2C-T-7's Bad Trip 

Sasha Shulgin invented 2C-T-7. Then he published the recipe. It was only a matter of time before his drug turned up on the tongues of non-scientists.

In the beginning, Alexander Shulgin created 2C-T-7, and it was good. Shulgin has dedicated his life to the idea that psychedelics can be used to explore the potential of the human mind, and of all the many drugs he has sampled, 2C-T-7 was one of his personal favorites. "If all the phenethylamines were to be ranked as to their acceptability and intrinsic richness, 2C-T-7 would be right up there near the top," he wrote of his 1986 invention. It was a glowing statement from the man believed to have consumed a wider variety of drugs than anyone else on the planet.

In his fifty-plus years as a chemist, the genial, wild-haired Shulgin, who is better known to his friends and admirers as "Sasha," has become a renegade scientific folk hero responsible for bringing more than two hundred new drugs into the world. Timothy Leary once called Shulgin and his wife Ann "the two most important scientists of the twentieth century." Throughout Shulgin's career, which has included stints as a UC Berkeley instructor and expert witness at Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) trials, Shulgin's work has been marked by his special love for psychedelics. Nowadays he often refers to them by the terms "phenethylamines" or "tryptamines," concerned as he is by the connotations of hippie excess attached to the word "psychedelic."

Shulgin does not design drugs for the commercial market. His inventions exist primarily on paper and in controlled laboratory quantities. Also known as "research drugs," they have never undergone widespread testing and often have been sampled only by Shulgin and Ann, his partner in chemical exploration. While it is legal for Shulgin to invent them in the lab, it's not legal for any of his inventions to be manufactured, sold, or consumed as so-called "analogues" designed to mimic the effects of illegal narcotics. But despite the stringency of the laws that govern such drugs, 2C-T-7 was not destined to stay confined to the Shulgins' Lafayette lab forever.

In 1991, the couple published the first in a series of 800-page books that included directions for synthesizing a total of more than 200 chemical compounds, including 2C-T-7. PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story (the acronym stands for Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved) was a unique book by any standard, weaving together lab procedure, highly personalized accounts of each compound's creation, and Sasha and Ann's own love story, as told in the alternating voices of two not-quite-fictional characters named Shura and Alice Borodin. It was followed in 1997 by TIHKAL: The Continuation (the "T" is for Tryptamines). Alternately hailed as invaluable contributions to the scientific world or derided as cookbooks for amateur pharmacologists searching for a novel high, the massive tomes found a ready audience among establishment and underground chemists. PIHKAL, now in its fifth printing, has sold about 35,000 copies, TIHKAL about 12,000. Recipes and commentary from both books are posted all over the Internet.

It was only a matter of time until the compounds Shulgin described in his books began turning up on the tongues of people not tasting them in the name of science. The path by which 2C-T-7 went from research to recreational drug is not terribly difficult to divine. In 1999 it made its first commercial appearance in Holland's drug-dealing smart shops in both tablet and powder form. It was given the street name "Blue Mystic," perhaps in order to differentiate it from its chemical cousin, another Shulgin creation named 2C-T-2. By 2000, 2C-T-7 had acquired limited popularity in the United States, along with the street names "beautiful," "7-Up," and "tripstasy."

The drug acquired a reputation for its mescaline-like properties, which were said to produce an intense yet clearheaded trip with flowing visual effects. But the "trip reports" posted on drug-related Web sites such as The Vaults of Erowid (www.erowid.org) and The Lycaeum (www.lycaeum.org) also told a more complicated story. While many users praised the drug's powerful visual effects and the strong feelings of well-being it produced, others urged caution, complaining that 2C-T-7 was extremely painful to inhale when taken nasally, and that it could cause a host of unpleasant side effects including nausea, vomiting, muscle tension, body tremors, panic attacks, and violent episodes. Because individual responses varied so widely, users suggested the drug was highly dose-sensitive and that a bad trip could be triggered by mismeasurement, a too-generous dose, or 2C-T-7's interaction with other drugs. Titles of these Web site trip reports show the complete range of experience: from "Extremely Euphoric" and "Shiny Things Are Fun" to "Aliens Reprogrammed My Brain" and "2C-T-7 and MDMA, A Dangerous Combo."

By October 2000, wary drug users had another reason to pass on 2C-T-7: a twenty-year-old casualty from Norman, Oklahoma named Jake Duroy. According to an announcement posted on Erowid, Duroy died after taking thirty-five milligrams of the drug. Duroy snorted the drug, which multiplies its effect well beyond that of the ten- to thirty-milligram oral dose that Shulgin had suggested in PIHKAL would be sufficient for most people. Duroy's death was both frightening and violent; about an hour after taking the drug, he became extremely agitated, and began yelling about evil spirits. A half-hour later he was convulsing, vomiting, and bleeding heavily from his nose; the coroner later found a large edema in his lung.

Two more deaths were soon linked to 2C-T-7. In April 2001, the staff at Erowid posted the news that an acquaintance of theirs, a 24-year-old Web designer from Seattle, died after swallowing an unknown quantity of 2C-T-7 in conjunction with 200 milligrams of Ecstasy. Although his name wasn't released to the media, the report seems reliable because of his personal connection to the Erowid staff.

In the same month, Joshua Robbins, a seventeen-year-old from Cordova, Tennessee died after snorting between thirty and thirty-five milligrams of 2C-T-7, not long after taking several other stimulant drugs. According to Rolling Stone, which ran an article on Robbins' death, in the twelve hours before he died Robbins also had consumed Ecstasy, nitrous oxide, and a "mini-thin" containing ephedrine and guaifenisen. His final hours were agonizing: Robbins' friends recall that he vomited heavily, became panicky and violent, and spent the last few moments of his life yelling, "This is stupid! I don't want to die!"

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