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Albert Hofmann, inventor of LSD, turns 100 today

Freak By Night

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I'll have to find the article but the piece in the New York Times about him was fascinating. The context in which he discovered LSD-25 (the 25th attempt at combining other organic compounds with lycergic acid derived from ergot fungus), 'bicycle day' (April 19), his first planned trip with Ernst Junger, his 'horror trip' after taking amphetamines from Ernst then acid, his views on man's essential connection to nature etc. I guess I don't need to find the article now, photographic memory comes in handy.

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The Wikipedia article has a link to a good interview with Stan Grof (himself a psychotherapist who used to make extensive use of LSD in his practice).

Stanlisav Grof interviews Dr. Albert Hofmann.

Being a cautious man, I started this experiment with only 0.25 milligrams (the ergot alkaloids are usually administered in milligram dosages). That is an extremely low dose and I expected it would not have any activity. I thought I would increase very cautiously the quantity of LSD in subsequent experiments to see if any of the dosages were active. It turned out that when I ingested this quarter of a milligram, I had taken a very strong, a very high dosage of a very, very active compound. I got into a strange state of consciousness. Everything in my surroundings changed - the colors, the forms, and also the feeling of my ego had changed. It was very strange! And I became very anxious that I had taken too much and I asked my assistant to accompany me home. At that time we had no car available and we went home by bicycle.

Grof: Many people who have taken LSD, particularly in such a high dose, have a lot of respect for that ride. They realize what it is to ride a bicycle in that kind of a condition.

Hofmann: During this trip home on the bicycle - it was about four kilometers - I had the feeling that I could not move from the spot. I was cycling, cycling, but the time seemed to stand still. In my report afterward, I mentioned this trip on the bicycle to show that LSD affected the experience of time, as an example of the distortion of the sense of time. Then the bicycle trip became a characteristic aspect of the LSD discovery. As we arrived home, I was in a very, very bad condition. It was such a strange reality, such a strange new universe which I had entered, that I believed I had now become insane. I asked my assistant to call the doctor. When the doctor arrived, I told him that I was dying. I had the feeling that my body had absolutely no feeling any more. He tested me and shook his head, because everything was OK.

Then, my condition became worse and worse. When I was lying on my couch, I had the feeling that I had already died. I believed, I had a sense that I was out of my body. It was a terrifying experience! The doctor did not give me anything, but I drank a lot of milk, as an unspecific detoxicant. After about six hours, the experience of the outer world started to change. I had the feeling of coming back from a very strange land, home to our everyday reality.

And it was a very, very happy feeling and a very beautiful experience. After some time, with my eyes closed, I began to enjoy this wonderful play of colors and forms, which it really was a pleasure to observe. Then I went to sleep and the next day I was fine. I felt quite fresh, like a newborn. It was an April day and I went out into the garden. It had been raining during the night. I had the feeling that I saw the earth and the beauty of nature as it had been when it was created, at the first day of creation. It was a beautiful experience! I was reborn, seeing nature in quite a new light.

Grof: We have seen this kind of sequence, the death-rebirth process, very regularly in psychedelic sessions. Many people link this experience to the memory of their biological birth. I wanted to ask you, if during the time when it was happening, it was just an encounter with death or if you also had the feeling that you were involved in a biological birthing process?

Hofmann: No, the first phase was a very terrifying experience, because I did not know if I would recover. First, I had the feeling that I was insane and then I had the feeling I was dying. But then, when I was coming back, I had of course the feeling of rebirth.

The whole article is worth the read, especially in how he talks about the morphing of his "wonder child" into his "problem child" through the 1960s and his later adventures with other psychedelics. And then there's this bit -

Grof: I would like to ask you now something very personal. You must have been asked this question a number of times before, I am sure. You have had during your lifetime quite a few psychedelic experiences, some of which you described to us today. It began with the LSD experiences associated with the discovery of LSD, then the experiences during the work on the isolation of the active principles from the magic mushrooms and ololiuqui, the experience in the mushroom ritual with Maria Sabina, the sessions you described in LSD, My Problem Child, and some others. What influence have all these experiences had on you, on your way of being in the world, on your values, on your personal philosophy, and on your scientific world view?

Hofmann: They have changed my life, insofar as they provided me with a new concept about what reality is. Reality became for me a problem after my experience with LSD. Before, I had believed there was only one reality, the reality of everyday life. Just one true reality and the rest was imagination and was not real. But under the influence of LSD, I entered into realities which were as real and even more real than the one of everyday. And I thought about the nature of reality and I got some deeper insights.

I analyzed the mechanisms involved in the production of the normal world view that we call the "everyday reality." What are the factors that constitute it? What is inside and what is outside? What comes from the outside in and what is just inside? I use for this process the metaphor of the sender and the receiver. The productive sender is the outer world, the external reality including our own body. The receiver is our deep self, the conscious ego, which then transforms the outer stimuli into a psychological experience.

It was very helpful for me to see what is really, objectively, outside; something that you cannot change, something that is the same for everybody. And what is produced by me, homemade, what is myself, that which I can change. What is my spiritual inside that can be changed. This possibility to change reality, which exists in everyone, represents the real freedom of every human individual. He has an enormous possibility to change his world view. It helped me enormously in my life to realize what really exists on the outside and what is homemade by me.

Grof: You have a tremendous awareness and sensitivity in regard to ecological issues, for example, the industrial pollution of water and air, the destruction of nature, the dying of the European forests, and so on. Would you attribute this to your psychedelic sessions, in which you experienced oneness with nature and the interconnectedness of creation? Do you think that these experiences somehow opened you to this greater ecological awareness, to a sharper sense of what we are doing to nature?

Hofmann: Yes, 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. I became very sensitive to what will happen to all this and all of us. I have published and lectured about the main environmental problems we have in Europe and at home in this regard.

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