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.

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Media coverage has misrepresented 2C-T-7 as a quasi-legal toxic trend that is sweeping the nation. But 2C-T-7 has never really shown signs of becoming a sweeping drug phenomenon. For starters, it's not particularly easy to make. Its use also seems to have been geographically scattered; it never appeared with any great prevalence in the Bay Area. Members of an Oakland-based group called SHARE Project, a group that does health education work at raves, report that they've scarcely seen it. "It's not a big concern here," says media liaison Le Liu. By the beginning of 2001, even many of Holland's smart shops voluntarily agreed to stop selling Blue Mystic, the same year that at least two online suppliers stopped selling the chemical.

In fact, 2C-T-7 may well have been on the downswing of its popularity last January when Rolling Stone published the article on Robbins, touting it on the cover as "The New (Legal) Killer Drug." It was an unfortunate headline choice -- especially for a publication that very likely gave 2C-T-7 its first mass-media exposure -- since the drug is certainly not, as the magazine claims, "perfectly legal."

Some observers worry whether the recent media attention paid to 2C-T-7 will produce an upsurge of morbid interest from the sort of users who can read about a gory death and still want to sample the powder that caused it. "It just goes along with the attraction of it being illegal and dangerous," Liu says. Several Web sites even have featured debates over whether 2C-T-7 itself cost the young men their lives, or whether their deaths were caused by taking too much of too many drugs too fast.

In any case, it is an ironic and flamboyant fate for a chemical whose inventor's own approach to drug exploration is so profoundly different from that of the rave culture that is making his creation famous.

The media has occasionally portrayed Sasha Shulgin as a drug-guzzling mad scientist, but it is hard to see him as a nefarious figure, although he certainly has an iconoclastic bent and mischievous wit. Now in his seventies, Shulgin is bearded, bespectacled, and sandal-clad. Both Shulgins sport leonine masses of hair, although Sasha's is more to the silver and Ann's more to the gold. A rather charming passage in PIHKAL has Shulgin theorizing that he unconsciously willed his hair completely white by age thirty in order to enhance his appearance as a "harmless old professor" which, as he put it, "can be useful at times when you do the kind of work I do." Ann, reclining in an easy chair with a cigarette in hand, is the handbrake to his runaway train, gently rebuking her husband when he embarks upon conversational detours liable to confuse visitors without a PhD in chemistry.

And there are many visitors. Their hillside Lafayette home, fondly referred to as the Farm, is something of a tourist destination for pharmacophiles. Although the Farm displays little differentiation between lab and living space, the most popular exhibit is a tiny backyard lab where the inventor keeps the classical music cranked up to eleven. The lab is filled with glassware, and a discarded nuclear-magnetic-resonance console lies in the backyard grass like the carcass of some sci-fi dinosaur. Guests are advised to protect their watches from the powerful magnets in one lab, and not to breathe too deeply when trooping through the storage shed, which houses thousands of brown glass bottles of powders and liquids, the combined odor of which lies somewhere between fruit punch and vulcanized rubber with several less pleasant stops in between. The Shulgins keep a strip of yellow police line tape pinned up on the dining-room wall, perhaps as a souvenir of the unwanted attention Sasha's work has received.

Berkeley native Sasha Shulgin's fascination with the relationship between mind and chemical matter began, oddly enough, in the Navy during World War II. A severe infection on his left thumb required surgery. Before he went under the knife, he was handed a glass of orange juice, at the bottom of which he noticed some undissolved white crystals. Convinced it was a sedative, Shulgin drank the juice but resolved to stay alert. He promptly blacked out. Upon waking, he was surprised to discover that the knockout drug had been nothing more than sugar; his mind had tricked itself over the simplest of placebos. Shulgin resolved right then to devote his career to the relationship between drugs and the human mind.

After leaving the Navy, he returned to UC Berkeley to study biochemistry. Reading the works of Aldous Huxley and Henri Michaux, he became intrigued with mescaline, which he tasted for the first time in 1960. "It was a day that will remain blazingly vivid in my memory, and one which unquestionably confirmed the entire direction of my life," he wrote in PIHKAL. "The world amazed me, in that I saw it as I had when I was a child. I had forgotten the beauty and the magic and the knowingness of it and me. ... The most compelling insight of that day was that this awesome recall had been brought about by a fraction of a gram of a white solid."

After receiving his doctorate from Cal, Shulgin worked for a decade as a senior research chemist at Dow Chemical, where he was given a good deal of research freedom after inventing a profitable insecticide. It was during this period that Shulgin began a lifelong policy of taste-testing all his work. He began by testing a mescaline analogue called TMA, expecting a repeat of his previous experience. Instead, he was unpleasantly surprised to discover that the TMA produced only feelings of rage. He describes one trip during which he found himself in Tilden Park angrily hurling rocks and sticks. It was a pivotal moment in his development as a researcher; a chemical structurally similar to mescaline had produced the opposite effect. His subsequent work would focus on this very phenomenon, rearranging the atoms of known active substances to produce isomers that might yield different effects.

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