The couple advocated the use of hallucinogens in psychotherapy and documented their experiences with hundreds of drugs in two widely read books.
Ann Shulgin, who alongside her husband, Alexander Shulgin, developed and experimented with hundreds of psychedelic drugs that he concocted in his California laboratory, then showed readers how to formulate them in a pair of massive books that attracted a cult following, died on July 9 at her home near Lafayette, Calif. She was 91.
Her daughter Wendy Tucker confirmed the death.
People who use themselves as guinea pigs to research new psychoactive drugs, or to explore the mind-altering capacities of existing ones, are known as psychonauts, and the Shulgins were among the world’s most experienced: Ms. Shulgin claimed to have experienced 2,000 drug-induced psychedelic episodes, an astounding number that pales only in comparison to her husband’s 4,000.
They took their work seriously. Whenever Alexander Shulgin, known as Sasha, who had a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, would concoct a new drug, Ms. Shulgin would give it a try, at a minuscule dose. If it seemed to have an effect, they would convene a panel of friends — fellow chemists, psychiatrists and anthropologists — to test it at higher dosages.
One of their friends, the psychologist and noted fellow psychonaut Timothy Leary, told The Los Angeles Times in 1995, “I consider Shulgin and his wife to be two of the most important scientists of the 20th century.”
They believed that psychedelic drugs held immense promise for use in psychotherapy, and Ms. Shulgin employed drugs like MDMA, better known as Ecstasy or Molly, with her clients for years as a lay therapist. For decades that belief put them far outside the mainstream, but it turns out they were simply ahead of their time: Researchers and therapists have recently begun to embrace the use of hallucinogens, including Ecstasy, in small doses to treat a range of psychological disorders.
“Sasha and I work pretty much as a team,” Ms. Shulgin said in a 2001 interview with the French newspaper Libération, published in English on Erowid, a website devoted to research on psychoactive drugs. “We both have the same interests, but our viewpoints are different: He has the scientific viewpoint, and I have the psychological and the spiritual. We supplement each other in our writing.”
Dr. Shulgin was known as the “godfather of Ecstasy”: He didn’t invent the drug (that happened in 1912), but he was the first person to describe its potential uses in therapy. He never approved of its recreational use, not because he was a killjoy — he and his wife went to the Burning Man Festival three times — but because its abuse led governments to outlaw it.
The Shulgins were among the few researchers in the country allowed to work with federally banned drugs — so-called Schedule 1 drugs — thanks to Dr. Shulgin’s close ties with the Drug Enforcement Administration, where he was an occasional consultant. In 1981 an administrator from the agency officiated at their wedding, in his backyard.
The Shulgins’ relationship with the D.E.A. broke apart after they published their first book together, “PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story” (1991). The title stands for “Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved,” referring to a class of drugs that includes Ecstasy and mescaline.
The book is divided into two parts: first a thinly veiled autobiography, then a do-it-yourself guide to making some 170 drugs, a feature that made this self-published volume an underground hit in the United States and Europe.
The feds were less enamored. In 1993 they raided Dr. Shulgin’s laboratory, fined him $25,000 and took away his Schedule 1 license.
From then on, the Shulgins insisted, they never experimented with proscribed drugs, just the new ones that Dr. Shulgin devised, which remained legal until they were added to the Schedule 1 list.
In any case, their focus was on breaking new ground.
“Inventing new psychoactive drugs,” Ms. Shulgin told The Los Angeles Times in 1995, “is like composing new music.”
Laura Ann Gotlieb was born on March 22, 1931, in Wellington, New Zealand, where her father, Bernard Gotlieb, an American diplomat, was serving as consul. Her mother, Gwen (Ormiston) Gotlieb, a native New Zealander, was a homemaker.
The Gotliebs moved often: to Sicily, followed by several years in Trieste, Italy; Nuevo Laredo, Mexico; Santiago, Cuba; and Windsor, Ontario. After Mr. Gotlieb retired, they settled in San Francisco, where Ann took art classes and worked as a medical transcriber.
She took her first psychedelic trip in the early 1960s, at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. “We stopped and looked around us at the earth, the sky and each other, then I saw something forming in the air, slightly above the level of my head,” she recalled in “PiHKAL.” “It was a moving spiral opening, up there in the cool air, and I knew it was a doorway to the other side of existence.”
Her first three marriages ended in divorce. Dr. Shulgin died in 2014. Along with her daughter Ms. Tucker, she is survived by another daughter, Alice Garofalo; two sons, Christopher McRee and Brian Perry; eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
After the success of “PiHKAL,” the couple wrote a second volume, “TiHKAL: The Continuation” (1997). The T stands for tryptamines, which include psilocybin and other hallucinogens.
While Dr. Shulgin was primarily interested in drugs for their consciousness-expanding capacities, Ms. Shulgin prized them for allowing people to look inward.
Though she had no formal training, she considered herself a lay therapist in the Jungian tradition, and she incorporated Ecstasy and other drugs in her practice as a way to help her clients confront repressed emotions, memories and self-impressions.
“MDMA is an insight drug,” she said in one interview. “That is its major function. Insight without self-hatred. It allows you to really love yourself and appreciate what you are.”