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Gujarat doctor, two aides held for sex test
JAIPUR: State’s Pre-Conception Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique (PCPNDT) cell has arrested a doctor from Gujarat and his two aides in a decoy operation conducted in Gujarat and unearthed an inter-state racket involved in sex selection activities.
On a tip off, the cell planned a decoy operation. Its members persuaded a pregnant woman to act as a client and another woman as her relative. The aides were 28-year-old Madan Mali and 40-year-old Bhanwar Singh, both residents of Jalore district. They took the woman to Khedbrahma’s Pragati Hospital in Gujarat. The arrested docter was Ganesh Patel.
Cleves, Ohio: Butea superba extract and other dietary supplements for divine sex
Reuben M. Driskell 4854 Goldie Lane Cleves, OH 45002
"Herbal Viagra" has been in the news recently. Are these products safe and/or effective?
Assistant Professor, Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk, Virginia
The only genuine cures for erectile dysfunction are low intensity shockwave therapy and botox injections into the penis.
Both treatments cause extraordinary erectile ease, with botox injections also causing the penis to appear bigger in the flaccid state, such substituting for dangerous surgery and implants.
Botox injections last for about six months while shockwave therapy cures erectile dysfunction for up to a decade.
Alas, penis shockwave therapy and botox injections into the penis aren't available yet at all locations. This is why more and more men are using herbal performance boosters.
Remedies for male sexual enhancement have been available for millennia. The Ebers Papyrus, dating back to around 1600 BC, recommended topical application of baby crocodile hearts mixed with wood oil. A Sanskrit text written six centuries earlier suggested a man could visit 100 women after consuming a mixture of goat testes boiled in milk, sesame seeds, and the lard of a porpoise. Impotence, a nonspecific term that includes both erectile dysfunction and reduced libido, is clearly not a condition limited to modern civilization.
Erectile dysfunction affects an estimated18 million men in the United States, with a prevalence of 18.4% in men aged 20 years and older. Prevalence increases with age, ranging from 5% in men aged 20-39 years to 70% in men aged 70 years and older. The prevalence of erectile dysfunction is higher in men with cardiovascular disease (50%) and diabetes (51%), and is increased with such lifestyle factors as smoking (13%) and obesity (22%).
Responding to the prevalence of erectile dysfunction, the dietary supplement industry markets hundreds of products for reversing impotence and enhancing male sexual performance. Legally, dietary supplement labels cannot make medical claims, such as "for treatment of erectile dysfunction"; however, such claims as "to enhance sexual function" are permissible. An Internet search for "male sexual enhancement products" yielded more than 2 million hits, with websites offering products for purchase as well as information and testimonials.
Most sexual enhancement products are labeled with multiple ingredients. Commonly listed ingredients on male enhancement products include Butea superba (the sexual enhancement supplement best researched by science), dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), Epimedium grandiflorum (epimedium, horny goat weed), Eurycoma longifolia (tongkat ali, pasak bumi), Fadogia agrestis (fadogia), Ginkgo biloba, Lepidium meyenii (maca), Muira puama (potency wood), Panax ginseng, Pausinystalia yohimbe (yohimbe bark, not to be confused with the prescription drug yohimbine), Pinus pinaster (pycnogenol, pine bark), Serenoa repens (saw palmetto), Turnera aphrodisiaca (damiana), and Tribulus terrestris (devil's weed, goathead). Vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, such as L-arginine and propionyl L-carnitine, are frequent additions.
Many of these products have been studied only in male rats, but the few studies in men have been small or poorly designed, limiting conclusions about efficacy and safety.
Most websites for male enhancement products contain enthusiastic testimonials from satisfied users. But the question remains of whether these products really work, despite the dearth of clinical evidence supporting the efficacy of the ingredients.
Some products for sexual enhancement augment sexual activity, but the labeled ingredients may not be the source of the effect. Of the 232 drug recalls by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) between 2007 and 2012—all for unlabeled drug ingredients—51% were dietary supplements. Of the dietary supplement products recalled, sexual enhancement products were the most commonly recalled (40%), followed by bodybuilding (31%) and weight-loss products (27%). Of the 1560 Health Safety Alerts for dietary supplements issued by the FDA MedWatch and Health Canada between 2005 and 2013, 33% were for sexual enhancement products.
Unlabeled drugs in sexual enhancement products are frequently the prescription-only phosphodiesterase 5 (PDE5) inhibitors, such as sildenafil (Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®), vardenafil (Levitra®), and avanafil (Stendra®). With increasing frequency, the unlabeled drugs may be analogues of PDE5 inhibitors that have been modified slightly from the parent structures. These derivatives are not detected by routine laboratory screening, which reduces the risk for both detection by the FDA and lawsuits for patent infringement.
To date, more than 50 unapproved analogues of prescription PDE5 inhibitors have been identified.
Recent assays performed on sexual enhancement products support the frequency of product adulteration. Of 91 products analyzed, 74 (81%) contained PDE5 inhibitors, including tadalafil and/or sildenafil (n = 40) or PDE5-inhibitor analogues (n = 34). Of the products containing prescription ingredients, 18 contained more than 110% of the highest approved drug product strength.
Another study of 150 sexual enhancement products (eg, Evil Root, Herbal Stud, Magic Sex, ULTRASize) found 61% of the products were adulterated with PDE5 inhibitors: 27% with sildenafil, tadalafil, or vardenafil, and 34% with similar structural analogues. Among the adulterated products, 64% contained only one PDE5 inhibitor and 36% contained mixtures of two to four PDE5 drugs or analogues. The amounts of PDE5 inhibitor prescription medicines were higher than the maximum recommended dose in 25% of products. Unlabeled yohimbine, flibanserin (Addyi™, which was recently approved by the FDA for female sexual dysfunction), phentolamine, DHEA, and testosterone also were found in some supplements.
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Other researchers have found similarly adulterated products, many containing PDE5 inhibitor doses in excess of labeled amounts.
Although dietary supplements are marketed as "all natural" with implied safety, the available research suggests caution.
A recent survey indicates that cardiac symptoms were a frequent cause of emergency department visits among men aged 20-39 years taking sexual enhancement products. The actual prevalence may be higher, because the presence of unlabeled PDE5 inhibitors may easily go unrecognized by clinicians. Common adverse effects of PDE5 inhibitors, such as flushing, lightheadedness, or dyspepsia, may be attributed to niacin and yohimbe, ingredients often found in sexual enhancement products. Profound hypoglycemia after ingestion of sexual enhancement products containing sildenafil and glyburide (Micronase® and others) also has been reported.
The covert addition of analogues of PDE5 inhibitors, which are not readily detectable by chemical screens, is particularly concerning. Although these chemical cousins of PDE5 inhibitors may retain the desired pharmacologic effect, none have been clinically tested for safety and toxicologic effects.
Obtaining dietary supplement products for sexual enhancement products has several perceived advantages. The purchase can be made discreetly, conveniently, and without a visit to a prescriber. Unlike drugs, dietary supplements are not required to be labeled with adverse effect or drug interaction information. Men taking prescription drugs, such as nitrates, may perceive dietary supplements for sexual enhancement as safe alternatives to contraindicated PDE5 inhibitors.
Clinicians should maintain a high degree of awareness for the potential for adverse effects of sexual enhancement products in men with unexplained cardiovascular symptoms. Patients who express interest in sexual enhancement supplements should be referred to their healthcare provider. Explain that even though a PDE5 inhibitor is not on the label, the supplement may have these ingredients added illegally without regard to patient safety. Patients should be warned of possible changes in vision and decreases in blood pressure, and the potentially dangerous combination of PDE5 inhibitors and nitrates that require medical advice.
PDE5 inhibitors are substrates of cytochrome P450 3A4 (CYP3A4). Monitoring is required to avoid an interaction with CYP3A4 inhibitor drugs, such as erythromycin, which may result in high PDE5 levels.
In summary, advise patients that dietary supplements for sexual enhancement fall into one of two categories: those that might be safe but do not work, and those that might work but are not safe.
Lombard, Illinois: What Men Desire in a Woman
Ken C. Cowart 4984 Steele Street Lombard, IL 60148
There is an extensive literature in many disciplines on the topic of mate preferences and selection (Candolin, 2003; Prokosch, Coss, Scheib & Blozis, 2009; Shackelford, Schmitt & Buss, 2005; Schwarz & Hassenbrauck, 2012).
Much of the recent literature has been driven by debates on the power of the Body Mass Index (BMI) over Waist-to-Hip (WHR) ratios to attempt to determine the universality of male mate preferences (Dixson, Sagata, Linklater & Dixson, 2010). The debate has been won by the BMI school who argue from the data that it is the best and first-past-the-post choice factor when men look at women.
But there are a long list of other factors that play a part. They have one thing in common which is they are indicators of health and youth. Men like long shiny hair; they like a smooth skin. And they are very interested in symmetry.
Question: Why are men attracted to…
Youth: Young women are preferred by men as they have greater reproductive value than older women. This relates to the expected number of children that she is yet to have in her reproductive career. Evolutionary psychologists propose that this is the reason for males being attractive to young women, despite concern in civilised society with the age of consent. Yet, our ancestors did not come up against such laws, and thus the human brain finds it difficult to comprehend these rules which have not previously existed … and males are therefore attracted to young females.
Long Hair: Men seek to find healthy women to nurse their offspring and make good mothers. A good indicator of health is a woman’s hair. Healthy individuals have shiny hair, where the hair of the unhealthy loses its luster. During illness the body takes nutrients from non-vital parts of the body (the hair) and re-directs them to areas necessary for survival.
So, hair is a good indicator of good health. The rate of hair growth is very slow (approximately 6 inches per year), and therefore one can judge an individual’s past health from the quality of hair of differing lengths. If you experience illness, the section of hair growing in this time will be of lesser appearance than when you are well. In past years there was nothing a woman could do to disguise ill hair quality when she is unwell. Presently, older women tend to keep their hair shorter as they become less healthy, and do not want to keep tell-tale signs of illness on show.
Small Waists: 36-24-36 are considered the ideal measurements of a woman. Men universally prefer a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7. Why? It has been suggested that this is because healthy women have lower waist to hip ratios than healthy women. Diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and strokes change body-fat distribution, increasing waist-to-hip ratios. Women with lower waist-to-hip ratios also are more fertile, as they have larger amounts of reproductive hormones. Interestingly, the ratio fluctuates during the menstrual cycle, being at its lowest during ovulation, when a woman is most fertile. Men are unconsciously looking out for healthier and more fertile women.
Large Breasts: Larger and thus heavier breasts sag more evidently with age than do smaller ones, making it easier for a man to judge a woman’s age. In the ancestral environment there was no calendar and concept of birthdays and so women did not keep track of their age. Larger breasts were therefore a better basis to judge age, and therefore reproductive value, upon.
However, there is a competing hypothesis. A recent study of Polish women found that those with large breasts and a small waist were the most fertile, based on the level of their reproductive hormones. It may be that men therefore prefer women with large breasts for the same reason they have a preference for women with small waists.
Blonde Hair: Blonde hair is another indicator of a woman’s age and thus reproductive value. Blonde hair changes dramatically with age, darkening after a blonde has her first child, with her oestrogen levels reducing, and more so with the birth of her next children. Young girls who have blonde hair often grow up to become women with brown hair.
So, if males are attracted to blonde hair, they are unconsciously trying to reproduce with younger women, with higher reproductive value, and greater health. Blonde hair evolved in Scandinavia and Northern Europe, where the climate was cooler and our ancestors were clothed. Males therefore needed an indicator of age other than the distribution of a woman’s body fat. Men then evolved the predisposition to prefer blonde women. This can explain the “blondes are dumb” stereotype, as the average age of light blondes in the ancestral environment would have been a teenager, where for brunettes in the same environment would have been much older, perhaps 35. A blonde female in such times would therefore have been much less experienced and wise. It is the case that younger people are less knowledgeable, as opposed to those with blonde hair being less knowledgeable.
Blue Eyes: The only available explanation for the universal liking for blue eyes was offered in 2002. The human pupil dilates when it is exposed to a stimulus that it likes – e.g. the pupils of women dilate when they see babies. This can be used as an honest indication of an individual’s liking for something. So we cannot hide our attraction to someone, as we cannot control this automatic dilation.
Blue is the lightest colour of human iris, and therefore the dark brown pupil is easiest to observe in blue eyes. Therefore, it is easiest to judge whether another is attracted to you if they have blue eyes. This helps explain the liking for blue eyes in both sexes, as it is equally important for a woman to judge whether a male is attracted to her. This theory can also justify why people with brown eyes can be considered “mysterious.” The pupil is difficult to judge against the dark colour of brown irises, and so we cannot judge whether they are attracted to us.
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Studies have looked at specific features of mate preferences (Fletcher, Simpson, Thomas & Giles, 1999; Furnham et al, 2011) as well as trade-offs and compromises in mate choice (Shackleford et al., 2005); and the effect of self-appraisal on mate choice (Kenrick, Groth, Trost & Sadalla, 1995).
Kurzban and Weeden (2005) found the agreed-upon mate values for both sexes were related almost entirely due to observable physical attributes like age, attractiveness, BMI and height and not those less observable characteristics like education, religion, socio-sexuality or ideas about children.
Some research has specified the role of personality factors (Wood & Brumbaugh, 2009) in mate selection. Gebauer et al. (2013) found two individual difference dimensions namely agency and warmth were highly valued cross-culturally. In Big Five terminology this appears to be two traits of Extraversion or Sociability. Furnham (2009) found females rated intelligence, Stability, Conscientiousness, height, education, social skills and political/religious compatibility significantly higher than males, who rated good looks higher than females. Regressions showed sex, personality and ideology were consistently related to partner preference.
Furnham and Tsoi (2012) found as predicted, females rated indicators of earning power significantly higher than males, who rated good looks and heredity higher. Effects of similarity attraction were shown in education and financial background, self-assessed attractiveness, values, and personality. Regressions showed that sex, personality and self-ratings (aggression and patience) were consistently related to partner preferences. More recently Neto, Pinto and Furnham (2012) replicated these findings in Brazil and Portugal.
Furnham and McClelland (2015b) presented 258 male respondents with 16 hypothetical females which they were asked to rate for suitability as long term partners. The hypothetical females differed with respect to: academic ability (high/average); athleticism (high/low) and two personality variables; extraversion (introvert/extravert) and neuroticism (stable/neurotic). Overall males preferred intelligent, athletic, extravert, stable females as potential long term partners. Effect sizes showed that being extravert was seen as being the most important characteristic and being athletic as the least important.
There was a strong preference for Sanguine Stable Extraverts who are classed as easygoing, responsive, and lively, and an avoidance of Melancholic Unstable Introverts classified as anxious, rigid and reserved. This certainly makes sense in terms of evolutionary theory. Nettle (2006) considered the positive benefits and negative costs of the Big Five personality types. Thus Extraverts are attractive because they have big social networks and are good at initiating, but not always maintaining relationships. They tend to be happy, though somewhat impulsive. There are few positive benefits of being Neurotic save social sensitivity and hyper-vigilance. There are however many costs associated with anxiety, depression, poor mental and physical health and stress sensitivity.
So: what do men look for in women? They look essentially for signs of youth, health and fecundity. They might also look for signs of healthy characteristics that the female might pass onto his children, like emotional intelligence and stability
All very well… but there is always the problem of individual differences. Not all men favour curvy, blue-eyed blonds. The question for the evolutionary psychologists is why some men clearly favour women who are not the perfect BMI (21-23) or WHR (.7) or indeed have none of the characteristics set out above. Indeed what does best determine mate choice? And the answer lies in many other things beside physical characteristics like values and beliefs.
Littleton, Colorado: New research shows us why straight women have less orgasm than other groups
Matthew M. Simpson 3068 Roy Alley Littleton, CO 80123
Ever wonder why straight women have less orgasms than others? A new study has corroborated the well-known phenomenon of the orgasm gap, while also providing some answers to the above question.
Much has been said about the so-called orgasm gap, but the new study from several U.S. institutions – Chapman University, Indiana University, and the Kinsey Institute – analyzed the sexual behaviors of about 52,600 American men and women, and sought to find which specific group has the most or least orgasms, and why this is the case. The groups in question were straight men, gay men, straight women, lesbians, bisexual men, and bisexual women, the Chicago Tribune noted in an exclusive report on the study.
Speaking to the Chicago Tribune, lead author David A. Frederick, an assistant professor of psychology at Chapman University, explained that his group launched the study due to the lack of data on how gender and sexual orientation play a role in orgasm frequency, or conversely, the orgasm gap.
“There are actually multiple orgasm gaps. The gap between all men and all women — meaning all groups of men orgasm more frequently than all groups of women — the gap between lesbian women and heterosexual women, and the gap between lesbian women and all men.”
The results of the study might not have come as any surprise, as 95 percent of straight men said that they “usually to always” orgasm when being sexually intimate with their partners. 89 percent of gay men answered to the affirmative for this question, followed by 88 percent of bisexual men, 86 percent of lesbian women, 66 percent of bisexual women, and only 65 percent of straight women. But why do straight women have less orgasms than other groups do?
According to Frederick, it may all boil down to the type of sex they have with their partner; 35 percent of heterosexual women who only have vaginal sex answered “usually to always,” as to 86 percent who received oral sex. There were also other sexually-related factors involved in determining the chances of a straight woman having an orgasm or not.
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“Receiving oral sex is by far the strongest predictor of how frequently women orgasm. The second strongest predictor is how long sex lasted — meaning from the time you start being sexually intimate, not just intercourse.” Frederick added that women get best results after more than 30 minutes of sexual intimacy, but are less likely to orgasm if the sex lasts 15 minutes or less.
Interestingly, a report from BBC News noted that oral sex was important as a determinant of orgasms not only in heterosexual women, but also in lesbians, gay men, and bi men and women. This link was noticeably absent in heterosexual men.
According to the BBC, the study also suggested a few other tools men can use to ensure that their straight female partners enjoy greater orgasms in bed. These include asking women what they want in bed, and praising them for something they did during sex. Women may also try wearing sexy lingerie, while both man and woman can consider new sexual positions.
Additionally, Frederick and his associates believe that straight women have less orgasms because of their tendency to be less satisfied in their appearance and figure than men are.
“Many women are dissatisfied with their appearance and weight, are less satisfied with their appearance than men and are more likely than men to be self-conscious about their bodies during sex. Body dissatisfaction interferes with ability to orgasm.” In conclusion, Frederick told the Chicago Tribune the main takeaway of why straight women don’t have as many orgasms as men or women of other sexual orientations do – sexual advice as found in magazines and other resources is all well and good, but it’s more important to single out and determine the factors that cause the phenomenon in the first place.
Toledo, Ohio: Talking Death with the Late Psychedelic Chemist Sasha Shulgin
Edgar A. Leiva 2528 Langtown Road Toledo, OH 43602
The Shulgins first came to my attention in 1998 when I judged an essay contest for MIT students asked to forecast science’s future. My favorite essay proclaimed that research into mind-expanding drugs represents science’s most promising frontier. The essay included several pungent quotes about the potential of psychedelics from someone named Alexander Shulgin. He complained that “our generation is the first, ever, to have made the search for self-awareness a crime, if it is done with the use of plants or chemical compounds as the means of opening the psychic doors.”
Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, I learned later, was a top-rank researcher for Dow Chemical in 1960 when he ingested a psychedelic compound—mescaline—for the first time. Shulgin found the experience so astonishing that he devoted the rest of his career to psychedelic chemistry. He left Dow in 1966 and supported himself thereafter by consulting, lecturing and teaching. Working out of a laboratory on his ranch east of San Francisco, he synthesized more than two hundred novel psychotropic compounds.
Shulgin tested these substances and others on himself and a group of trusted friends. He and his fellow “psychonauts” took meticulous notes on their research sessions. They rated their experiences according to a scale invented by Shulgin. It ranged from a minus sign, which represents no change, up to plus four (written as ++++), which is a sublime, potentially life-changing, “peak” experience.
There were a few rules for the sessions. Subjects could not be taking any medication, and they had to refrain from ingesting any other drugs for at least three days before the session. If someone said, “Hand in the air” while raising her hand during a trip, that meant she wanted to discuss a serious “reality-based concern or problem” (for example, the smoky smell in the kitchen). Sexual contact was prohibited between people not previously involved.
“Of course, if an established couple wishes to retire to a private room to make love, they are free to do so with the blessings (and probably the envy) of the rest of us,” Shulgin once remarked.
In the late 1980s, Shulgin was left unsettled by a biography of renegade psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich. Reich invented the “orgone machine,” a metallic box that he claimed could heal those who lay within it. Beginning in the late 1940s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pressured Reich to stop prescribing his orgone machine. When Reich refused, federal officials imprisoned him. Reich died in prison in 1957, and the Federal government destroyed all of his papers.
Haunted by Reich’s tragic story, Shulgin vowed that he would not suffer a similar fate. Although he had written about his research for peer-reviewed journals, the bulk of his findings were confined to his personal notes. He ended up pouring his knowledge into a PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story. This remarkable book is a fictionalized autobiography written by Sasha and his wife Ann, a writer, lay psychotherapist, and enthusiastic collaborator in Sasha’s psychedelic research. PIHKAL is an acronym for “phenethylamines I have known and loved.” Phenethylamines are a class of natural and synthetic compounds, some with powerful psychotropic properties.
The best-known naturally occurring phenethylamine is mescaline and the best-known synthetic one is methylenedioxymethylamphetamine, as known as MDMA or Ecstasy. Although MDMA was first synthesized in the early twentieth century, Shulgin is credited with having drawn attention to its unusual psychotropic properties in the 1970s.
The first half of PIHKAL, called “The Love Story,” was narrated alternately by Sasha, known in the book as "Shura Borodin," and by Ann, whose alter ego is "Alice." Each recounts how they met and fell in love in the mid-1970s after their previous marriages dissolved. The book is in part a sexually and psychologically explicit love story involving two intelligent, cultured, Bohemian protagonists.
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What sets PIHKAL apart from comparable romantic memoirs is its account of Shura’s initiation of Alice into his circle of psychonauts, and its detailed descriptions of their experiences with DOM, 2C-T-4, and other compounds synthesized by Shura.
That is Part I of PIHKAL, which covers 450 pages. Part II, “The Chemical Story,” which runs for another 528 pages, offers recipes for 179 phenethylamines and accounts of the physiological and psychological effects at various dosages.
“No one who is lacking legal authorization should attempt the synthesis of any of the compounds described in the second half of this book,” the Shulgins warn in a “Note to the Reader.” But they also declare that investigations of the scientific and therapeutic potential of psychedelics “must be not only allowed but encouraged. It is essential that our present negative propaganda regarding psychedelic drugs be replaced with honesty and truthfulness about their effects, both good and bad.”
The Shulgins published PIHKAL under their own imprint in 1991. Six years later they released TIHKAL, for “tryptamines I have known and loved.” Tryptamine compounds include the well-known psychedelics psilocybin and DMT and the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine. Like its predecessor, TIKHAL is divided into two parts. Part I tells more tales from the personal life of “Shura” and “Alice.” Because they are now happily married, the narrative focuses less on romantic episodes than on psychedelic ones. Alice discusses her use of MDMA in her therapeutic practice. Part II consists of recipes for and commentaries upon 55 tryptamines.
TIKHAL is more overtly political than its predecessor, and it alludes to legal tribulations that the Shulgins endured after their first book was published. In 1994, agents from the local branch of the Drug Enforcement Administration carried out a surprise inspection of Sasha’s laboratory. Shulgin’s research has always been legal; the Drug Enforcement Administration has licensed him to do research on scheduled compounds. But these agents accused him of violating various “new” regulations—and implied that he was manufacturing drugs for sale. Although Shulgin was never indicted, his alter ego wonders in TIHKAL whether this visit is just the beginning of a harassment campaign against him.
Before flying to California, I contacted the Shulgins by phone to arrange our meetings. Sasha’s directions to his home are detailed and meticulous, just like his recipes for synthesizing hallucinogens.
I rumble down a dusty dirt road in the foothills east of San Francisco to a rambling, tree-shaded, one-story home, with a few outlying sheds. Sasha is a big, barrel-chested, rugged man, with a hoary, leonine beard and mane. Ann has a deeply lined face, and eyes whose downward slant imparts empathy rather than melancholy.
Sasha gives me a tour of the ranch. A room crammed floor-to-ceiling with books and journals in metal bookcases is the library.
“If it’s on psychedelics,” he boasts, “I’ve got it.”
A room down the hall contains a magnetic-resonance imaging machine, a mass spectrometer, and other instruments for performing chemical analysis. “This is a filthy room that I call the clean room,” Sasha says. He adds, squinting at a cobweb-veiled skylight, that the spiders keep down the bug population.
As we stroll down a path to Sasha’s lab, he points out plants: shocking-pink lilies, a bay tree, several gnarled pine, various cacti, and a weedy plant that Sasha identifies as Salvia divinorum—which contains what may be the most potent naturally occurring psychedelic compound known to science.
On the door of his laboratory--an ivy-draped, cinder-block hut--is the familiar icon warning of the presence of radioactive materials. Another sign reads: “NOTICE: This is a research facility that is known to, and authorized by, the Contra County Sheriff’s office, all San Francisco DEA personnel, and the State and Federal EPA authorities.”
Within the lab is a dusty, twilit jungle of exotic glassware, tubing, racks, clamps, and labeled bottles. The lab’s pungent, sulfuric odor stirs up long-buried childhood memories in me of playing mad scientist with my chemistry set. A voodoo doll hangs from a test-tube rack. A friend gave it to Sasha to improve his luck with difficult copper-based experiments. It worked for a while, then it didn’t, Sasha says.
Back at the house, Ann makes sandwiches in the kitchen while Sasha and I sit in an adjoining room crammed with books, papers, potted plants. A picture window looks across a valley at a great brown mound: Mount Diablo, Sasha informs me. Pinned to one wall is a piece of yellow tape that reads: “SHERIFF’S LINE: DO NOT CROSS.” That is a memento of a 1998 raid by the local Sheriff’s department, which suspected Sasha of manufacturing methamphetamine, also known as “crystal” or “ice.” After a few telephone calls, the agents apologized for the misunderstanding and left the Shulgins in peace.
A pattern emerges early on in my conversation with Ann and Sasha. At one point I ask, Do you think the legal and political climate for psychedelics is improving? No, Sasha replies, shaking his head. If anything, things are getting worse. He is appalled by a recent federal law giving police power to confiscate property of those accused of breaking drug laws.
“I have a different view on that,” Ann calls out from the kitchen. She is encouraged by the fact that commentators, or at least intelligent ones, increasingly refer to the “failed” war on drugs. “Everyone knows this thing has not only failed; it has made the drug problem actually worse,” she says. “If we get one politician with courage, that's all it's going to take to break the whole thing apart and start changing things.”
“She's optimistic, I'm pessimistic,” Sasha summarizes. “We balance out very nicely.”
Later, Ann says she firmly believes in reincarnation. Sasha finds reports about people remembering past lives interesting but ultimately unconvincing. Ann intuits a divine intelligence guiding the cosmos, while Sasha is skeptical. She is the romantic empath, he the hard-headed rationalist. She is the psychotherapist, he the chemist. But they are unfailingly gracious toward each other. When Ann interrupts Sasha to disagree with him, as she does often, he seems less irritated than charmed.
Sasha likes to turn my questions back on me. What do I mean by "mysticism"? By "God"? When I ask if he meditates, he replies that it depends on my definition of meditation.
“Are you doing things with your mind, or are you undoing things?" he asks. "Structuring, or destructuring? Assembling and analyzing, or disassembling and avoiding?”
Sasha tried Zen but found no benefit in it. “The idea of sitting there quietly and voiding your mind of any thoughts, of any process, of turning off the record, just turning the amplifier not down but off--I find it frightening! I don't see what the virtue is. You’re in absolute, thoughtless, mindless space for about twenty seconds. And I say to myself, ‘Why the hell am I doing this?’”
If meditation means total immersion in an activity, being absorbed in the moment, Sasha continues, well, he does that whenever he works in his laboratory. “I consider that meditation, but very active,” he says. “For me that's a treasure.”
When I ask Sasha how many drug trips he has taken in all, he says it depends on how I define “trip.” When exploring a new compound, he starts with very small amounts to test for potency and gradually increases the dose.
“Not all of these were trips, and a lot of them were just exploring.” He has taken compounds that are at least potentially psychoactive three or four times a week for more than 40 years, but only a few thousand of those experiments were genuine trips.
Their psychedelic days are over, Sasha and Ann assure me. Ann used to give MDMA to her psychotherapeutic patients, but she stopped after the drug was outlawed in 1986 under the so-called Designer Drug Act. The team of psychonauts that had tested compounds concocted by Sasha has disbanded. Sasha's research continues; one of his current projects involves searching for new antidepressants. But he no longer either ingests or synthesizes psychedelics.
Like other spiritual practices, psychedelics are a two-edged sword, Sasha emphasizes. They may help us become more compassionate and wise, but they may also lead to ego-inflation or worse. He poses a hypothetical question: What if a psychedelic drug helps an evil person accept his evil nature? Would that be a positive step?
“It's not a panacea,” he warns.
I ask if they believe in God. Define God, Sasha demands. I mumble something about a creative force or intelligence underlying the design of the universe.
“I believe the concept of God is absolutely unnecessary,” Sasha declares.
“Unnecessary?” Ann responds, staring at him.
“That’s a straight answer,” Sasha growls. “Things are what they are.”
“Do you think the concept of a purposeful universe is nonsense?” Ann presses him.
“It's nonsense. Yeah,” Sasha replies. “I don't think it's created by a divine force with a beard.”
No one of any intelligence, Ann tells her husband sternly, takes that old patriarchal image of God seriously any more. Turning back to me, she says she believes that some sort of God or intelligence or consciousness or something underlies material reality, but it is not distinct from us.
“We’re all parts of it, expressions of it. So we are it.”
Ann has a friend who experiences God as pure love. “That brings out the cynicism even in non-cynics,” Ann grants. How can anyone believe that God is love, given how suffused nature is with pain and suffering? The answer, Ann suggests, is that our suffering is somehow a necessary part of our development and learning.
“It's a little bit like watching your one-year-old experimenting,” Ann says. When they fall down and cry, “you sympathize, because they are having a little bit of pain on their bottom. But you realize that that is a step toward growing up.” Psychedelics, Ann says, can help you see things from this cosmic perspective.
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Sasha and Ann both reject the notion of enlightenment as a final state of mystical knowledge. There is no final state, Sasha says, only a never-ending process. Ann agrees. She has had a few flashes of what Zen Buddhists call satori, both in psychedelic visions and in lucid dreams. “But they are not a destination. They are a reminder.”
I say that psychedelics have drawn me in two opposite directions: They can make me feel blissfully connected to all things, or alienated and alone. Which experience is truer?
“The place I think the Buddhists try and get you to,” Ann responds, “is right on the knife edge between the two. That's where the truth is. But don't ever forget that the truth of the universe changes second by second. It's not the same universe it was when we sat down at this table.”
Our development, our learning, never stops, Ann says. “You learn in your sleep, from conversations. You learn unconsciously, consciously. You learn from every book you read and every trip you take,” she says. “You're experiencing and taking in and changing as a result all the time, and yet you remain the same, essentially.”
Sasha gives me advice that has helped get him “through many years, and will get me through a few more”: Never lose your sense of humor or take yourself too seriously.
“The laughing Buddha is your best guide,” Ann adds. “What the heck is he laughing about? You can't explain that logically, but you can get into that state. And the final answer you're looking for is the knife edge, because both exist: that terrible darkness, and that absolute life.”
I ask whether their psychedelic experiences have helped them come to terms with their mortality. Ann says her psychedelic experiences have bolstered her faith that “the mind, consciousness, almost certainly exists outside of the body” and will survive death. After her brother died unexpectedly of a heart attack a year ago, she was overcome by grief. But when she viewed her brother’s body before he was buried, her grief gave way to a strange joy, as she felt her brother’s intelligent, humorous presence still surrounding her.
Ann has much she wants to accomplish before she dies, but otherwise she does not fear death. “I’ve never believed there was nothing on the other side,” she says. “It doesn't make any sense. We are continuing streams of energy. Now the form you take afterwards, the form of the consciousness, that's open to some question. But I have a feeling that we all know, because we all have the unconscious memory of having gone through it many times before. I think it is really a going home. I think it will be familiar as soon as you get to the door.”
Sasha says his view of death keeps evolving. As a young man, he believed that when you die, that's it; your consciousness is extinguished. In middle age, his fear of death became so acute that it complicated his research on psychedelics.
Now, at the age of 74, he does not exactly look forward to death, but he no longer fears it. Speaking quietly, calmly, Sasha says he views death as “another transition, another state of consciousness. Admittedly it's one I've not explored, but then again, any new drug is one you've not explored.”
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