This article first appeared in Alt Variety in September 2012
By Tony Sokol
Altvariety.com is about to get edumacational, welcoming a new contributing writer to offer a scientific perspective on sex, drugs and religion. Lex Pelger views the world through a scientific lens, “ever since seventh grade when Mr. Wanner showed us Punnet Squares and it felt like coming home. They just made sense as the first brushes of your passions often do.” Pelger studied biochemistry and molecular biology at Boston University and assisted in the discovery of a novel binding protein for the E2A protein using the Yeast II Hybrid system at New York Medical College’s stem cell research lab. If that sounds as daunting to read as it was to write, don’t worry, Pelger is now doing his own, unsponsored rogue studies of psychedelic drugs, sexual perversions and religious rituals. He’s also writing graphic novel about it.
Pelger grew up in Lancaster, in the heart of Pennsylvania Amish country. He won first prize at a science fair in his senior year and was a captain of the wrestling team. He built houses in Haiti and traveled through rural Nepal. After Boston University he interned at Pfizer. “The Pfizer gig was a waste of time as college internships usually are. But the two research labs in college were learning experiences (cochlear nucleus of gerbils and the aldolase protein).”
As a chemist, Pelger says “penicillin, LSD and MDMA were the most important chemical discoveries of the past hundreds years.” Pelger’s move into the psychonoautical stratosphere “started with walkabouts giving out free mushrooms in Prospect Park,” where he and other members of the medical underground continued in the tradition of Alexander “Sasha” Theodore Shulgin, the chemist who is credited with the popularization of MDMA, better known and loved as ecstasy, in the late 1970s. “There’s a whole generation of kids inspired by Alexander Shulgin who shared them with his partner, his wife, to test the traits” of the chemicals. He can also trace his history to The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, which started out as a kind of Hippie Mafia, but “really did believe in turning on the world – spreading the light.”
A loose group which Pelger calls The Seeker’s Sanctuary crashed rituals or gave out psychedelics and asked people to write Trip Reports detailing their experiences on various hallucinogens and the intents they had when exploring them. “It’s a nice way to introduce it to people who‘ve never tried it.” The Trip Reports detail time lines, stomach pain and other unpleasant side effects. “It was about getting down the good the bad and the ugly. We care about the data more than anything else.” Pelger took a lot of notes, more interested in peoples’ mystical experiences than those of people who just wanted to get high and have a good time. The group is “not as big as I’d like. It takes a lot longer to find” young people to take part in these kinds of studies because this is a “boring generation as far as drug use.”
Pelger is a kind of go-to guy for alternative media searching for the scientific reality behind drug myths. In the recent aftermath of the Miami “zombie” attacks, Pelger was interviewed by Jezebel magazine on the effects of bath salts, which are being blamed by the police and uninformed media reports for giving people face-nibbling munchies. That is not the case, says Pelger, “it’s the police just guessing. They cannot be sure because there’s no way to test for it. There is no test for the materials they’re talking about.” Pelger says it is more likely to be sleep deprivation, which is a side effect of taking too much of the drug, or an undiagnosed psychological disorder.
Bath salts are beta-ketones or cathinones. They come from the cath plant in Africa, where they are chewed like coca leaves. “Most people try bath salts as a tool for writing and concentration, because they can’t get access to proper concentration drugs like Ritalin because it’s legal. Bath salts are a kind of a dirty cross between MDMA and a stimulant. They’re not great tools. The problem is that people use them for partying. They keep you awake so you can stay awake for the whole weekend. If you’re always awake you can become psychotic. There’s more of a danger because you’re not sleeping,” he warns.
Pelger will also bring his scientific curiosity to religion and sexual perversion. “Perverts are the friendliest people in the world,” he says. He is fascinated by “the infinite number of ways of people get off.” He follows the Open Love Tribe, which is a polyamorous group of doctors, lawyers and professional people who are self-actualized sexually and who explore S&M and other fetish play at small intimate orgies. “I love hanging out dominatrices (dominatrix?), they are like frat guys talking about how many girls they slept with. They’re competitive.” The Seeker’s Sanctuary goes to liberal-minded churches and mosques to study belief. His group sees the importance in “creating our own rituals. We’re not doing anything new. Hippies and commune groups have been doing it for years. A lot of people miss that Sunday ritual.”
Pelger’s first published writing was a piece on the March to Tibet, a four month protest march of Tibetan monks, nuns and laypeople beginning in the Dalai Lama’s home-in-exile of Dharamsala to New Delhi and then onto the border. Pelger wrote biographies of the marchers, articles for Western publications and one obituary. Because of India’s laws against foreigners participating in political protests, Pelger was arrested twice and finally deported.
Lex Pelger’s upcoming graphic novel is the story of a young scientist who sells mushrooms around NYC and takes notes as he goes. It follows the 4 major drug categories (Stimulants, phenethylamines, depressants, tryptamines) to share the biochemistry, famous writings and history of their use. “I just have to find a balance between my storyteller and scientist.”