Albert Hofmann, Ph.D., is the world-renown Swiss chemist who discovered LSD. The impact that LSD has had on the world is certainly immense, and although largely incalculable, I think, it’s fair to say that this super-potent, mind-morphing molecule has deeply effected the foundation of every aspect of human culture–from art and science, to politics, medicine, and spirituality. Dr. Hofmann also discovered and first synthesized psilocybin and psilocin, the primary psychoactive components of the magic mushroom, as well as the psychoactive lysergic acid alkaloids in Morning Glory seeds. He also designed the ergot-derived, cognitive-enhancer hydergine, which is used as a treatment for memory disorders, as a product for Sandoz Pharmaceutical.
Dr. Hofmann was born in Baden, Switzerland in 1906. He graduated from the University of Zürich in 1929, with a degree in chemistry, and then went to work for Sandoz (now Novartis) Pharmaceutical in Basel. Dr. Hofmann’s research goal was to work towards the isolation of active principles in known medicinal plants. Dr. Hofmann worked with Mediterranean squill for several years, before moving on to the study of ergot and ergot alkaloids.
Over the next few years, Dr. Hofmann worked his way through the lysergic acid derivatives in ergot. In 1938, he synthesized LSD-25 (the twenty-fifth in a series of lysergic acid derivatives) for the first time. However, after minimal testing on laboratory animals with no interesting results, he set the compound aside and continued to work with other derivatives.
Five years later, on April 16, 1943, he re-synthesized LSD-25 because he felt that he might have missed something the first time around. This was was at the height of World War II, shortly after Fermi made his discovery that led to the atomic bomb. Dr. Hofmann said that he had a “peculiar presentiment” to resynthesize LSD and that LSD “spoke” to him. (Many people have speculated about the possibility of a relationship between the discovery of the psychoactive properties of LSD and the first nuclear explosions, as LSD is thought by many to be something of a spiritual antidote to the aggressive and toxic tendencies of the human species.)
After Dr. Hofmann resynthesized LSD, he wrote in his laboratory journal these famous words: “Last Friday…I was forced to interrupt my work in the laboratory in the middle of the afternoon and proceed home, being affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated 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.”
Apparently, Dr. Hofmann accidentally ingested a minute amount of the LSD–possibly through his fingertips–and since the drug is active in such small doses (measured in micrograms), Dr. Hofmann became the first person in human history to experience the psychedelic effects of LSD. Three days later, on April 19, he decided to verify his results by intentionally ingesting 250 micrograms of LSD. Compared to other known drugs, this would appear to have been a very conservative dose, since no other drug was known to have effects in such small quantities.
As it turns out, 250 mcg. is actually quite a hefty dose of LSD, and Dr. Hofmann had a powerful and rather frightening experience that forced him to bicycle home form the lab and spend the day in bed, where he fully recovered in a few hours. The anniversary of this day, April 19th, has become known to many appreciative people as “Bicycle Day,” in honor of Dr. Hofmann’s famous hallucinogenic journey through the streets of Basel on his bicycle while traveling home from the lab.
Dr. Hofmann told me that he was “convinced from the very beginning of the fundamental impact” of LSD. Although Dr. Hofmann has always seen great spiritual value and creative potential in LSD, he was often dismayed by the way that many young people used it merely to enhance sensory experiences, and by the strict prohibitive reactions toward the drug by virtually every government in the world. Because of the enormous controversy that surrounds LSD, Dr. Hofmann refers to this mighty mind-morphing molecule as his “problem child.”
Dr. Hofmann continued to work for Sandoz until 1971, when he retired as Director of Research for the Department of Natural Products. Since that time he has continued to write and lecture. Dr. Hofmann tells the story of how he discovered LSD, and reflects on the impact it had in the world, in his book LSD: My Problem Child. He is also the author of Insight Outlook, and coauthor of Plants of the Gods and The Road To Eleusis.
Dr. Hofmann is a Member of the Nobel Prize Committee, Fellow of the World Academy of Sciences, Member of the International Society of Plant Research, and the American Society of Pharmacognosy. To find out more about Dr. Hofmann’s work visit: www.lsd.info and www.maps.org/hofmann100.
Dr. Hofmann turned a hundred years old on January 11, 2006. He is remarkably healthy and remains acutely mentally focused. I attended Dr. Hofmann’s centennial birthday celebration and LSD symposium in Basel from January 13 to 15, 2006: LSD–Problem Child and Wonder Drug. Thousands of unusually creative and deeply appreciative people gathered from around the world to honor Dr. Hofmann’s work with the kind of reverence that is usually reserved for saints and religious sages. It was the largest conference ever held on psychedelics and some of the most brilliant and accomplished scientists, artists, writers, and musicians on this planet were there to honor Dr. Hofmann.
I interviewed Dr. Hofmann with the help of my friend Dieter Hagenbach, who organized the event in Basel. Dieter translated my questions and Dr. Hofmann’s German responses. Although Dr. Hofmann was feeling quite exhausted from the barrage of media attention around his 100th birthday celebration, he graciously agreed to answer my questions. His answers are generally brief, however, they are, I think, succinctly eloquent and profoundly wise. Dr. Hofmann spoke about how he became interested in chemistry, how psychedelics have effected his view of the world, and what he thought about the future evolution of the human species.
David: What originally inspired your interest in chemistry?
Albert: My interest in chemistry was inspired by a fundamental philosophical question: Is the material world a manifestation of the spiritual world? I hoped to find deep, sound answers from the solid laws of chemistry to answer this question, and to apply these answers to the external problems and open questions of the spiritual dimensions of life.
David: When you first discovered LSD did you have an intuitive sense that this drug would have the enormous impact on the world that it has, or where you generally surprised by what followed?
Albert: I was convinced from the very beginning of the fundamental impact.
David: What motivated or inspired you to go back and synthesize LSD a second time in 1943?
Albert: I synthesized LSD a second time for a deeper pharmacological investigation.
David: How has your own use of LSD effected your philosophy of life?
Albert: LSD showed me the inseparable interaction between the material and the spiritual world.
David: What sort of association do you see between LSD and creativity?
Albert: Since LSD opens up what Aldous Huxley called “the Doors of Perception”, it enhances the fields of creative activity.
David: Do you think that LSD has effected human evolution?
Albert: I do not know if it has effected human evolution, but I hope so.
David: What are your thoughts on why LSD is almost universally prohibited by governments around the world?
Albert: LSD belongs to a class of psychoactive substances that provide the user with