Ann Shulgin was a sensational figure in the realm of psychotherapy and psychedelics and played a pivotal role in expanding our understanding and exploration of psychedelic drugs. Even a year after her passing, her influence and scientific contributions live on and will forever influence our understanding of the mind and its potential for healing and growth.
Laura Ann Gotlieb was born in New Zealand on March 22, 1931. As a young child, she grew up in a village outside of Trieste, Italy, but since her father was a U.S. Consul, Ann, and her family moved around, living in various places across the U.S., Cuba, and Canada. Eventually, her family decided to settle down in San Francisco, California, after Ann graduated high school.
Ann’s love of art inspired her to attend an art academy in San Francisco and study commercial art. She connected with a fellow artist, who later became her husband, and they moved to Los Angeles. However, when Ann became pregnant with her first child, she moved back to the Bay Area. Soon after the birth of her son, her marriage came to an end. To navigate being a newly-single mother, Ann began living in a housing project with her son and started working as a medical transcriber at a San Francisco hospital.
Soon, her former husband entered into a new marriage. He urged Ann to let him and his new wife raise their son instead of her. Believing it would be in her son’s best interest, she agreed and gave up her son to give him a better life.
Following this, Ann sought a fresh start and moved into a new apartment below the University of California Hospital. She remarried twice, first a rekindling romance with her high school sweetheart and later with a Jungian psychiatrist, having three more children.
After her last marriage ended, she returned to her work as a medical transcriber while continuing to be a devoted mother to her children.
Ann and her late husband, Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, met in the late 1970s. Ann, with her background in science, art, and Jungian theory, found a companion and confidant in Alexander, a biochemist and a known figure in the world of psychedelic research. They married shortly after in a small backyard ceremony on July 4, 1981, and were officiated by a close friend who worked with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The pair bonded over their common interests, sharing passions that helped form the foundation of their relationship. Their relationship went beyond personal romance; it was a shared mission to change the landscape of psychedelic research and therapy. Together, they discovered, experimented with, and documented the effects of various psychoactive compounds in their home laboratory they referred to as “the farm” in Lafayette, California.
Both Ann and Alexander recognized the potential of psychedelics and their ability to unlock the hidden layers of the human psyche. Over the following years, Ann supported her husband by trying out small doses of the new drugs he’d create. Ann claimed to have gone through around two thousand psychedelic episodes throughout her life. They both believed that in order to fully understand a drug’s effects, they needed to try them themselves. If Ann tried out a drug that appeared to have a psychedelic effect, they would assemble a group of trusted acquaintances to try it at a higher dosage. The couple’s hands-on approach to their research helped further their contributions and understanding of psychedelics and their therapeutic potential. Of the many psychoactive substances the pair developed together, their most notable were MDMA and 2C-B.
Ann was a self-proclaimed “lay therapist” and helped her patients discover insights during their psychedelic journeys. Using her background in Jungian psychoanalysis, she counseled and mentored many clients with psychedelic-assisted therapy. Ann specialized in shadow work and encouraged her clients to recognize their shadow — the parts of them that they have repressed due to societal pressures or personal upbringing. With the use of psychedelic substances like MDMA, Ann helped patients uncritically recognize their shadow and approach it with empathy and love instead of shame and hatred. Ann’s promotion of intentional and therapeutic psychedelic use remains relevant to our current methods of psychedelic-assisted therapy practices.
Ann and Alexander Shulgin produced some of the most comprehensive written insights into psychedelic compounds. They created two notable books blending both partial fiction autobiographical narratives of their personal encounters with psychedelics, along with practical instructions on the effects, synthesis, and dosage of various psychedelic substances. Their first book, “PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story,” outlines 179 different psychedelic compounds from the Phenethylamine drug family. The acronym PIHKAL stands for “Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved.” Their second book, “TIHKAL: The Continuation,” stands for “Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved” and focuses on several different tryptamine compounds like DMT and psilocybin.
Although Ann and Alexander initially had a good relationship with the DEA, it quickly turned sour after releasing the two books. Only two years after publishing PIHKAL, the DEA raided the Shulgins’ home, shut down their lab, and fined Alexander $25,000. Despite initially supporting Ann and Alexander’s work, the DEA saw the books as a step too far and described them as “pretty much cookbooks on how to make illegal drugs.”
Even after this blow to their work, the pair stuck together through their challenges and continued their research into psychedelic medicines. Ann helped publish several other books and participated in multiple interviews and lectures highlighting her work in psychedelic therapy and Jungian psychiatry.
Despite the many challenges she faced with her controversial work, Ann pushed the boundaries of scientific understanding. As a result, her unwavering commitment will forever go down in the history of psychedelic therapy.
Ann Shulgin passed away on July 9, 2022, in the home she once shared with her late husband. She was 91 years old. Ann’s legacy continues through her four children, eight grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, and the innumerable community she has impacted as a compassionate guide, teacher, and advocate for psychedelic-assisted therapy.
As we mark a year since her passing, Ann’s work has become increasingly more relevant as we undergo our current psychedelic revolution that’s changing how modern medicine views mental healthcare. Contemporary science is catching up to Ann and Alexander Shulgin’s original ideas, finding that many psychedelic substances are incredibly effective treatments for several mental health conditions, especially when combined with talk therapy. At a time when Ann’s ideas were dismissed by the mainstream and often criticized, she continued her research because she saw the potential of these medicines. As psychedelic substances become more popularized as a treatment, Ann’s contributions will continue to light the path forward and grow in relevance.
A memorial service for Ann will be held on the first anniversary of her death (July 9, 2023) at UC Berkeley in the Zellerbach Auditorium. The potluck service invites friends, family, and anyone impacted by Ann’s generosity and wisdom.
“I still have the fear of dying before I have done all I want to, but I have no fear of the journey itself, nor of what lies on the other side of that opening. I know that when I get there, I will recognize the territory very well indeed, and that it will be truly a returning home,” - PIHKAL, Ann Shulgin, p. 129.