,” he says, legs crossed and drinking iced tea on his patio.

       The DEA, which repeatedly declined to comment on the Shulgin case, might disagree. The agency did confirm in a statement that it is attempting to strip Shulgin of his drug-handling license and that a hearing on the matter has been scheduled for Feb. 13. And the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco is keeping a file on Shulgin, although no charges have been brought. No one from that office would comment either.

       It’s hard to find anyone with ill will toward Shulgin, although there are those opposed to the philosophy of his ilk. Psychedelic drugs are dangerous, opponents say–toxic to animals and dangerous to those who lose their minds and attempt crazy things like trying to fly. “One of the things psychedelic drug activists promote is that drugs are not a problem–that we haven’t learned to use them properly,” Wayne J. Roques, a retired Miami-based DEA agent and anti-drug activist, said in an interview last year.

       “That’s one of the nonsensical things that they say,” Roques said. “They seem to think it’s a human condition to use psychoactive drugs and that’s simply not so.”

       “I first explored mescaline in the late ’50s,” Shulgin says. “Three-hundred-fifty to 400 milligrams. I learned there was a great deal inside me,” he replies.

       “That’s a considerable experience,” Ann says, puffing a cigarette and nodding.

       Shulgin’s romance with psychedelics started after the war. He served his time in the Navy and finished school at UC Berkeley, earning a Ph.D. in biochemistry. “There was no mention of rebellion at that point,” Shulgin says. “I was all smiles, open.”

       shulgin labIn the ’60s he did post-doctorate work in psychiatry and pharmacology at UC San Francisco and became a senior research chemist at Dow Chemical Co. He invented a profit-making insecticide, so Dow gave him a long leash. But while America’s anti-drug fervor picked up, Dow found itself in the uncomfortable position of holding several patents on psychedelic drugs.

       Shulgin left the company in 1965, built his lab and became, as he puts it, a “scientific consultant.” That meant teaching public health at Berkeley and San Francisco General Hospital, among other jobs. It also eventually meant inventing more than 150 drugs in his lab. “To me,” he says, “having your own lab is a very extreme pleasure.”

       Shulgin’s spread sits atop a rolling, rural utopia east of Berkeley. The old brick lab lies down the path from his boxy white house, which sits on property that has been in the family for more than 50 years.

       To this day his lab looks low-tech–lined with beakers, test-tubes, stills and pumps. It’s funky but functional, like Shulgin. He wears handmade huaraches with his tuxedo at special events and drives a ’73 bug.

       Shulgin met Ann at Berkeley in 1979. Ann, became Shulgin’s soul mate, a fellow psychedelic explorer with a penchant for Peyote. (“I’ve read all of Castaneda,” she says.) They were married in Shulgin’s back yard in 1981. The man who married them, they say, was a DEA agent.

       As Ann put it, “Before ‘Pihkal,’ we had a real good relationship with the DEA. They have few people they can talk to who are on the other side of the fence who are honest.” Says psychedelic drug activist Rick Doblin, “That was his Faustian bargain–in order to do his work, he had to be useful to the DEA.”

       “It was not a quid pro quo,” Shulgin says. “I make my research available to the government as much as anyone else.”

       Shulgin wrote the book on the law and drugs–“Controlled Substances: Chemical & Legal Guide to Federal Drug Laws” (Ronin Publishing, 1988), a book that sits on the desk of many law enforcement officials to this day. “He’s a reputable researcher,” says Geraline Lin, a drug researcher at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

       By the ’80s, though, Shulgin wasn’t famous for any books he wrote or any drugs he invented, but rather for a drug he didn’t invent. In the ’70s, a friend had suggested he check out a pill that was going around called MDMA, or “empathy.” He tested it, tried it and wrote a lot about it in academic journals.

       For better or for worse, Shulgin rescued the drug (known in the lab as methylenedioxy- methamphetamine) from obscurity. Invented around 1912, no one found much use for it until Shulgin came along. He suggested time and again that the stuff was good for therapy. The drug’s effects are described as lying somewhere between those of LSD and speed. “I still haven’t found anything like it to this day,” Shulgin says.

        But the drug found an empathetic audience in the nightclub crowd. Dealers renamed the drug “ecstasy” for better marketability. And the U.S. government outlawed MDMA in 1985.

       A young group of scientists led by Doblin tried to preserve the drug’s legality, arguing that the stuff was valuable for unearthing repressed thoughts and memories. Shulgin assisted the best he could, providing science from the shadows. But the government found that the drug caused brain damage in animals. “The one thing that is clear,” says UCLA psychopharmacologist Ronald K. Siegel, “is that there is a lot of damage here with MDMA.”

       Shulgin says testing drugs on animals isn’t worth dog doo. “There are real problems involved in testing a rat for empathy or changes in self-image,” he told an English magazine last year.

       “In a lot of ways, Sasha was demoralized after MDMA became illegal,” says Doblin, president of the Charlotte, N.C.-based Multidisciplinary Assn. for Psychedelic Studies. “It was the best candidate for legal therapy out of all the drugs he helped create.”

       But there was always Shulgin’s trusty lab, which provided fodder for intimate trips with Ann and friends. Those times, up at his hilltop home, amid the rosemary bushes and live oak, surrounded by the smells of fennel, rue and bay, were magical, they say. “Inventing new psychoactive drugs,” Ann says, “is like composing new music.”

       Sometimes, the music could be maddening. One time a friend, testing out a new Shulgin creation he called 5-TOM, became temporarily paralyzed and completely zombie-fied. It terrified the Shulgins. “There’s no experience of this complexity without instances of difficulty,” Shulgin says.

       A few drugs Shulgin invented, substances with names such as STP and 2CB, escaped to the streets of San Francisco. Amateur chemists read Shulgin’s published research and made batches for sale. Like most of the drugs in his book, they were included on the federal government’s outlaw list of drugs, called Schedule I.

        “A lot of the materials in Schedule I are my invention,” Shulgin says. “I’m not sure if it’s a point of pride or a point of shame.”

       Shulgin’s rebound came in 1991 when “Pihkal: A Chemical Love Story” (Transform Press) was published. For fans of psychedelia, it was an instant collector’s item. “I think Pihkal,” Leary says, “is right up there with Darwin’s ‘Origins . . . ‘ “

       “The history of psychedelic drugs is still being written,” says Siegel, who is respected both by the authorities and legalization activists. “Even though Shulgin’s observations may not be entirely scientific, they are an important start since he’s the only one who has made some of these observations and taken some of these drugs.”

        “Pihkal,” which has sold more than 15,000 copies, covers about half the psychedelic drugs known to humankind–the “phenethylamines I have known and loved,” as the book’s title suggests. The phenethylamine group of compounds includes such substances as MDMA and mescaline. The other half–a group that includes everything from toad venom to magic mushrooms–will be included in the forthcoming “Tihkal”–for “tryptamines I have known and loved.”

pihkal        To understand the Shulgins is to understand their unwavering belief that these drugs have untold powers and that we, as a society, are ignorant of these powers–like early man who shied away from fire. Yet Shulgin’s words are almost always sober: “I’m very confident that there will come a time when this work will be recognized for its medical value.”

        In 1992 he testified before NIDA that psychedelic drug research using humans should once again be made fully legal (it was all but outlawed in 1970). Shulgin invoked his own legally questionable research on humans.

       At the meeting, says Doblin, who was there, “he describes the work that he’s doing with human beings, in a way that its clear that it’s illegal.” Even so, Shulgin influenced NIDA’s position that human studies should restart, which they did. “Shulgin put himself on the line,” says Lin, who chaired the meeting.

        “It was a scientific meeting, not a political one,” says Shulgin, understated as usual. “I was explicit, but not provocative.”

        Later, Shulgin makes this much clear: “It’s my stance that what I do is nothing illegal.”

        In 1986, the federal government outlawed research on humans using drugs that resemble banned drugs, called analogs. Before then, research using designer drugs that weren’t expressly outlawed skirted the rules (using an MDEA compound instead of MDMA, for example).

tihkal        “Since ’86, I’ve stopped all research in this direction,” he says, i.e., he doesn’t test drugs on humans. He adds that he still invents drugs and feels it’s still legal as long as he has his drug-handling license. “I synthesize materials for publication,” he says.

        This balancing act is in response to the pressure he’s been feeling from the DEA. It’s ironic, say Shulgin’s supporters: He has provided science to the government (most often in cases involving methamphetamine) and all takers only to be taken to task in the end for that very science. “Shulgin’s not a criminal,” says Mullis, “he’s a chemist.”

        So imagine Shulgin’s consternation recently when he found himself playing a gig (he plays the viola with a local orchestra for kicks) at the nearby Bohemian Grove and club guest Newt Gingrich starts talking about . . . drugs.

       Normally, this all-male club (the word exclusive is not exclusive enough to describe its clientele) is not so serious–the site of nude rampaging, mock-Druid fire rituals and all manner of back-to-roots male bonding. Snort-Snort. So when Gingrich started talking about a topic Shulgin has studied for 30 years, he kept his mouth shut and his ears open.

       “He was very correct,” Shulgin says. “You have two alternatives: We either have to take Draconian means and break the back of the problem, or legalize drugs. I believe in the latter choice.

This next interview is billed as Shulgin’s last interview. From Hamilton Morris at VICE:

…I suspect there is another reason Shulgin likes to have the first taste: The sensation of synthesizing a completely unknown drug and ingesting it, a sensation that can only happen one time, is clearly druglike in and of itself. It’s the breaking of a transdimensional, neurochemical hymen. In a sense, it’s the one drug he keeps coming back to. Ask Shulgin what his favorite psychedelic is and he will say “2C-B”5  without hesitation. Ask him how many times he has taken it and he’ll say “a few.” This is a guy who has had approximately 10,000 psychedelic experiences. No drug, not even his cherished 2C-B, tastes better than the untasted…

shulgin-and-morris…Eventually, Paul brought in dozens of green cardboard boxes full of chemicals. They contained a physical history of Shulgin’s entire pharmacopeia. A life’s work corked up in three-dram vials. The collection was supremely tantalizing and borderline pornographic. My heart rate increased and my brow began to perspire, as I tried my hardest to avoid undignified Tex Avery-type behaviors like panting, making an aroogah sound, or letting my eyeballs fall out of my head. He removed the lid, revealing 100 alphanumerically indexed cells that housed glass vials, with conspicuous lacunae once occupied by Schedule I drugs. Each vial’s gummed label was hand-inscribed with a small molecular diagram. Many of these substances don’t exist anywhere else in the known universe. Shulgin is not only a chemist, he is a collector. Early in his career he ambitiously sought to accumulate every psychoactive drug in the world but eventually realized he couldn’t keep up. According to the index card, the (partial) contents of the single box Paul opened included trichocereine, crude curare, isomescaline, amphetamine, R-DOM, MDMA, DET, DiPT, scopolamine, benz-phetamine, d-methamphetamine, aspirin, berberine, physostigmine, papaverine, pipradol, aconite, thebane, pilocarpine, oxycodone, oxymorphone, several forensic samples of PCP dated and labeled “illicit PCP 1975,” and my dear old friend Ritalin…

Alex Grey (left) and Sasha Shulgin

Alex Grey (left) and Sasha Shulgin

…I sat looking at (and possibly ogling) Shulgin chewing his egg-salad sandwich and thought about the superhuman influence his work endued on the world. The hundreds of deaths, millions of freak-outs, tens of billions of dollars exchanged of which he has not received a dime, cumulative millennia of prison sentences, trillions of transformative experiences, decaliters of joy tears, decibels of laughter, and so forth. I wanted to tell him how much he has changed my life; I wanted to offer him 1,000 screaming genuflections of gratitude for everything that has happened to me on substances he has created and championed. My bed collapsing while I was on 2C-B. Being cradled like a child by a computer programmer as I lay dying on DOC. Biting a crisp Red Delicious in the seminary on 2C-E. Finding a nippy jug of milk on a stoop and being attacked by a dog on DiPT. The Central Park portrait artist who drew me as if I were Enrique Iglesias on 4-HO-MiPT. Memorizing the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram on 2C-D. Burying my face in a sopping-wet wig I found on the floor of a taxi on 4-HO-MET. These were all holy and wonderful things that I wanted to tell him. I would not be capable of giving him enough thanks.

Read the full interview here.

The East Bay Express did an in-depth story in 2002 on designer drug 2-C-T-7, one of Sasha’s creations.

There’s a 6-page interview the New York Times did with him in 2005 that’s pretty good too.

Reality Sandwich started a 5-part series on Psychedelics featuring Shulgin. Part I is from three months ago and Part II is from today.

The man who invented more drugs than most people have even heard of, let alone done – maintained a happy marriage for 35 years and lived to be almost 90. May history remember him kindly.