Meet Dr. Ecstasy

At the turn of the last century, there were only two psychedelic compounds known to man: cannabis and mescaline (which is what makes peyote so popular with shamans and hippies). By the 1950s, scientists had developed or uncovered LSD, psilocybin (the active ingredient in "magic mushrooms") and about 15 more compounds you've probably never heard of. These days, we're well into the hundreds, thanks in large part to the work of an organic chemist named Dr. Alexander Shulgin and many years' worth of experimentation (much of it on himself) in a tiny lab in his backyard in Northern California. (Pictured above: Shulgin and his wife, Ann.)

Shulgin is responsible for at least 200 psychedelic compounds (which weren't illegal when he created them, simply because the DEA hadn't yet heard of them), is the author of a pair of memoir/cookbooks called PHiKAL and TiHKAL, short for "Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved" and "Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved," respectively. But he is certainly most famous for reintroducing the world to a little-known compound called MDMA in 1976. It had been patented by Merck in 1914, but thinking it useless, the drug giant had never done anything with it. Shulgin resynthesized it, wrote a paper about it in which he noted ''an easily controlled altered state of consciousness with emotional and sensual overtones," and the world had Ecstasy.

You might wonder why Shulgin was never arrested. From the 50s through the 80s, he had the full support of the DEA -- the DEA's chief was even married in Shulgin's backyard -- and frequently gave pharmacology lectures to DEA agents. He had a DEA-issued Schedule I research license. That is, until he published PHiKAL in 1993, which the agency -- deeply engaged in its now-controversial "war on drugs" -- didn't look kindly upon. The agency turned his back on him, raided his lab and yanked his license. (He's still allowed to work in his lab creating new things -- he just can't make or possess anything that's currently on the DEA's list of Schedule I drugs, which is most of his life's work.)

Shlugin views himself as a scientist in the most classical sense: his goal has been the identification and classification of a whole range of brain-altering compounds previously unknown to humankind -- much like a naturalist might name and describe new species of butterflies he discovers. Reading through the various effects of his discoveries is a bit like reading through a catalog of the many switches in your brain that can be flipped, to various effects. From the New York Times Magazine:

[Shulgin discovered] stimulants, depressants, aphrodisiacs, ''empathogens,'' convulsants, drugs that alter hearing, drugs that slow one's sense of time, drugs that speed it up, drugs that trigger violent outbursts, drugs that deaden emotion -- in short, a veritable lexicon of tactile and emotional experience. .... A compound he dubbed Aleph-1 gave him ''one of the most delicious blends of inflation, paranoia and selfishness that I have ever experienced.'' Another, Ariadne, was patented and tested under the name Dimoxamine as a drug for ''restoring motivation in senile geriatric patients.'' Still another, DIPT, created no visual hallucinations but distorted the user's sense of pitch.

Why did Shulgin choose such an unorthodox field of research? He describes a revelatory experience with mescaline in 1960, after which he realized that everything he saw and thought ''had been brought about by a fraction of a gram of a white solid, but that in no way whatsoever could it be argued that these memories had been contained within the white solid. . . . I understood that our entire universe is contained in the mind and the spirit. We may choose not to find access to it, we may even deny its existence, but it is indeed there inside us, and there are chemicals that can catalyze its availability.''

Here's a video of "Dr. Ecstacy," talking science in his backyard lab:

Note! Mental_floss recommends flossing your brain with trivia, not illegal Schedule-I drug compounds.

The Simple Way to Reheat Your French Fries and Not Have Them Turn Into a Soggy Mess

Some restaurant dishes are made to be doggy-bagged and reheated in the microwave the next day. Not French fries: The more crispy and delectable they are when they first arrive on your table, the more of a soggy disappointment they’ll be when you try to revive them at home. But as The Kitchn recently shared, there’s a secret to making leftover fries you’ll actually enjoy eating.

The key is to avoid the microwave altogether. Much of the appeal of fries comes from their crunchy, golden-brown exterior and their creamy potato center. This texture contrast is achieved by deep-frying, and all it takes is a few rotations around a microwave to melt it away. As the fries heat up, they create moisture, transforming all those lovely crispy parts into a flabby mess.

If you want your fries to maintain their crunch, you need to recreate the conditions they were cooked in initially. Set a large pan filled with about 2 tablespoons of oil for every 1 cup of fries you want to cook over medium-high heat. When you see the oil start to shimmer, add the fries in a single layer. After about a minute, flip them over and allow them to cook for half a minute to a minute longer.

By heating up fries with oil in a skillet, you produce something called the Maillard Reaction: This happens when high heat transforms proteins and sugars in food, creating the browning effect that gives fried foods their sought-after color, texture, and taste.

After your fries are nice and crisp, pull them out of the pan with tongs or a spatula, set them on a paper towel to absorb excess oil, and sprinkle them with salt. Now all you need is a perfect burger to feel like you’re eating a restaurant-quality meal at home.

[h/t The Kitchn]

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