Essay date: November 30, 2022

Alexander Shulgin: American Hero




merican pharmacologist Alexander Shulgin (1924-2014) was the epitome of what a psychoactive drug researcher should be -- and what they WOULD be were America not under the spell of Drug War propaganda. Not only did he introduce the MDMA empathogen (or entactogen) to psychologists in the 1970s, but he personally created and "test drove" over 200 psychedelic substances, whose use conduced to happiness, mental focus and self-insight. . He achieved these results because he was granted a kind of rare exception to Drug War prohibitions thanks to his pharmacological genius. Along with his wife Ann, he was the author of the revolutionary 1991 book "PIHKAL: Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved." The title, by the way, is obscure on purpose, since Alexander knew that the use of the word "psychedelics" would virtually prevent the book from even being sold in Canada and America's mid-west.

Shulgin's research is a reproach to scientists everywhere, who have not only cowered under the threats of prohibition but also failed to admit to themselves or to the scientific community that they had self-censored their work due to Drug War prohibition. This is why we see articles in The Atlantic which discuss potential treatments for depression in which neither the author nor the scientists even mention the role that outlawed psychoactives could play in treating that condition. This is the worst kind of censorship imaginable, one in which the censored individuals fail to even recognize that their work is censored. At least Galileo knew that he was being forced to self-censor his work to agree with Church dogma. But scientists almost never admit that they have to censor THEIR work due to Drug War dogma: viz. the mendacious and anti-scientific idea that certain politically identified psychoactive substances can have no potential benefits whatsoever, not now, not later, not ever.

The fact that Shulgin "gets it" is clear from this damning observation of the status quo that he makes in the opening chapter of PIKHAL entitled "The Philosophy Behind the Writing of Pikhal":

"Our generation is the first, ever, to have made the search for self-awareness a crime, if it is done with the use of plants or chemical compounds as the means of opening the psychic doors."

Of course, no one's perfect. Shulgin's words are a wake-up call for myself as well. They remind me that I have been drawing a somewhat arbitrary distinction between Mother Nature's medicines and the synthetic substances that are inspired and derived from them. I've also focused on the idiocy of criminalizing Mother Nature, when perhaps the greater infamy, as Shulgin reminds us, is the criminalization of the search for self-awareness, the criminalization of our efforts to pursue the Platonic imperative of knowing ourselves.

The modest ambition of this essay is to bring Alexander Shulgin's work to the attention of those who have yet to learn of it. Mission accomplished, I hope. But I would like to conclude with one philosophical observation based on my reading thus far.

In Chapter 1, the semi-fictional protagonist, Alexander, recounts a surgical operation that he underwent for his infected thumb while in the Navy in World War II. Before the operation, he was presented with a glass of orange juice containing a gram of white powder and told that the substance was a powerful anesthetic. After drinking the substance, the sailor fell into a deep state of unconsciousness. Only later did he learn that the white substance was sugar and that his "anesthetic" was actually a placebo. This fact gave Alexander intimations about the great untapped potential of the human mind and eventually led to his decision to become a pharmacologist.

OBSERVATION: Most of the wonders that we ascribe to "drugs" are perhaps more accurately ascribed to the human mind. As suggested in the Doors of Perception, the role of psychedelic drugs in particular may be to help us activate different potentials that we already possess, not to foist upon us foreign thoughts and dreams that are somehow inherent in the substances themselves. Some psychologists erroneously conclude from this fact, however, that drugs are totally unnecessary for mental improvement and self-awareness. And so they make a virtue of Drug War necessity by promoting an endless list of drug-free self-help schemes to "open our minds," such as yoga, special diets, jogging, repeating affirmations, etc.

But let's not be naive. Most of us cannot go through painless surgery by drinking a glass of sugar water. Nor will the profound wonders of the mind ever be satisfactorily sounded by dint of willpower and exercise, except perhaps in the rare cases of Eastern monks who devote their entire life to achieving that drug-free goal. This is what I've tried in vain to tell my own therapists for the last 40 years. They always wanted me to run more, eat better foods, sleep more, sleep less, etc. I, for my part, wanted them to use the real politik of pharmacology, not because the counselor's anemic remedies could not work in theory, but because they almost never really worked in practice. And those who said they "did" work had what I considered to be very low standards for such alleged "success," unacquainted as they were with the profound epiphanies that psychoactive drugs can facilitate.

Next essay: The Lopsided Focus on the Misuse and Abuse of Drugs
Previous essay: How Scientific Materialism Keeps Godsend Medicines from the Depressed

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You have been reading essays by the Drug War Philosopher, Brian Quass, at abolishthedea.com. Brian is the founder of The Drug War Gift Shop, where artists can feature and sell their protest artwork online. He has also written for Sociodelic and is the author of The Drug War Comic Book, which contains 150 political cartoons illustrating some of the seemingly endless problems with the war on drugs -- many of which only Brian seems to have noticed, by the way, judging by the recycled pieties that pass for analysis these days when it comes to "drugs." That's not surprising, considering the fact that the category of "drugs" is a political category, not a medical or scientific one.

A "drug," as the world defines the term today, is "a substance that has no good uses for anyone, ever, at any time, under any circumstances" -- and, of course, there are no substances of that kind: even cyanide and the deadly botox toxin have positive uses: a war on drugs is therefore unscientific at heart, to the point that it truly qualifies as a superstition, one in which we turn inanimate substances into boogie-men and scapegoats for all our social problems.

The Drug War is, in fact, the philosophical problem par excellence of our time, premised as it is on a raft of faulty assumptions (notwithstanding the fact that most philosophers today pretend as if the drug war does not exist). It is a war against the poor, against minorities, against religion, against science, against the elderly, against the depressed, against those in pain, against children in hospice care, and against philosophy itself. It outlaws substances that have inspired entire religions, Nazifies the English language and militarizes police forces nationwide.

It bans the substances that inspired William James' ideas about human consciousness and the nature of ultimate reality. In short, it causes all of the problems that it purports to solve, and then some, meanwhile violating the Natural Law upon which Thomas Jefferson founded America. (Surely, Jefferson was rolling over in his grave when Ronald Reagan's DEA stomped onto Monticello in 1987 and confiscated the founding father's poppy plants.)

If you believe in freedom and democracy, in America and around the world, please stay tuned for more philosophically oriented broadsides against the outrageous war on godsend medicines, AKA the war on drugs.

Brian Quass
The Drug War Philosopher
abolishthedea.com

PS The drug war has not failed: to the contrary, it has succeeded, insofar as its ultimate goal was to militarize police forces around the world and help authorities to ruthlessly eliminate those who stand in the way of global capitalism. For more, see Drug War Capitalism by Dawn Paley.

Rather than apologetically decriminalizing selected plants, we should be demanding the immediate restoration of Natural Law, according to which "The earth, and all that is therein, is given to men for the support and comfort of their being." (John Locke)

Selected Bibliography

  • Bandow, Doug "From Fighting The Drug War To Protecting The Right To Use Drugs"2018
  • Barrett, Damon "Children of the Drug War: Perspectives on the Impact of Drug Polices on Young People"2011 IDEBATE Press
  • Bilton, Anton "DMT Entity Encounters: Dialogues on the Spirit Molecule"2021 Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
  • Boullosa , Carmen "A Narco History: How the United States and Mexico Jointly Created the 'Mexican Drug War'"2016 OR Books
  • Brereton, William "The Truth about Opium / Being a Refutation of the Fallacies of the Anti-Opium Society and a Defence of the Indo-China Opium Trade"2017 Anna Ruggieri
  • Burns, Eric "1920: The year that made the decade roar"2015 Pegasus Books
  • Carpenter, Ted Galen "The Fire Next Door: Mexico's Drug Violence and the Danger to America"2012 Cato Institute
  • Chesterton, GK "Saint Thomas Acquinas"2014 BookBaby
  • Filan, Kenaz "The Power of the Poppy: Harnessing Nature's Most Dangerous Plant Ally"2011 Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
  • Griffiths, William "Psilocybin: A Trip into the World of Magic Mushrooms"2021 William Griffiths
  • Hofmann, Albert "The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications"2005 Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
  • Irwin-Rogers, Keir "Illicit Drug Markets, Consumer Capitalism and the Rise of Social Media: A Toxic Trap for Young People"2019
  • James, William "The Varieties of Religious Experience"1902 Philosophical Library
  • Mariani, Angelo "Coca and its Therapeutic Application, Third Edition"1896 Gutenberg.org
  • Mortimer MD, W. Golden "Coca: Divine Plant of the Incas"2017 Ronin Publishing
  • Partridge, Chiristopher "Alistair Crowley on Drugs"2021 uploaded by Misael Hernandez
  • Rudgley, Richard "The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Substances"2014 Macmillan Publishers
  • Shulgin, Alexander "PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story"1991 Transform Press
  • Shulgin, Alexander "The Nature of Drugs Vol. 1: History, Pharmacology, and Social Impact"2021 Transform Press
  • Smith, Wolfgang "Cosmos and Transcendence: Breaking Through the Barrier of Scientistic Belief"0
  • Smith, Wolfgang "Physics: A Science in Quest of an Ontology"2022
  • St John, Graham "Mystery School in Hyperspace: A Cultural History of DMT"2021
  • Szasz, Thomas "Interview With Thomas Szasz: by Randall C. Wyatt"0
  • Wedel, Janine "Unaccountable: How the Establishment Corrupted Our Finances, Freedom and Politics and Created an Outsider Class"2014 Pegasus Books
  • Weil, Andrew "From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs"2004 Open Road Integrated Media
  • Site and its contents copyright 2023, by Brian B. Quass, the drug war philosopher at abolishthedea.com. For more information, contact Brian at quass@quass.com.