“A solution of 6.55 g of 3.4-methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA) as the free base and 2.8 mL formic acid in 150 mL benzene was held at reflux under a Dean Stark trap until no further H2O was generated.
So read the opening lines of a recipe, in a volume globally condemned by police as the cookbook of the illegal pharmaceutical industry — the chemical stew in question a drug better known as ecstasy.
The woman who co-authored the book could be easily called the matriarch of ecstasy for her role in popularizing the so-called rave drug, except Ann Shulgin really hates that word.
“Ecstasy is a meaningless term — ecstasy can mean anything at all, and on the street it could be anything, whether it’s rat poison or severely dangerous things like that,” said Shulgin, from her home in California.
Ann is the wife of Alexander Shulgin, a wild-haired pharmacologist loathed by law enforcement for using his genius to create and distribute hundreds of designer drugs — including the recipe for MDMA.
The 86-year-old “Godfather of Ecstasy,” as Alexander is known, is recovering from a stroke — Shulgin says he’s also showing signs of early dementia — but the two seniors have long defended responsible drug use.
It’s why 80-year-old Shulgin offers a concerned “Oh, dear,” when told about the spate of ecstasy-linked overdose deaths in Canada, but no words of regret — and certainly none of guilt.
“My husband is not responsible for the deliberate or accidental use of these materials, and the governments which illegalize them are setting themselves up for the problem,” said Shulgin.
“If there’s illegality there’s no quality control — people don’t know what they’re getting.”
Police in Alberta and B.C. certainly believe those taking paramethoxyamphetamine, also called PMMA or PMA, aren’t doing so on purpose — so dangerous is the drug with the street name “death.”
A Red Deer man who died last month is the latest corpse linked to PMMA, a potentially deadly designer drug almost impossible to tell apart from Shulgin’s MDMA.
It’s certainly being sold as ecstasy, but PMMA is easy to overdose from, and it has a nasty habit of cooking unfortunate victims from the inside, leading to an agonizing death from hyperthermia.
With the warnings about bad ecstasy apparently failing to register with some drug users, police have taken drastic measures to get the message out and the drug removed from circulation.
On Monday, one of the Calgary’s top police officers described ecstasy as a gamble with death: “If you take ecstasy, you are playing Russian Roulette with your life,” said Supt. Kevan Stuart.
And Tuesday, it was reported Calgary police are considering an amnesty for dealers willing to turn in ecstasy in a bid to get the bad batch out of circulation.
Back in California, Shulgin and her husband know many police officers blame them for making drugs like MDMA popular, through the two books they co-authored, TiHKAL and PiHKAL.
“It is our opinion that those books are pretty much cookbooks on how to make illegal drugs,” is a quote attributed to San Francisco Drug Enforcement Agency officer Richard Meyer.
It’s clear why: as well as detailed instructions on making MDMA, the books contain recipes for dozens of chemical cocktails with the central purpose of getting humans stoned.
Shulgin says the recipes are not there are as a “how to” for illicit drug labs, but to provide education.
“My husband’s point in doing that, is he believed — as do I — in complete freedom of information,” said Shulgin, who is on record as having taken 2,000 chemical drug trips.
“This is chemistry and it’s knowledge and there’s misuse of chemistry and knowledge, just as there is everything else in the world.”
That’s not to say Alexander Shulgin is an advocate of all drugs, and he even wrote a public warning once about the dangers of PMMA/PMA.
“At slightly higher levels, the clear effects of heart stimulation and blood pressure rise,” he wrote in an advice column on chemical drugs.
“Not nice. There have been reports of deaths associated with the use of PMA. I would suggest staying away from this compound.”
Stay clear of tainted ecstasy — on that one point, the Godfather of Ecstasy and police agree.
CALGARY SUN TUESDAY, JANUARY 31
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