Be grateful for MDMA

Sasha Shulgin is a legendary chemist and psychonaut and inventor of hundreds of psychedelics. In 1991, he and his wife, Ann, published a book. Part-novel and part-cookbook, PiHKAL—Phenethylamines I Have Known And Loved—told his story and the stories of the compounds he and his friends had ingested, a process he ironically termed ‘LAB’, or Large Animal Bioassay.

It’s a gorgeous book, and a work that is still unmatched in its candour and novelty (and notoriety).

Flip to the back, and there are 179 entries on various substituted phenethylamines, each with intricate synthesis notes and experience reports detailing the effects each compound had on him and his close friends.

My favourite is #109.


As the material came on I felt that I was being enveloped, and my attention had to be directed to it. I became quite fearful, and my face felt cold and ashen. I felt that I wanted to go back, but I knew there was no turning back. Then the fear started to leave me, and I could try taking little baby steps, like taking first steps after being reborn. The woodpile is so beautiful, about all the joy and beauty that I can stand. I am afraid to turn around and face the mountains, for fear they will overpower me. But I did look, and I am astounded. …

I feel absolutely clean inside, and there is nothing but pure euphoria. I have never felt so great, or believed this to be possible. The cleanliness, clarity, and marvelous feeling of solid inner strength continued throughout the rest of the day, and evening, and through the next day. I am overcome by the profundity of the experience … All the next day I felt like ‘a citizen of the universe’ rather than a citizen of the planet…

Everyone must get to experience a profound state like this. I feel totally peaceful. I have lived all my life to get here, and I feel I have come home.

I am complete.

Shulgin saw that MDMA had huge potential. A gentle empathogen and entactogen (meaning literally “to touch within”), it allows deep but unthreatening introspection. He was certain it would be of use in therapy, and only now are its medicinal properties being scientifically evaluated. He also knew that if it became a street drug, its use in psychotherapy would be drastically limited. He was right.

The MDMA experience tells us something important about being human. It shows that states of transcendence and emotional bliss beyond our normal capacity are possible. It proves that our brains are capable of amazing things, and that the substrates of superhappiness exist within our current wetware, even if such states are not normally available to us.

Shulgin was struck when he realised that the psychedelic experiences he had were not contained within the few hundred milligrams of white powder at the bottom of the glass, but were contained within him. The drug was merely a catalyst for revealing what was already there.

We should be grateful that we are already so rich, and that there is so much inside for us to discover.