A little history lesson on LSD. Albert Hofmann, the scientist who discovered it, just died:
Dr. Hofmann first synthesized the compound lysergic acid diethylamide in 1938 but did not discover its psychopharmacological effects until five years later, when he accidentally ingested the substance that became known to the 1960s counterculture as acid.
He then took LSD hundreds of times, but regarded it as a powerful and potentially dangerous psychotropic drug that demanded respect. More important to him than the pleasures of the psychedelic experience was the drug’s value as a revelatory aid for contemplating and understanding what he saw as humanity’s oneness with nature. That perception, of union, which came to Dr. Hofmann as almost a religious epiphany while still a child, directed much of his
personal and professional life.
“It happened on a May morning — I have forgotten the year — but I can still point to the exact spot where it occurred, on a forest path on Martinsberg above Baden,” he wrote in “LSD: My Problem Child.” “As I strolled through the freshly greened woods filled with bird song and lit up by the morning sun, all at once everything appeared in an uncommonly clear light.
“It shone with the most beautiful radiance, speaking to the heart, as though it wanted to encompass me in its majesty. I was filled with an indescribable sensation of joy, oneness and blissful security.”
It was during his work on the ergot fungus, which grows in rye kernels, that he stumbled on LSD, accidentally ingesting a trace of the compound one Friday afternoon in April 1943. Soon he experienced an altered state of consciousness similar to the one he had experienced as a child.
On the following Monday, he deliberately swallowed a dose of LSD and rode his bicycle home as the effects of the drug overwhelmed him. That day, April 19, later became memorialized by LSD enthusiasts as “bicycle day.”
Dr. Hofmann’s work produced other important drugs, including methergine, used to treat postpartum hemorrhaging, the leading cause of death from childbirth. But it was LSD that shaped both his career and his spiritual quest.
“Through my LSD experience and my new picture of reality, I became aware of the wonder of creation, the magnificence of nature and of the animal and plant kingdom,” Dr. Hofmann told the psychiatrist Stanislav Grof during an interview in 1984. “I became very sensitive to what will happen to all this and all of us.”
But he was also disturbed by the cavalier use of LSD as a drug for entertainment, arguing that it should be treated in the way that primitive societies treat psychoactive sacred plants, which are ingested with care and spiritual intent.
After his discovery of LSD’s properties, Dr. Hofmann spent years researching sacred plants. With his friend R. Gordon Wasson, he participated in psychedelic rituals with Mazatec shamans in southern Mexico. He succeeded in synthesizing the active compounds in the Psilocybe mexicana mushroom, which he named psilocybin and psilocin. He also isolated the active compound in morning glory seeds, which the Mazatec also used as an intoxicant, and found that its chemical structure was close to that of LSD.
During the psychedelic era, Dr. Hofmann struck up friendships with such outsize personalities as Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg and Aldous Huxley, who, nearing death in 1963, asked his wife for an injection of LSD to help him through the final painful throes of throat cancer.
Though Dr. Hofmann called LSD “medicine for the soul,” by 2006 his hallucinogenic days were long behind him, he said in the interview that year.
“I know LSD; I don’t need to take it anymore,”…