Pioneer of Psychedelics in Therapy Dies at 91



Ann Shulgin, who together with her late husband, Alexander Shulgin, pioneered the use of psychedelic drugs in psychotherapy and co-wrote two seminal books on the subject, has died at the age of 91. Shulgin had been in ill health due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, daughter Wendy Tucker said. She died Saturday surrounded by loved ones at “The Farm,” a sprawling San Francisco Bay Area residence she shared with her chemist husband until his death in 2014, Tucker said, per the AP. Shulgin had a deep understanding of Jungian psychoanalysis and collaborated with her husband, who in the 1970s rediscovered the MDMA compound, better known as ecstasy, and introduced it as a possible mental health treatment. The couple tested the substances on themselves and a small group of friends.

Born in New Zealand to an American diplomat and New Zealand mother, Shulgin grew up in different parts of the world. The family settled in San Francisco after her father’s retirement. A professionally trained artist, Shulgin drew and painted all her life and worked as a medical transcriber. In 1978, she met Alexander Shulgin, who created more than 200 chemical compounds for use in psychotherapy. The couple’s home in Lafayette, Calif., where Alexander Shulgin also had his lab, for decades was a gathering place for students, teachers, and those working with psychedelics. The couple took copious notes of their experiences and of what they observed in others and co-wrote two books. PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story, which was published in 1991, and TiHKAL: The Continuation, published in 1997.

Publishers were afraid to print their first book about MDMA, so the couple, who were against ecstasy being used outside of therapy, self-published it because they wanted to share their experiences and knowledge with the world, Tucker said. In the US, several states have approved studying the potential medical use of psychedelics, which are still illegal under federal law. A string of cities have also decriminalized so-called magic mushrooms, and an explosion of investment money is flowing into the arena. Experts say the research is promising for treating conditions ranging from PTSD to smoking addiction, though they caution that some serious risks remain, especially for those with certain mental health conditions. “We wouldn’t be where we are if it wasn’t for Ann and Sasha,” Tucker added. Shulgin is survived by four children, eight grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

(Read more psychedelic drugs stories.)

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