SAN FRANCISCO– Ann Shulgin, who along with her late husband Alexander Shulgin pioneered the use of psychedelic drugs in psychotherapy and co-authored two seminal books on the subject, has died aged 91.
Shulgin was in poor health due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, said her daughter, Wendy Tucker. She died Saturday at “the farm,” a sprawling San Francisco Bay residence she shared with her chemist husband until his death in 2014, surrounded by loved ones, Tucker said.
Shulgin had a deep understanding of Jungian psychoanalysis and collaborated with her husband, who in the 1970s rediscovered the compound MDMA, better known as ecstasy, and pitched it as a possible treatment for mental health. The couple tested the substances on themselves and a small group of friends.
“He was the scientist and I was the psychologist,” Shulgin said of their partnership in a 2014 interview with The Associated Press. “He was a genius.”
Born in New Zealand to an American diplomat and a New Zealand mother, Shulgin grew up in different parts of the world. The family moved to San Francisco after his father retired. A professionally trained artist, Shulgin drew and painted all her life and worked as a medical transcriptionist.
In 1978 she met Alexander Shulgin, who created over 200 chemical compounds for use in psychotherapy.
The couple’s home, where Alexander Shulgin also had his lab, in Lafayette, Calif., about 35 miles east of San Francisco, was for decades a gathering place for students, teachers and those working with psychedelics.
Although she wasn’t a professionally trained psychotherapist, “she was always the one people talked to and you always felt like you could open up to her. She called herself a lay therapist,” Tucker said.
The couple took extensive notes of their experiences and what they observed in others and co-wrote two books. PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story, published in 1991, and TiHKAL: The Continuation, published in 1997.
In PiHKAL, Shulgin wrote about her first experience with psychedelics when she was in her twenties.
“I saw something forming in the air, slightly above my head level. I thought it might be a few feet away from me, then realized I couldn’t locate it in space at all. It was a moving spiral opening, up there in the cool air, and I knew it was a doorway to the other side of existence, that I could cross it if I wanted to end this particular life that I was living, and that there was nothing threatening or menacing about it, in fact, it was completely friendly. I also knew that I had no I intended to go through it because there were still a lot of things I wanted to do in my life, and I intended to live long enough to do it all. The beautiful spiral door did not sign; it was just like that,” she wrote.
Publishers were scared to print their first book on MDMA, so the couple, who were against ecstasy use outside of therapy, self-published it because they wanted to share their experiences and insights. acquaintances with the world, Tucker said.
“They were the ones who pushed to do all the PTSD work with veterans with MDMA because they saw that people who had been through severe trauma could really pull through. They were so brave to publish their work because it really opened the door and paved the way for everything that is happening now,” Tucker said.
In the United States, several states have approved the study of the potential medical use of psychedelics, which are still illegal under federal law. A series of cities have also decriminalized so-called magic mushrooms, and an explosion of investment money is pouring into the arena.
Experts say the research shows promise for treating conditions ranging from PTSD to tobacco addiction, but warn that some serious risks remain, especially for people with certain mental health conditions.
“We lost years and years of research capacity because of the attitude and fears around psychedelics. But we wouldn’t be where we are without Ann and Sasha,” she added.
Shulgin is survived by four children, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. A memorial is planned for later in the year.