Alexander Shulgin, godfather of Ecstasy, dies at 88

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 June, 2014, 9:49pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 June, 2014, 4:11am


A respected chemist famed for introducing the psychedelic drug Ecstasy to the world has died.

Alexander Shulgin died on Monday at his sprawling home and lab near San Francisco at the age of 88. His wife, Ann, said liver cancer was the cause.

Shulgin created more than 200 chemical compounds for use in psychotherapy, and tested them on himself, his wife and a small group of friends and others at his home, recording each experience in lab notebooks. He didn't invent MDMA, better known as Ecstasy, but rediscovered the compound created in 1912 about 65 years later and introduced it as a possible mental health treatment. He and his wife published two seminal books on chemical compounds.

Shulgin said he was interested only in MDMA's potential use in therapy and was unhappy to see its abuse as a recreational drug.

Shulgin was born in Berkeley, California, and dropped out of Harvard to serve in the navy. He later earned a doctorate in biochemistry and worked for Dow Chemical for many years. At Dow, Shulgin created several top-selling biodegradable pesticides and Dow allowed him to open a laboratory for research of his choosing. He chose to explore psychoactive compounds.

He left Dow in 1965 and began teaching at universities and researching psychoactive compounds. He was introduced to MDMA in 1976 and worked out a way to synthesise it. Ann, a "lay" psychologist, helped explore MDMA's use in therapy.

"He was the scientist and I was the psychologist," Ann said of their 35-year partnership. "He was a genius."