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TIHKAL (Book Review)

Originally published on Blossom Analysis

TIHKAL by Alexander & Ann Shulgin is another (after PIHKAL) great biography and chemistry exploration by this amazing couple. You’re taken across the world, from small French villages to Brazilian villas. It’s humorous, opinionated, open-hearted, and overall a great read.

Quick Take

A book like TIHKAL is hard to capture in a summary. First, it doesn’t really explain much in the biography-side of the book. Second, the chemistry and subsequent description are great, but also something that is less well captured. Below is, therefore, more a summary of my interpretation of the themes that the book conveys.

Information Wants to be Free

Alexander (Sascha) is called in as an expert in various scenarios. One time he travels to Spain to help a defendant, another time he is called to Australia to testify as an expert, and one fun story recalls their time in Brazil teaching others how to make MDMA. In each case, he (or they) are there to provide information, to let people know the chemistry and help them make better decisions.

Yet at many moments, starting in the first chapter, they are confronted with a more and more restrictive law. One in which experimentation as a chemist is not possible. One in which drug development is hampered because you can’t make an ‘analog’ (defined so vaguely as to almost encompass any molecule).

Their previous book, PIHKAL, also tries to make information available, and that is probably what got their house raided.

Yet through all of this, I think someone can be hopeful. In some ways, information flows quite freely (e.g. I got this book, can write about it, you can read it). And some countries are wising up to the ‘war on drugs’. Heck, even America has legalized cannabis/weed at the state level.

Research into psychedelics is in full swing and for-profit companies (and probably some universities) are experimenting again with making analogs that might work better or in a different way than the chemicals already known. Who knows, many of the people involved here could have a copy of both books on their shelves. Let’s hope future legislators do.

Psychedelics Work, but How?

Ann (Alice) describes her use of psychedelics as a therapist (one with experience, not with any formal training). She enlightens the reader on how there is an underground layer (can I say cabal) of therapists who have developed therapy sessions around MDMA, MDA, 2CB, and even LSD. She talks about various sessions where the participant/patient takes MDMA and what some criteria are for when they use it (i.e. a long-standing working relationship).

What I didn’t read, and what Ann didn’t suggest, is that we know why they work. Scientists are hard at work trying to figure this out and at this moment (2020) we’re starting to get the first clues (e.g. increased neuroplasticity), but what we do know is that they work.

For whom is it most effective? When should we do it? For who shouldn’t we do it? What is a reasonable dose? And should we give it every week for 6 weeks (similar to what Ann did) or would one time be enough? With guidance, and if yes, how much?

These are all questions that we have at this moment. We might venture to guess at some answers. But what I read between the lines is that we need experience to learn. Experience that we can share (coming back to the information that wants to be free/spread). Experience to which we can apply reason, the scientific method, and a whole bunch of gut feelings.

10% Happier (Book Review)

10% Happier by Dan Harris is a meditation (ghehe) on meditation and how it has helped him. Although the book is fun to read/listen to, it provides little information per page/chapter. Recommended if you’re into biographies of this kind and fun description, but read a long-form article if you want to learn why meditation is all the rage.

Billion Dollar Whale (Book Review)

This is one very interesting story. Think Wolf of Wall Street, in the year 2010, with bigger parties, more money, and one of the companies financed by this Wolf/Whale, is the production company that made Wolf of Wall Street. It’s graft, corruption and the lack of a moral compass on the largest of scales. Well written and just crazy to contemplate.

It also showcases how many people are willing to look the other way. Is it trust (and I guess that we need that, trade is built on trust)? Or is it greed (which, in a way, also built trade)?

The book also makes me think of America at the moment, is it not also there that money and power from business (and not even good businesses in case of the president) buy you political power? How come that the system (checks and balances) is not working any more?

I have no direct answers at the moment, and who knows it’s also a glass half full thing (that it’s happening less and this is just an exception). I do recommend the book, if it’s just for how crazy it is.

“The dust had yet to settle on the global financial crisis in 2009 when an unlikely Wharton grad set in motion a fraud of unprecedented gall and magnitude–one that would come to symbolize the next great threat to the global financial system. The nuts and bolts of the scheme were shockingly simple: A young, big-talking, huckster persuaded the Prime Minister of Malaysia to create an investment fund that he would direct from the shadows, raised more than ten billion dollars from global investors with the aid of Goldman Sachs and others, and over the next half decade siphoned off no less than $5 billion: money used to finance elections; to purchase luxury real estate in London, New York, and Los Angeles; to produce Hollywood films, including The Wolf of Wall Street–and to throw champagne-drenched parties around the world. Low’s largesse also won him friendships with Hollywood actors, Victoria’s Secret models, and even with a member of President Obama’s inner circle. More staggering still, no one seemed to notice–not the global banks, such as Goldman and J.P. Morgan, who turned a blind eye to shady transfers of hundreds of millions of dollars; and not the international auditors, central bankers, and official financial-system watchdogs.At the center of this fraud was Jho Low–a character so preposterous he seems made up. Federal agents who helped unravel Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme say the Jho Low affair, when its full contours become known, will become a textbook case for tracking transnational fraud in the modern age.”