Tom Shroder in Salon:
The therapeutic properties of the synthetic compound MDMA, which would soon become known on the street as Ecstasy, were discovered by Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, a leading researcher for Dow Chemical in the late 1950s and early 1960s who had been so awed by the psychoactive effects of mescaline that he decided to devote his life to experimenting with similar compounds, which he concocted in a backyard lab at his home in Lafayette, California. When he cooked up MDMA and “taste-tested” the drug in the 1970s, he thought he’d discovered a pleasant “no-calorie martini.” Then he increased the dose. The world cracked open.
“I am afraid to turn around and face the mountains,” he wrote in his lab notes, “for fear they will overpower me. But I did look, and I am astounded. Everyone must get to experience a profound state like this. I feel totally peaceful. I have lived all my life to get here, and I feel I have come home. I am complete. I feel absolutely clean inside, and there is nothing but pure euphoria. I have never felt so great, or believed this to be possible.” Shulgin urgently contacted his friend, the psychiatrist Leo Zeff, who following the lead of pioneering researchers in the 1950s and early 1960s, had been using psychedelic drugs like LSD, mescaline and psilocybin to assist in therapy with private patients. In 15 years of psychedelic practice, he hadn’t done any formal studies of his results, but his patients often said they felt they accomplished more in one session with Zeff than they had in years of traditional therapy. By the time Shulgin contacted him, Zeff was ready to retire — until he tried the MDMA.