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Ann Shulgin: Psychedelic Advocate Examines Psychoactive Substances

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There is something about the MDMA that allows for the knowledge of what is going on inside yourself to come up, but at the same time, it gives you this feeling, not just that you are able to accept yourself, but this feeling that God and the universe truly do hold you in its hands with love. That you are a treasure. This knowledge, this certainty, that you are whole, with your dark, light, good, and bad. You are of infinite value. This is the greatest gift anyone could be given. In this case, MDMA is the greatest thing to happen to the world of psychotherapy

—Ann Shulgin

Who is Ann Shulgin?

Researching Ann Shulgin shows a great deal of information regarding the work of Alexander and Ann Shulgin, the husband-and-wife psychedelic dream team. The work they produced together is brilliant, and is further discussed in the following paragraphs. However, Ann also deserves a spotlight for her solo work. She possesses ancient wisdom, and is able to recognize the healing power of particular psychoactive drugs. Shulgin claims that her work with psychotherapy, MDMA, and integrating the shadow is the most rewarding, exciting, and intense work she has ever done in her life.

Personal Life 

Ann Shulgin is an American author, psychedelic pioneer, and fairly recent widow of chemist Alexander Shulgin. She was born Laura Ann Gotlieb on March 22, 1931, in Wellington, New Zealand to Bernard Gotlieb and Gwen Ormiston. Her brother, Ted, was born two years later. The children were raised in the tiny village of Opicina outside the Italian city of Trieste. Her father was U.S. Consul in Trieste for six years before World War II.

Before Italy joined with Nazi Germany, the U.S. State Department directed the Gotliebs to return to America. Shulgin’s mother was a fiercely passionate woman, just as her daughter is. While in America, she occasionally addressed women’s clubs, as the wife of a consular service official. Gwen attempted to present her perspective of the rise of Nazism and fascism, and the horror they were spreading throughout Europe. Shulgin claims that neither she nor her brother understood this at that time. They were very young, and their parents didn’t explain the world of politics and power to them. This was unfortunate, since they would have benefited greatly from discussions of this kind.

Shulgin grew up deeply enjoying art and drawing. Later in life, she studied commercial art in San Francisco. Shulgin’s first three marriages ended in divorce, but produced four beautiful children. However, she ultimately met her match in Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, a chemistry genius whose life’s work was the invention and exploration of psychedelic drugs. They married spontaneously in their friend’s backyard on July 4, 1978. The Shulgins had a loving and dedicated marriage for over thirty years until Sasha’s passing in 2014.


The Shulgins are well-known elders who dedicated their career to the field of psychoactive research. Sasha was best known for his work as a pharmacologist and chemist who rediscovered MDMA (Ecstasy). He also created many new psychoactive chemicals. 

Sasha Shulgin’s rediscovery of MDMA inspired his wife’s most prized work. She served as a lay therapist, facilitating the use of MDMA and 2CB in therapeutic settings while the substances were still legal. She used a Jungian orientation in her examination of psychedelic experiences, with a particular emphasis on the integration of the shadow and an overall perspective of spirituality and unification with the divine. 

Shulgin describes a lay therapist as one who hasn’t formally trained or received her diploma. She claims, therefore, that she was definitely an “amateur.” She served in this role for only three years before she and Sasha began to write. Year one consisted of learning to do MDMA with friends. In years two and three, she integrated her findings with a hypnotherapist and their patients. They worked together with seven patients, twice a week. These patients had progressed beyond their original problems and needed deeper spiritual growth work. 

Lay Therapy and Jung’s Concept of the Shadow

Her work in integrating the shadow began with these patients. Shulgin says that learning to do shadow work is very difficult and delicate, and that only an individual who has gone through the integration process themselves should facilitate this work. Society conditions us at a young age to suppress and hide our shadows and demons, instead of confronting and integrating them. Shulgin recognized the magic of MDMA while doing shadow work. MDMA allows users to enter into the space of their psyches and confront their shadow without the conditioned anxiety, fear, or self-hatred. 

Although Shulgin is no longer a practicing lay therapist, she gives many public talks on the topics of shadow integration and psychotherapy, or psychedelic therapy.

“You can divide people that explore their consciousness with visionary plants and psychedelic drugs into two groups, those who use the materials to have fun and relax, and those who take them as a part of their spiritual path to examine and understand themselves. Most people, to tell the truth, do both. No matter what motivates you to nibble mushrooms or drink ayahuasca tea, sooner or later you’re going to have an encounter with the dragon and demons in your soul”

—Ann Shulgin at Women’s Visionary Congress

Shulgin Rating

It’s not how much you take, it’s what you turn on to.

Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin

The Shulgins’ synthesis and publications of their experiments led to a huge breakthrough in the understanding of psychoactive drugs. They cofounded Transform Press in 1991, sharing their passion for the uncensored examination of psychoactive compounds. They coauthored and published many books. Among their most popular are PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story and TIHKAL: The Continuation. (TIHKAL stands for “Psychedelics I Have Known and Loved.” T” stands for tryptamines.) The Shulgin Scale is published in PIHKAL and can be found on pages 963–965.

What is the Shulgin Scale? In 1960, Sasha held his initial bioassays. At these, a small group of friends began to join in regular group testing sessions, meticulously recording their results. He developed the Shulgin Rating Scale to quantify the experiences and effects of the substances. The Shulgin Rating Scale has been proven effective in determining the psychotomimetic potency and qualitative nature of the action of a new drug. The scale consists of a plus-and-minus system. Using this procedure has been successful in the discovery of over 200 novel active agents in the central nervous system. 

Shulgin Rating Scale

Here is the basic scale as printed by the Shulgins in PIHKAL.

MINUS ONE (-) On the quantitative potency scale (-, ±, +, ++, +++), there were no effects observed.

PLUS/MINUS (±) The level of effectiveness of a drug that indicates a threshold action. If a higher dosage produces a greater response, then the plus/minus (±) was valid. If a higher dosage produces nothing, then this was a false positive.

PLUS ONE (+) The drug is quite certainly active. The chronology can be determined with some accuracy, but the nature of the drug’s effects are not yet apparent.

PLUS TWO (++) Both the chronology and the nature of the action of a drug are unmistakably apparent. But you still have some choice as to whether you will accept the adventure, or rather just continue with your ordinary day’s plans (if you are an experienced researcher, that is). The effects can be allowed a predominant role, or they may be repressible and made secondary to other chosen activities.

PLUS THREE (+++) Not only are the chronology and the nature of a drug’s action quite clear, but ignoring its action is no longer an option. The subject is totally engaged in the experience, for better or worse.

PLUS FOUR (++++) A rare and precious transcendental state, which has been called a “peak experience,” a “religious experience,” “divine transformation,” a “state of Samadhi” and many other names in other cultures. It is not connected to the +1, +2, and +3 of the measuring of a drug’s intensity. It is a state of bliss, a participation mystique, a connectedness with both the interior and exterior universes, which has come about after the ingestion of a psychedelic drug, but which is not necessarily repeatable with a subsequent ingestion of that same drug. If a drug (or technique or process) were ever to be discovered which would consistently produce a plus four experience in all human beings, it is conceivable that it would signal the ultimate evolution, and perhaps the end, of the human experiment.

Ann Shulgin in Culture


The Shulgins coauthored several books for Transform Press. PIHKAL and TIHKAL are their infamous cult classics. They serve as a fictionalized autobiography, with a collection of essays on topics ranging from psychotherapy and the Jungian mind, to the prevalence of DMT in nature, ayahuasca, and the War on Drugs. The second half of TIHKAL has left a trail of controversy ever since its publication. It is basically a synthesis manual for 55 psychedelic compounds, many discovered by Alexander Shulgin. It includes their chemical structures, dosage recommendations, and qualitative analyses. 

The Shulgins also contributed to the following books Thanatos to Eros: 35 Years of Psychedelic Exploration; Entheogens and the Future of Religion; Ecstasy: The Complete Guide; and Higher Wisdom: Eminent Elders Explore the Continuing Impact of Psychedelics

Short Guide to the Shulgins’ Oeuvre

Thanatos to Eros serves the general reader and would-be researchers by defining the guidelines for the proper and safe use of psychedelic drugs in therapy and in spiritual growth.

Entheogens and the Future of Religion
This book explores ancient and modern uses of psychedelic drugs, emphasizing the complementary relationship between science and mystical experience, and the importance of psychedelics to the future of religion and society. Revealing the mystical-religious possibilities of substances such as psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline, and LSD, this book exposes the vital need for developing an organized spiritual context for their use in order to fully realize their transformative and sacred value. Stressing the importance of academic and religious freedom, the authors call for a revival of scientific and religious inquiry into entheogens, and for their safe and legal use by those seeking to cultivate their spiritual awareness.

Ecstasy: The Complete Guide
This book examines the risks and benefits of Ecstasy and the drug behind it, methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). It offers a critical resource for anyone seeking information. 

Higher Wisdom: Eminent Elders Explore the Continuing Impact of Psychedelics
Psychedelics have been a part—often a central and sacred one—of most societies throughout history. For half a century, psychedelics have rumbled through the Western world, seeding a subculture, titillating the media, fascinating youth, terrifying parents, enraging politicians, and intriguing researchers. Not surprisingly, these curious chemicals fascinated some of the foremost thinkers of the twentieth century, fourteen of whom gave interviews for this book. Because no further human research can be done legally, these researchers constitute an irreplaceable resource. This book offers fascinating anecdotes, invaluable knowledge, and hard-won wisdom—the culmination of fifty years of research and reflection on one of the most intriguing and challenging topics of our time.


This wonderful Indie documentary explores the life of the Shulgins, from neuroscience facilities to Burning Man.

Ann Shulgin Quotes

Let me remind you that if you have a desire to grow spiritually, however, you define that. If you want to achieve some level of personal clarity, whatever that means to you. And what you kids call individuation—you can’t even begin that journey without dealing with your shadow.

The rule, love yourself, means love, acknowledge, and say yes, you are what you are, and I don’t deny you. To all the occupants of all the rooms in the house of yourself. 

You can use psychedelics, hypnotherapy, or dream work
or all of them together
or none of them
But I don’t personally see how you can avoid looking at your dreams sooner or later
because they are the most direct uncensored communication with all parts of your unconscious including the shadow and also your God-self, your angels
After all, you are composed of light as well as dark and
your unconscious contains everything that isn’t conscious
Love and bliss along with demons and monsters


To support the Shulgins’ work and legacy, visit the links below.

On Reality Sandwich

Excerpt: Challenging Trips and Introduction to the Shadow

RS Contributing Author: Niki Perlberg

Niki is a social and arts entrepreneur who specializes in project and creative production development. With her passion for social structures and the arts, she has been involved in the architecture of performance and festival culture around the country. In rapidly changing times she is now taking her passion for these sub-cultures and sharing them with us in our digital atmosphere through her writing and content development. Some of her favorite parts of life are coffee, campfires, and contemplating the mysteries of existence. Feel free to follow her on Insta @itsnikiperl

Featured Image from Shulgin Research Center

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