At sixteen, Shulgin began studying organic chemistry at Harvard University. He left school early to join the U.S. Navy in 1943. During service, he developed a thumb infection that required surgery. Before the operation a nurse handed him a glass of orange juice with silky crystals, which Shulgin recognized as crystalline morphine. He took a sip and quickly fell asleep.
When he woke he asked the nurse about which sedatives they had given him in the orange juice. The nurse was surprised and informed him that the crystals were just undissolved sugar.
This demonstration of the brain’s placebo effect had a profound effect on the young chemist, inspiring him to start a laboratory in his house working on experimental pharmacology to learn more about the human perceptual system.