"Albert Hofmann, who died on Tuesday aged 102, synthesized lysergic acid
diethylamide (LSD) in 1938 and became the first person in the world to
experience a full-blown acid trip." (Telegraph.co.uk)
Okay, I had two thoughts when I heard the news yesterday. First, anyone who had Dr. Hofmann in his celebrity death pool technically lost ground in the game. The way many of these pools work is on a point system. You generally get 100 points, minus the celebrity's age. That way Miley Cyrus, God forbid, would be worth 85 points but would be a much gutsier pick than, say, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who is on the exact flip side at 15 points. So if you had Hoffman, you owe 2.
Secondly, he was only 102. Imagine how long he might have lived if he'd stayed clean like his parents probably advised him to. This is why you shouldn't do drugs.
In case the letters LSD mean nothing to you, here is more from the rather interesting Telegraph obituary:
"Hofmann was working as a research chemist in the laboratory of the Sandoz
Company (now Novartis) in Basel, Switzerland, where he was involved in
studying the medicinal properties of plants. This eventually led to the study of the alkaloid compounds of ergot, a fungus which forms on rye.
Hofmann’s studies led to many new discoveries such as Hydergine, a medicament for improvement of circulation and cerebral function and Dihydergot, a circulation and blood pressure stabilizing medicine.
His interest in synthesising LSD was stimulated at first by the hope that it might also be useful as a circulatory and respiratory stimulant.
But when his molecule, known as LSD-25, was tested on animals, no interesting effects were observed, though the research notes recorded that the beasts became “restless” during narcosis. The substance was dismissed as of no interest and dropped from Sandoz’s research programme.
But five years later, acting on some intuition, Hofmann decided to resynthesise LSD. In his autobiography, LSD, My Problem Child (1979), he recalled that in the final stage of the synthesis, he was interrupted by some unusual sensations.
In a note to the laboratory’s director, he reported '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 perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away.'
Hofmann concluded that he must have accidentally breathed in or ingested some laboratory material and assumed LSD was the cause. To test the theory he waited until the next working day, Monday April 19 1943, and tried again, swallowing 0.25 of a milligram.
Forty minutes later, his laboratory journal recorded 'dizziness, feeling of anxiety, visual distortions, symptoms of paralysis, desire to laugh.'
Unable to write any more, he asked his assistant to take him home by bicycle. 'On the way home, my condition began to assume threatening forms.'
'Everything in my field of vision wavered and was distorted as if seen in a curved mirror. I also had the sensation of being unable to move from the spot. Nevertheless, my assistant later told me that we had traveled very rapidly.'
Back home, when a friendly neighbour brought round some milk, he perceived her as a 'malevolent, insidious witch wearing a lurid mask.' After six hours of highs and lows, the effects subsided.
Sandoz, keen to make a profit from Hofman’s discovery, gave the new substance the trade name Delysid and began sending samples out to psychiatric researchers.
By 1965 more than 2,000 papers had been published offering hope for a range of conditions from drug and alcohol addiction to mental illnesses of various sorts.
But the fact that it was cheap and easy to make left it open to abuse and from the late 1950s onwards, promoted by Dr. Timothy Leary and others, LSD became the recreational drug of choice for alienated western youth.
An outbreak of moral panic, combined with a number of accidents involving people jumping to their deaths off high buildings thinking they could fly, led governments around the world to ban LSD.
Research also showed that the drug taken in high doses and in inappropriate settings, often caused panic reactions. For certain individuals, a bad trip seemed to be the trigger for full-blown psychosis.
Hofmann was disappointed when his discovery was removed from commercial distribution. He remained convinced that the drug had the potential to counter the psychological problems induced by 'materialism, alienation from nature through industrialization and increasing urbanization, lack of satisfaction in professional employment in a mechanized, lifeless working world, ennui and purposelessness in wealthy, saturated society, and lack of a religious, nurturing, and meaningful philosophical foundation of life.'