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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In either case, the effect on Shulgin's research was obvious -- the group drug-tasting experiments had to stop. By this time, many of the scientific journals that once had welcomed Shulgin's work were turning away his papers, citing legal worries. Seeking another outlet, the Shulgins published PIHKAL and TIHKAL.

Even though PIHKAL begins with a warning that to synthesize any of its recipes for human consumption is to "risk legal action which might lead to the tragic ruination of a life," and even though more than half of the recipes were previously published in scientific journals, the authors could have faced legal action. They published anyway. Asked why, Shulgin tells the story of Wilhelm Reich, inventor of a "cloudbuster" that he claimed could make it rain, and the orgone box, a device he said could treat cancer. After the FDA charged Reich with fraud for selling an unlicensed medical device, he died in prison in 1957. The court ordered that all of his research be burned, and his life's work was lost. "I can see having maybe two or three people in the higher echelons of the government who may not like what I do, and I did not want particularly to have all of this be seizable and burnable," Shulgin says. "So I published it. Now you cannot get rid of it."

The Shulgins take a long view towards the role of psychedelics in human history. People have used psychoactive substances for thousands of years, they note, and it's unlikely that anyone will stop soon. "People all over the world are trying to fiddle around with chemical compounds and if you close one down, ten more spring up, because it's a fascinating pursuit," says Ann. "Publishing the recipes is an effort to minimize the harm that could come from somebody following the wrong instructions, or maybe no instructions at all, and ending up with a compound that kills him or poisons all his friends." Plus, she adds, the recipes in the books are written in scientific language targeted at experienced chemists. "The complaint that they could easily be made in anyone's bathtub is total nonsense," she says. "No way."

But after PIHKAL's publication, Shulgin's relationship with the DEA changed -- although the agency never took any official action against the book itself. In 1994, the DEA raided the Shulgins' lab. In a chapter of TIHKAL simply called "Invasion," Ann's alter ego describes the raid. She remembers DEA agents and state narcotics officers -- some wearing helmeted biohazard suits -- pulling up in a fleet of vehicles, including a firetruck and a decontamination truck. She also remembers the DEA agents shyly asking the chemist to autograph their copies of PIHKAL.

Ultimately, Shulgin was written up for a series of chemical storage violations that somehow never caught the attention of previous inspectors. At the DEA's urging, he surrendered his Schedule I drug handling license, paid a $25,000 fine, and made some changes to his laboratory to comply with environmental regulations. Shulgin says the loss of his license doesn't affect his inventing at all -- after all, he doesn't need Schedule I drugs for his own research and is not interested in producing analogues of them. "If a chemical turns out to have an action of a Schedule I drug, I'll just publish the damn thing and go on to something else," he says.

But the investigation had a powerful psychological effect. "Never again will Shura work with a sense of absolute freedom," Ann wrote in TIHKAL. "He's had a taste of that particular form of power-flexing peculiar to people who are employed by government agencies. The authorities intended to frighten him and perhaps they even hoped to silence him, but that is not and will not be possible. ... The magical laboratory still stands."

Law enforcement's get-tough reaction to what is clearly a significant American curiosity about psychedelic drugs unwittingly encourages people to sample research chemicals and other exotic compounds, drug-policy-reform advocates argue. "Drug laws are driving people to try drugs they ordinarily wouldn't because they can't get the tried and true, like mushrooms or LSD," writes one freelance drug researcher and Erowid contributor who goes by the screen-name "Murple."

Both sides of this debate agree, however, that once a research drug hits the street, it can mean trouble. Research drugs' lack of prior testing and the legal misunderstandings surrounding them combine to create the worst of all possible scenarios -- a period of heightened interest in an untested substance during which dealers are quick to cash in on a new trend, emergency room technicians are unlikely to recognize the drug in the event of an overdose, and information about safe usage is scarce and anecdotal at best. Little is known about research drugs' side effects, interactions with other drugs, and safe dosages because FDA clinical trials are not conducted on substances that hold no promise of patents and profits for university or pharmaceutical company researchers. So people commonly resort to what Julie Ruckel of the Drug Policy Alliance calls "dancefloor pharmacology," an informal network in which information passes from friend to friend. "It's all word-of-mouth," she says. "Someone took twenty milligrams and it was fine, so they'll tell the next person."

Just about everyone involved in the 2C-T-7 debate agrees this is a dangerous practice. "A small difference in the dose can make a huge difference in the experience," says Liu of the SHARE Project. Other factors, including a person's weight, how much fluid is in their system, and what medications they are taking also can determine how a trip turns out. For its part, the DEA cautions that taking any non-FDA approved drug is a risky prospect. "You don't oftentimes know what the safety risks are, you don't know what the dose would be, what the administration should be," the DEA official says.

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