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Alexander Shulgin, the first person to synthesize MDMA, dies

The research chemist Alexander Shulgin, the first person to synthesize MDMA — otherwise known in club culture as ecstasy — has died. He was 88.

Brought up in California, Shulgin studied biochemistry and psychiatry after a spell in the US Navy. He first tried the psychoactive drug mescaline in 1960, and this set him on a path to testing and synthesizing potentially psychoactive drugs — setting up his own lab in the mid-60s.

In 1976 Shulgin was introduced to MDMA by a graduate student in San Francisco. He developed a new synthesis method and passed the finished results to his therapist friend Leo Zeff. Zeff began using it for sessions with clients, and soon word spread about the effects of MDMA — or XTC — on people’s emotional states.

As has been well documented, ecstasy then spread to club culture in New York, Chicago, Ibiza, and then the UK and across Europe. Shulgin was subsequently dubbed ‘the godfather of ecstasy’. It is widely thought that without ecstasy to help kick-start it, club culture wouldn’t have bloomed in the same way internationally as it has done today.