What were Alexander Shulgin's contributions to neuroscience?

Answer: Alexander Shulgin was one of the early pharmacologists who synthesized and described a wide variety of psychedelic substances. 

alexander shulgin psychedelic neuroscience

Shulgin was an American biochemist who was particularly interested in understanding how chemicals influence the brain and our perception of the world. He worked with various laboratories such as Dow Chemical in the 1960s to develop novel psychedelic substances.

He has become most famous for his development of designer compounds based on the chemical structure of phenethylamine. Phenethylamine is a monoamine that shares many chemical similarities to the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. Phenethylamine is also chemically related to the psychoactive compound mescaline, which is the active psychedelic substance found in the peyote cactus. He synthesized the stimulant compound 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, better known as MDMA or "ecstacy", which has therapeutic properties that is frequently used as a street drug.

He took extensive notes based on his self experimentation with a variety of phenethylamine derived drugs, including the DOx family and the 2C families. Many of these drugs were stimulants with psychedelic actions. He compiled his subjective experience notes into a book called PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story, Phenethylamines I have known and loved. 

He also worked to develop the Shulgin Rating Scale, which is a human self-report measure used to describe the experiences that a psychedelic substance has on the person. A Shulgin Scale report must include three components:

  1. Chemical name of the substance consumed. Since chemical names are unambiguous while street names are unclear and may change over time, there is replicability between subjects.

  2. Dosage consumed and route of administration. Many psychedelic substances may be active at low doses, such as LSD. Dosage and the way the person takes the drug influence whether a person has a positive or negative experience, so both should be recorded.

  3. Detailed description of subjective drug effects. Since psychedelic experiences are almost impossible to quantify objectively, the Shulgin Rating Scale is based on a system of pluses and minuses, with four pluses being reserved for substances with the strongest effect on the person.

  • A minus is given to substances and doses that cause no noticeable effect on the person.

  • A single plus denotes that the substance has an effect.

  • Two pluses indicates that the effect of the substance could possibly be pushed aside or suppressed. 

  • Substances that are given three pluses are those where the experience cannot be suppressed. A person would be completely unable to ignore the effects of the substance.

  • Four pluses are given to substances that induce a complete “religious experience” or a “divine transformation.” 

The Shulgin Rating Scale was described in PIHKAL.