A young chemist from Switzerland accidentally created and tested the psychedelic compound LSD on himself during the darkest days of the Second World War. What he couldn’t know was that this substance would play a major role in sparking multiple cultural movements in the following century.
When and where was LSD first invented or discovered?
LSD was first synthesized in 1938 in Basel, Switzerland by a young chemist named Albert Hofmann. The goal with this was not to create a trippy compound that causes hallucinations. The ultimate goal of the work was to help create a marketable blood stimulant. Hofmann’s task was to go one-by-one and synthesize each of the molecules in the alkaloids produced by a fungus that infects grain, ergot.
What is ergot?
Ergot is basically a bread mold that would occasionally cause people who ate bread infected with it to appear possessed or mad. There’s actually a theory about the Salem witch trials that attributes the supposed witch behaviour of women there to ergot poisoning.
As Hofmann was completing his work synthesizing molecules in the ergot compound one by one, he wasn’t getting very good results. In the 25th molecule of the series, Hofmann synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide, thus the name LSD. The testing he performed on animals showed no promise whatsoever. Virtually all the substance did was make the animals uneasy and tense. So the molecule was scrapped, never to be thought about again.
When did Hofmann trip acid for the first time?
Five years later, in 1943, Hofmann decided to give this compound a second look. Typically when a compound is discarded it’s gone for good, but something about the chemical structure intrigued him, and he thought LSD could have other properties than what was witnessed in original tests. When Hofmann was synthesizing LSD for the second time, some of the substance somehow got absorbed through his skin. Eventually, unusual sensations interrupted Hofmann’s work. It was likely a minuscule amount of LSD that made its way into his system, which probably explains why he was able to make it through the day and get to his house to collapse on his couch.
Intrigued by the sensations he felt, he decided to ingest a calculated dose three days later on April 19th. Hofmann took 0.25 milligrams, or 250 micrograms which is seemingly a tiny amount on paper, but is actually around 2.5 times a normal first dose of a first trip.
Did Hofmann have a good trip on LSD?
The come-up was quite fast and Hofmann was quickly thrust into a state of what he believed to be irretrievable insanity. Feeling very uncomfortable (understandably!) he decided to go home for the day. Given that he was conducting this research in WWII Switzerland, cars were not allowed on the streets. There was no other way for him to get home other than to ride his bike. That led to the bike ride after which the day is named.
Somehow Hofmann made it home and had his assistant call a doctor. At this point, Hofmann noted he was experiencing everyday, mundane objects taking on frightening and seemingly threatening forms. As he peaked, his ego began to dissolve and because he knew nothing about the effects of the drug, he was convinced that he was actually dying or that he would be in a state of insanity permanently. He said, “my ego was suspended somewhere in space and I saw my body lying dead on the sofa.” The doctor found nothing wrong with Hofmann, except that his pupils were quite dilated.
How did Hofmann’s trip end?
After Hofmann calmed down and his ego returned and the horrifying vibe wore off, he began to experience the classic psychedelic afterglow. The afterglow typically gives someone an elevated and energetic mood, putting them into a state relatively free from concern. Essentially, it’s the exact opposite of a hangover!
What did Hofmann think psychedelics could be used for?
Despite being the person credited with inventing LSD, Hofmann is convinced the substance found him rather than the other way around. He wasn’t sure of the specifics, but he believed the substance could be valuable in therapy. However, the connotations that the drug ended up having in society were far different than what he envisioned. A couple of decades later, LSD made its way into the mainstream and became a symbol of the counterculture movement of the 1960s. The general attitude among the movement was against mainstream society.
Hofmann himself genuinely understands why youth came to adopt his creation in this light, because the world had become highly materialist and very spiritually impoverished. A capitalist society that had lost its connection to nature.
What happened after Hofmann to LSD?
Eventually the counterculture movement died down and LSD became illegal. It was federally listed in the United States as a schedule I drug. According to that classification, LSD is highly addictive (untrue) and has a high potential for abuse (possibly some truth, but with it not being addictive, not really true), and serves no medicinal or therapeutic benefit (also untrue).
During the era of the War on Drugs, LSD, and psychedelic use in general, was massively stigmatized. However, in the 21st century, a gradual shift has been taking place. Societies attitudes towards psychedelics have evolved, and there is a huge increase in the number of people who see possible benefits to psychedelic use. The benefits include personal development, spiritual development, productivity or mood enhancement via microdosing, and more.