Alexander "Sasha" Shulgin, who earned the nickname "Godfather of ecstasy" for developing a new method of synthesis for MDMA and introducing it to psychologists in the 1970s, died today from liver cancer. As The New York Times noted in a profile back in 2005, Shulgin's work has been controversial in the scientific community, with many seeing his prolific work on psychedelics as problematic.
Shulgin's psychedelics were tested on himself, his wife, and friends
In several decades of research, Shulgin reportedly estimated that he had created over 200 psychedelic compounds, which he researched and published results on. Those compounds were usually tested by Shulgin himself and — depending on the results — might expand to tests on his wife, Ann, and a group of friends.
Shulgin was largely able to avoid a Drug Enforcement Agency crackdown simply because most of the drugs that he worked on hadn't previously existed outside of his lab, and therefore weren't illegal yet. Eventually though, in the ’90s, Shulgin's lab was raided and he was asked to turn over his Schedule I drug research license, reports the Times.
It's Shulgin's early work on MDMA, though, that's garnered the most attention over the years, even if his method for synthesis now lies in the background of bodies of other work. As the Times notes, Shulgin's endorsement of psychedelics as medical treatments may be slowly moving toward vindication as ecstasy research becomes possible again. Recent studies are starting to show that MDMA might allow patients to recover after trauma, even allowing effective treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.