Albert Hofmann was a chemist, who created the hallucinogen LSD out of a fungus—it brought him inner peace, open-mindedness and thankfulness.
Text Aron Friedman
LSD is one of the most celebrated and also one of the most vilified psychedelics ever. In the 60’s, this mighty substance became a catalyst for the hippie movement. Its consumption spread through popular culture rapidly like an oil spill, and has stayed with us ever since—despite persistent attempts by governments to demonize the substance. LSD’s creator Albert Hofmann wasn’t aware of the shockwave his invention would send throughout the world. But one sunny spring day in 1943, when he cycled into the world’s first intentional LSD trip, he was sure what he had discovered was something incredible.
With his long and healthy life, Albert Hofmann proved that you can get as old as Methuselah while using psychedelics. After discovering the substance, he would frequently keep using it. He died in 2008 when he was 102 years old. A conference was held for his 100th birthday, called ‘LSD, Problem Child and Wonder Drug’. In his keynote speech, the centenarian spoke about his experiences: ‘LSD wanted to tell me something. It gave me an inner joy, an open-mindedness, a gratefulness, open eyes and an internal sensitivity for the miracles of creation.’
‘LSD gave me an inner joy, an open-mindedness, a gratefulness, open eyes and an internal sensitivity for the miracles of creation.’
Young Albert was the oldest of four children. His father Adolf was a manufacturer of factory components and hoped his son would go into business. But against all expectations, he went to study chemistry. It had to do with (as he describes it himself) a mystical experience in his childhood, ‘in which nature was altered in magical ways, provoking questions concerning the essence of the external, material world.’ He hoped to comprehend the world through chemistry. After university, he started working for Swiss pharmaceutical company Sandoz, where his research would yield one of the most important inventions of the last century.
St. Anthony’s Fire
Ergot is a poisonous fungus which grows on rye and which can cause the dangerous disease ergotism in people. Your blood circulation becomes so meager, your joints start feeling like they’re burning—which has also given ergotism the name St. Anthony’s Fire. Apart from that, you also start hallucinating heavily. In severe cases, your fingers and toes fall off and your organs stop working, which will ultimately kill you. Throughout the centuries, there are many accounts of epidemics, where entire villages, towns or regions were plagued by temporary insanity.
There’s even a historian who argues that one of these outbreaks led to the French Revolution. Because of a harvest failure that year, farmers couldn’t afford any fresh rye anymore, so all across the country, they were eating spoiled bread. That’s how a paranoid theory could have risen that the French aristocracy was plotting a conspiracy against the farmers, by deliberately starving them. The farmers started a massive revolt against their squires. This revolt is known as ‘la Grande Peur’ or ‘the Great Fear’. Haunted by hunger and hallucinations, the farmers helped unleash a revolution.
Despite all of its side effects, ergot has also been used for medical purposes throughout the centuries—for instance to stop heavy menstrual bleeding or to trigger abortions. Albert Hoffman was researching lysergic acid for Sandoz, one of the active ingredients of ergot. He hopes to discover a medicine to stimulate blood circulation. In 1938, he synthesized LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), but couldn’t find any interesting properties to it at the time.
Five years later, he decided to examine the substance one more time, after a ‘strange premonition’. Albert hadn’t cleaned one of the petri dishes properly. Little did he know that LSD is so potent, it can even be digested through the skin. Returning home from work, in his living room, he was (as he describes in his book LSD, My Problem Child) ‘being affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed, I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors.’
All the more curious, Albert decided to administer himself another dose of LSD a few days later, this time intentionally. A small amount, he thought, 250 micrograms; a tenth of the mass of a grain of sand. At the time, he couldn’t have predicted how powerful the substance really is and what an extremely high dose this was. In comparison: the average papertrip these days contains between 50 and 150 micrograms. In the lab, Albert was already starting to feel pretty awful, so he asked his friend to take him home.
On his bicycle, he ended up in what would later be dubbed a ‘bad trip.’ His vision started to distort badly and back home, it was as though he had landed in some weird cartoon, with furniture becoming alternately very small or very big. Albert had someone call the doctor and call his neighbor for a bottle of milk, with which he hoped to dampen the poisonous effects. But when she came in, he almost had a heart-attack: she had transformed into an evil witch. He started to panic: ‘I was seized by the dreadful fear of going insane. I was taken to another world, another place, another time. My body seemed to be without sensation, lifeless, strange. Was I dying?’
The doctor didn’t know what to do with Albert. He stayed by him until the effects started to subside. After a few hours, the beautiful kaleidoscopic images came back and when Albert’s wife came home from a family visit, he felt himself slipping back into normality. The next morning, he felt reborn. ‘ A sensation of well-being and renewed life flowed through me. Breakfast tasted delicious and gave me extraordinary pleasure. When I later walked out into the garden, in which the sun shone now after a spring rain, everything glistened and sparkled in a fresh light. The world was as if newly created. All my senses vibrated in a condition of highest sensitivity, which persisted for the entire day.’
‘I was seized by the dreadful fear of going insane. Was I dying?’
Thankfully, Albert Hofmann wasn’t phased by this dreadful trip, but went on further investigating LSD. He sensed the substance would have an impact on psychotherapy and psychiatry. In the 50’s and 60’s, much research has been done on the therapeutic value of LSD (see movie below). By now, the genie couldn’t be put back in the bottle anymore. Pretty soon the substance was also sold in the streets as a recreational drug, firing up the psychedelic revolution. Sadly, LSD’s popularity as a recreational drug was the main reason governments criminalized the substance, putting a stop to the research for several decades.
A lady is administered LSD for the research of Sidney Cohen, 1950’s, Los Angeles.
Bicycle Day, April 19th 1943, the day when Hofmann rode his bicycle home, intoxicated with a heavy dose of LSD, is still commemorated each year. The day has been of great importance to High Humans all over the world. The self-investigation Albert Hofmann deployed on Bicycle Day would prove the starting signal for the movement of psychonautics—mental explorers, who follow in the footsteps of Hofmann by self-examining their minds through psychedelics like LSD, psilocybin, mescaline and DMT. Thanks to their brave pioneer work, we’ve discovered a lot about the way these substances work.
Worldwide repression has halted scientific research into the therapeutic qualities of LSD for 35 years. Fortunately, that has changed in recent years. Maybe now Albert Hofmann’s dream will finally be fulfilled in the near future: that LSD’s medicinal effects will finally be acknowledged, and applied in psychotherapy and psychiatry.
[Tags:] LSD, magic mushrooms/truffles, mescaline, DMT/ayahuasca, psychonautics
Source: • LSD, My Problem Child (Albert Hofmann)