Albert Hofmann died on April 29, 2008 in the village of Burg im Leimental near Switzerland at 102 years old. You may ask yourself, why is this of any importance? Well, let me break it down for you...
Albert Hofmann, a scientist of Switzerland descent, was the first person to synthesize lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in 1938 and also the first to ingest and experiment with the drug on April 19th, 1943. This day has been dubbed the infamous “Bicycle Day” by numerous drug aficionados around the world because he was bicycling home from his laboratory when he began to experience the most intense effects of the chemical compound.
Hofmann began his studies of chemistry at the University of Zurich. Through his studies he found that he was truly passionate about the chemistry of plants and animals. This lead him to join the pharmaceutical-chemical department of Sandoz Laboratories. In an attempt to purify and synthesize active constituents for use as pharmaceuticals, he studies mainly the medicinal plant scilla and the fungus ergot.
During his research of lysergic acid derivatives, Hofmann synthesized LSD-25. It served of no immediate use to the public. They gave the drug to animals and no interesting effects were observed, and was set aside for approximately five years, until it peaked Hofmann’s curiosity once again, and he decided to re-synthesize LSD with the hopes that it might be a useful circulatory and respiratory stimulant. It was during this re-synthesizing that he accidentally absorbed a small quantity through his fingertips - and was in for a big surprise on his bicycle ride home. In a note to the laboratory’s director Hofmann reported,
“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. After some two hours this condition faded away.”
Amazed by its effects Hofmann ingested 250 micrograms of LSD the next working day...on purpose. He went on to perform numerous experiments and wrote about the effects on his psyche due to this newfound chemical composition. Within forty minutes Hofmann was writing away in his laboratory journal and reported
“dizziness, feeling of anxiety, visual distortions, symptoms of paralysis, desire to laugh.”With the inability to continue writing he asked the services of his assistant to take him home by bicycle.
Later he reported that,
“on the way home, my condition began to assume threatening forms. Everything in my field of vision wavered and was distorted as if seen in a curved mirror. I also had the sensation of being unable to move from the spot. Nevertheless, my assistant later told me that we had travelled very rapidly.”
In an attempt to make a quick profit off of Hofmann’s discovery, Sandoz, gave the new substance the trade name Delysid and sent samples to psychiatric researchers. More than 2,000 papers had been published by 1965 ranging with ideas to use the drug in order to combat drug and alcohol addiction to various mental illnesses. However, since the drug was so cheap and relatively easy to create allowed it open for abuse and it became the recreational drug of choice for the western youth.
This lead to a wave of moral panic. And this wave paired with some stupid hippies deciding that they could fly under influence of the drug prompted governments around the world to ban LSD. Of course, Hofmann was hurt when he heard that LSD was removed on such a wide scale from commercial distribution. He remained steadfast in his belief that the drug had the ability to counter psychological problems brought on by
“materialism, alienation from nature through industrialization and increasing urbanization, lack of satisfaction in professional employment in mechanized, lifeless working world, ennui and purposelessness in wealthy, saturated society, and lack of a religious, nurturing, and meaning philosophical foundation of life.”
Hofmann felt that Dr. Timothy Leary was partly to blame for the criminalization of LSD and regretted Leary’s encouragement for recreational use amongst the youth. Leary felt that American teenagers “with regard to information and life experience, were comparable to adult Europeans and were able to make up their own minds.”
Do not be so quick to write Hofmann off as a mad chemist that has an affinity towards psychedelic drugs. His experiments and studies have led to many helpful discoveries in the medical world such as Hydergine, a medicament for improving circulation and cerebral function, as well as Dihydergot, a circulation and blood pressure stabilizing medicine.
Hofmann has been quoted as saying that LSD is “medicine for the soul” and could not believe the negative connotations and associations that have been paired with the drug. He said that the drug was used “very successfully for 10 years in psychoanalysis” and that the drug was essentially stolen by the countercultural youth of the 1960s and “unfairly demonized by the establishment that the movement opposed.”
Fortunately, in December of 2007, Swiss medical authorities permitted a psychotherapist to perform a series of experiments with patients who suffer from terminal stage cancer and other deadly diseases. Although the inception of the experiments has not yet began, these experiments will be the first study of therapeutic effects of LSD on humans in 35 years.
In retirement Hofmann was a member of the Nobel Prize Committee, a Fellow of the World Academy of Sciences, a member of the International Society of Plant Research, and of the American Society of Pharmacognosy.
The Albert Hofmann Foundation was established in 1988 as a means to “assemble and maintain an international library and archive devoted to the study of human consciousness and related fields.”
R.I.P Hofmann - you were a great man.