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Alexander and Ann Shulgin

 Look at yourself in the mirror, it’s a good catharsis. It’s me and the drug. It’s a relationship which is available to everyone. Everybody has the possibility of going into some sort of ecstatic experience, at any time, without drugs, perhaps even at the grocery store. Now there’s a thought!(laughter)

Ann: If this were a property of the drug, it would be the equivalent of the atom bomb! It’s very useful for us that Sasha’s metabolism is just about as different from mine as it could possibly be. I had a crisis week which was brought about by 40 mg of something which turned out later to be absolutely inactive. That’s the placebo effect which can happen on any drug. But he’s often taken a drug which he seems to have a perfectly okay time on at an active level and I’ll take it and have a terrible time!

Rebecca: But haven’t you found that these drugs do have a certain character to them – a tendency to bring out a particular aspect of the psyche?

Ann: The drug has a physical effect if nothing else, and how my own individual chemistry and metabolism uses that drug might be quite different than the way somebody else does it.

David: Do you think that the states of consciousness you produce with your molecules could be produced by the endogenous neurotransmitters in the brain, or are you producing states of consciousness that are unique and have never been and could never have been produced before without the drug?

Alexander: I think they are deeply embedded in the human animal.

Ann: (to David) I have a compulsion. It’s a mother thing. Could you put your left foot up please? (She ties his shoelace)

Alexander: I was asked almost the same question a few years ago, so I made up a chart about telephones. The finger dial system phone can be seen as an analog of the brain. All you’re doing, if you dial the number one and release it, is making one very fast break in the integrity of the system. If you dial the six and release it, it makes six breaks in the system. Then the relay gets broken three times when you dial three, two times when you dial two and then five times, and you have the number – 6325. You see, you make the circuit by the number of times you break the relay. In fact, if you are very fast with your two fingers you can dial 911 by hitting the cradle which gives you the dial tone 9 times very fast and then once and then once again.

Then you have the push button system. Every time you hit a button you’re actually activating two frequencies simultaneously. They devised frequencies so that there’s no harmonic interference which could give you a false signal. You’re not imposing breaks in the system, you’re super-imposing two non-conflicting frequencies in the system.

I look upon this as the true analog of the human brain. The numbers represent serotonin, dopamine etc. If you want a signal to come through, you get this neurotransmitter combination which combines with this and that and the next thing you know you have a thought process and memory.

But when they designed the system, they didn’t make it three by four, they made it four by four. These extra four stops have the rather unimaginative names of A,B,C and D and to operate them there is a very secret frequency of 1633 cycles per second. So if you play around with these, you get into areas you wouldn’t believe! The military and deep computer language use these four additional stops. But they’re not visible on your telephone.

And of course, these stops represent your psychedelic drug neurotransmitter which also gets you into weird places. All the wiring is there but you don’t have access to it because 2 million years ago it got bred out of us because it didn’t have survival value, in spite of what Terence McKenna says. So the wiring of the brain can use a psychedelic but the transmitter that makes it a functional network is not available.

David: How did you first start designing drugs, and from where do the two of you draw this courage to take unknown substances into your body?

Alexander: It doesn’t take that much courage. You’re not foolish. You don’t take a whole teaspoonful to see if you burp.(laughter) You start out with a reasonable estimate of what you think might be an effective level and you divide that by whatever number your wisdom and judgment tells you.

David: Nonetheless, you’re still venturing off into the unknown.

Alexander: Admittedly the first time is an unknown, but you start with a level where it would be hard to believe it would have an effect. Almost never are you surprised, and when you are surprised you learn from it.

Ann: What takes real courage is being on the street or at a Rave and somebody gives you a little packet of something and it doesn’t say what it is or how much it is.

David: Well some people would call that stupidity rather than courage.

Alexander: People call what I do stupid too.(laughter) But Iknow what I have and I know its purity and I know I can take it a second time.

Rebecca: You also have a number system which helps you to measure your reaction to a drug. It certainly beats having to come up with a barrel load of adjectives to describe what’s happening.

Ann: Yes, and it’s helpful to the research group also. Everybody knows when it’s not just a plus 2. Perhaps it’s a plus 2.65.(laughter)

Alexander: It does have the value of being able to be applied not only to psychedelic drugs but to anything from stimulants to sedatives. At the first level you are aware of something going on but you’re not aware of how long it goes on. At the next level you’re aware how long it goes on but you can’t give a name to what’s happening. At the third level, whether or not you know how long it goes on or can give a name to what’s happening, you don’t choose to go out and do anything else because you’re not totally in command of your physical and mental capacities. Each of these levels are different degrees of acceptance of the drug’s action.

Rebecca: What therapeutic value have you found for the drug MDMA and why was it made illegal?

Ann: I worked for two years as a co-therapist with a highly trained hypnotherapist before MDMA was made illegal but psychotherapy with any kind of psychoactive drug was still not generally accepted in the medical community. The many therapists who were using it did not publish because it was not widely known and accepted by their peers.

One of the reasons that MDMA was made Schedule I so quickly was that the DEA found it in a lab which was making something else illegal and decided to sweep it in with the rest of the stuff. They knew nothing about it.

Alexander: One of the rationalizations for it having been made scheduled was that a group in Chicago were studying the effects of MDA and had found some serotonin neuron changes in experimental animals. A member of this group was on Donahue and spoke about this. Immediately they said, “Well if that happens to MDA, MDMA has almost the same name, it’s almost the same compound, maybe it would also be a negative.” In the report that came out it was stated that there are a lot of similarities between the two drugs and that was one of the rationales for immediate emergency scheduling.

David: But there actually is some evidence that MDMA causes degeneration of the dendrites.

Alexander: Yes. It’s temporary. The consequence of that is not understood. It’s also species-specific: monkeys do, rats do, dogs don’t, mice don’t and the effects in humans are unknown.

David: So it’s questionable as to how accurate the spinal tap studies were which showed that there was less serotonin.

Alexander: The results are ambiguous. There were two basic studies. One of them found no measurable changes. All of these were people who were alleged to have used the drug recently, but they did not make the very necessary check to see if the drug was in the person. If it’s not in the person you may be looking at long-term residues of something which may not be MDMA. The other study showed no significant difference but it was suggestive’. (laughter)

Rebecca: Describe to us some of the applications of MDMA.

Ann: The most valuable effect of MDMA is that it enables insight. The patient or the client may regard the possibility of having insight into himself as a very threatening thing. One of the problems that most human beings suffer from is the suspicion that the core essence of who they are deep down is a monster. There is this terrible fear that when you get down to it the essential you is going to be discovered to be a rotten little slime-bag.

MDMA, in some way we don’t yet understand, removes that fear. It allows you not only to take a really deep look at who you are but to show you tha tyou’re a combination of angels and demons and that they’re all valid. Apartfrom the removal of the fear, there is also a kind of good-humored

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