Albert Hofmann (January 11, 1906 – April 29, 2008) was a Swiss scientist best known for having been the first to synthesize, ingest and learn of the psychedelic effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).
Hofmann authored more than 100 scientific articles and wrote a number of books, including LSD: My Problem Child. On January 11, 2006, Hofmann became a centenarian, and the occasion of his 100th birthday was the focus of an international symposium on LSD.
Hofmann was born in Baden, Switzerland, the first of four children born to factory toolmaker Adolf Hofmann and his wife Elisabeth (née Schenk). Due to his father's low income, Albert's godfather paid for his education. When his father fell ill, Hofmann took up a position as a commercial apprentice in concurrence with his studies. At the age of twenty, Hofmann began his chemistry degree at the University of Zürich, finishing three years later, in 1929. His main interest was the chemistry of plants and animals, and he later conducted important research regarding the chemical structure of the common animal substance chitin, for which he received his doctorate, with distinction, in 1930.
Hofmann joined the pharmaceutical-chemical department of Sandoz Laboratories (now Novartis), located in Basel as a co-worker with professor Arthur Stoll, founder and director of the pharmaceutical department . He began studying the medicinal plantsquill and the fungusergot as part of a program to purify and synthesize active constituents for use as pharmaceuticals. His main contribution was to elucidate the chemical structure of the common nucleus of Scilla glycosides (an active principal of Mediterranean Squill) . While researching lysergic acid derivatives, Hofmann first synthesized LSD-25 in 1938. The main intention of the synthesis was to obtain a respiratory and circulatory stimulant (an analeptic). It was set aside for five years, until April 16, 1943, when Hofmann decided to take another look at it.
While re-synthesizing LSD, he accidentally absorbed a small quantity through his fingertips and serendipitously discovered its powerful effects.
He described what he felt as being:" ...affected by 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 found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away."
Three days later, in April 19th, 1943, Hofmann performed a self-experiment to determine the true effects of LSD, intentionally ingesting 250 micrograms of the substance, an amount he predicted to be a threshold dose (an actual threshold dose is 20 micrograms). Less than an hour later, Hofmann experienced sudden and intense changes in perception. He asked his laboratory assistant to escort him home, and as use of vehicles was prohibited due to wartime restrictions, they had to make the journey on a bicycle. On the way, Hofmann’s condition rapidly deteriorated as he struggled with feelings of anxiety, alternatingly believing the next-door neighbor was a malevolent witch, that he was going insane, and the LSD had poisoned him. When the house doctor arrived, however, he could detect no physical abnormalities, save for a pair of incredibly dilated pupils. Hofmann was reassured, and soon his terror began to give way to a sense of good fortune and enjoyment, as he later wrote"...little by little I could begin to enjoy the unprecedented colors and plays of shapes that persisted behind my closed eyes. Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in colored fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves in constant flux…"
The events of the first LSD trip, now known as “Bicycle Day”, after the bicycle ride home, proved to Hoffman that he had indeed made a significant discovery. A psychoactive substance with extraordinary potency, capable of causing paradigm shifts of consciousness in incredibly low doses, Hofmann foresaw the drug as a powerful psychiatric tool; due to its intense and introspective nature, he couldn’t imagine anyone using it recreationally.
“ I think that in human evolution it has never been as necessary to have this substance LSD. It is just a tool to turn us into what we are supposed to be. ”
In 1962, he and his wife Anita traveled to southern Mexico to search for the plant "Ska Maria Pastora" (Leaves of Mary the Shepherdess), later known as Salvia divinorum. He was able to obtain samples of this plant but never succeeded in identifying its active compound which has since been identified as the diterpenoid Salvinorin A. Albert Hofmann in 2006 In 1963, Hofmann attended the annual convention of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences (WAAS) in Stockholm.
Hofmann called LSD "medicine for the soul" and was frustrated by the worldwide prohibition that has pushed it underground. "It was used very successfully for 10 years in psychoanalysis," he said, adding that the drug was hijacked by the youth movement of the 1960's and then unfairly demonized by the establishment that the movement opposed. He conceded that LSD can be dangerous in the wrong hands.
In December 2007, Swiss medical authorities permitted a psychotherapist to perform psychotherapeutic experiments with patients who suffer from terminal stage cancer and other deadly diseases. Although not yet started, these experiments will represent the first study of the therapeutic effects of LSD on humans in 35 years, as other studies have focused on the drug's effects on consciousness and body. Hofmann supported the study, and continued to believe in the therapeutic benefits of LSD. Hofmann was due to speak at the World Psychedelic Forum from March 21 to March 24, 2008 but was forced to pull out due to poor health.
Albert Hofmann died of natural causes on April 29, 2008 in the village of Burg im Leimental, near Basel, Switzerland. He was 102 years old.