January 30, 2005

A naturalist of the mind

Drake Bennett has a feature article about Alexander Shlugin in the New York Times (registration required), the creator of nearly 200 psychedelic compounds, including stimulants, depressants, aphrodisiacs, ''empathogens,'' convulsants, drugs that alter hearing, drugs that slow one's sense of time, drugs that speed it up, drugs that trigger violent outbursts, and drugs that deaden emotion. "In short, writes Bennett, "a veritable lexicon of tactile and emotional experience.

And of course, in 1976, Shulgin re-formulated an obscure chemical called MDMA out of the depths of the chemical literature: Ecstasy.

About the nature of psychedelics and its relation to consciousness, Shulgin says,
I understood that our entire universe is contained in the mind and the spirit. We may choose not to find access to it, we may even deny its existence, but it is indeed there inside us, and there are chemicals that can catalyze its availability.
In the article, Bennett chronicles Shulgin's rise to celebrity and how a sub-culture has emerged that follows and supports his work. He notes that the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics has an online Ask Dr. Shulgin column that receives 200 questions a month. And then there's the independent drug-information Web sites, such as The Vaults of Erowid.

When asked if he could imagine a drug so addictive that it should be banned, Shulgin said no. "With his fervent libertarianism -- he says the only appropriate restriction on drugs is one to prevent children from buying them -- he has inoculated himself against any sense of personal guilt," writes Bennett.

Looking to the future of research into psychadelics, Bennett writes,
There's a story he likes to tell about the past 100 years: ''At the beginning of the 20th century, there were only two psychedelic compounds known to Western science: cannabis and mescaline. A little over 50 years later -- with LSD, psilocybin, psilocin, TMA, several compounds based on DMT and various other isomers -- the number was up to almost 20. By 2000, there were well over 200. So you see, the growth is exponential.'' When I asked him whether that meant that by 2050 we'll be up to 2,000, he smiled and said, ''The way it's building up now, we may have well over that number.''

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