Albert Hofmann’s Psychedelic Discovery
In November of 1938, Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann was studying the medicinal plant squill and the ergot fungus to create a respiratory and circulatory stimulant, and first synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide, also known as LSD. Hofmann shelved LSD for 5 years before he returned to look at the chemical once again. While in the midst of resynthesizing LSD, Hofmann accidentally absorbed a small amount of the chemical into his fingertips, and reported strange feelings and fantastic visions later that evening. Curious of his discovery, he later took what he thought was a threshold dose of LSD (0.25 Milligrams) to observe its peculiar effects. Little did Hofmann know that LSD’s true threshold dose is 20 micrograms, and he was sent on an extraordinary psychedelic journey into his own psyche. In what has become a hallmark story in history, Hofmann documented his bicycle ride home after his large dose of LSD,
“Here the notes in my laboratory journal cease. I was able to write the last words only with great effort. I had to struggle to speak intelligibly. I asked my laboratory assistant, who was informed of the self-experiment, to escort me home. We went by bicycle, no automobile being available because of wartime restrictions on their use. 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. Finally, we arrived at home safe and sound, and I was just barely capable of asking my companion to summon our family doctor and request milk from the neighbors.” (Albert Hofmann, LSD: My Problem Child)
Hofmann was unaware that he had just discovered one of the most potent psychedelics known to man. In the 1950’s LSD exploded in the United States when scientists discovered its clinical application, testing its therapeutic benefits in patient/client settings. Serotonergic psychedelics such as LSD allow its user a deeper exploration of their psyche, often unlocking more psychoanalytic abilities within their minds.
During the first 30 years of LSD research extensive testing was conducted, generating over 1000 scientific papers, dozens of books and multiple conferences. The verdict was in: psychedelics were opening new doors in the clinical therapy world, allowing researchers to delve into the deepest corners of people’s minds as well as treat the most challenging of mental disorders.
Prohibition of LSD came in the 1960’s after the drug became a popular recreational drug among the world’s youth. In 1963 the FDA classified LSD as an Investigational New Drug, which was the first stage of its prohibition and which put new restrictions on its scientific and medical use. Leading figures such as Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary publicly advocated the use of LSD, and the drug soon became central to the counterculture movement of the 1960’s. People were expanding their consciousness like never before, and this threatened the governments desired and held control over peoples minds. Rumours spread about a person jumping out of their 4th story window while under the influence of LSD, and this caused hysteria to breakout in regards to the possible psychotic dangers of the drug. Possession of LSD became illegal on October 24th, 1968, after which it was classified as a ‘Schedule I’ drug in the US. This silenced almost all scientific and medicinal research for decades, and LSD was put back onto the shelves once again.
Therapeutic Applications of LSD
During the era when LSD research was first being conducted, there was a correlation among the studies that couldn’t be denied; scientists were noting the positive effects observed in patients being treated for a wide variety of conditions.
In a 1963 study performed by Charles Savage of Stanford University, 144 patients were given LSD and mescaline and were each given questionnaires to describe their negative or positive experience. Follow-ups on the subjects extended up to 2 years after the study. 83% of the subjects felt the experience was of lasting benefit, 88% of the subjects felt that it gave them a great understanding of themselves and others, 78% thought it was the greatest thing that ever happened to them, 83% said it gave them a new way of looking at the world, and 77% stated a transcendental experience beyond their usual comprehension.
In Betty Grover Eisner’s book Remembrances of LSD Therapy’s Past, she outlines her years of clinical research revealing LSD’s powerful ability to treat psychoneurotic patients.
“Of the 22 subjects in the study carried out at the Brentwood V.A., five subjects were neuropsychiatric hospital patients and 17 were volunteer outpatients. Problems ranged from depressive states to borderline schizophrenic patients in the hospital. Our improved rate was just over 72%, as judged by the two doctors, the patient, and the individual closest to the patient. Follow-up interviews were held over periods ranging from six to 17 months, continuing success in behavioral adaptation being the criteria of improvement. For instance, one of the “non-improved” categories, a hospital patient, was cured of his alcoholism, the reason for his admission, only to become a compulsive gambler two years later. The rate of improvement was 16 out of 22 patients.”
Eisner goes on to describe one specific subject from the experiment who suffered from severe alcoholism and who experienced a drastic change in behavior,
“Probably our most dramatic patient was an alcoholic who had been hospitalized 23 times for bouts of drunkenness during which he usually became violent. J.D. had seven LSD sessions with discussions in between when he requested them. He improved to the point of being discharged from the hospital and has never been rehospitalized — some 35 years later (although, he did drink again). His weekly productions in the art clinic are a fascinating record of the drama of his recovery, although they do not picture the event which made his recovery possible: the abreaction of an incident where he had been captured by the Germans in World War II and had to kill two Germans in order to escape and return through enemy lines to his own Air Force unit.”
This kind of research is substantial considering that there are currently hundreds of millions of people in the world that are affected by alcohol dependency or abuse. Psychedelics, such as LSD, allow its user to gain a new awareness from which they are able to understand their thoughts and behavior like never understood before. Eisner goes on to discuss another remarkable schizoid patient who was treated with LSD,
“We gave the patient a series of LSD sessions of gradually increasing dosage and walked him past his psychosis so that he was able to be discharged the following month. Again, we have a record of his progress in the pastel drawings he did each week. This was a schizoid patient who was almost impossible to tolerate until he was under LSD, and then he could be related to. He had been unable to get a job or to maintain a relationship, but after 16 LSD sessions, he was able to do both. However, evidently we didn’t drain the reservoir of his hostility enough during his sessions. Incidentally, it was interesting to note how LSD lowered an individual’s barriers enough to make the person possible to relate to. No matter how unpleasant or hostile before, all patients were “lovable” once the LSD was working strongly.”
It’s curious that LSD was classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, deemed to have a high potential for abuse, no legitimate medical use in its treatment and a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision. There are no documented deaths from chemical toxicity of LSD; the recorded deaths are a result of behavioral toxicity. The CIA was using LSD for mind control testing in the 1950’s as part of a now declassified program titled MK-Ultra, and rumours quickly spread that the government wanted to conceal the power of psychedelics for their private use only. The following statement is from a DEA publication,
“Although initial observations on the benefits of LSD were highly optimistic, empirical data developed subsequently proved less promising … Its use in scientific research has been extensive and its use has been widespread. Although the study of LSD and other hallucinogens increased the awareness of how chemicals could affect the mind, its use in psychotherapy largely has been debunked. It produces no aphrodisiac effects, does not increase creativity, has no lasting positive effect in treating alcoholics or criminals, does not produce a ‘model psychosis’, and does not generate immediate personality change.”
But the studies state otherwise. For example, recent clinical studies revealed that patients suffering from an idiopathic disorder called “cluster headaches” could be treated with 2-bromo-LSD, an analogue of the hallucinogenic form.  Cluster headaches, sometimes referred to as “suicide headaches” because of the almost unbearable pain they cause sufferers, usually involve just one side of the face; patients often liken the pain to someone trying to pull their eye out for hours. They can occur in bouts lasting many weeks, with several attacks a day. The study presented the data of six patients with severe cluster headache who were given BOL once every 5 days for a total of three doses. All patients reported a reduction in the frequency of attacks, and five patients reported having no attacks for months afterward.
According to an analysis of over 130,000 randomly chosen people, the use of LSD and other psychedelics does not increase a person’s risk of developing mental health problems. The study was conducted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and the results found that significant correlations existed between psychedelic drug use and fewer mental health problems. The researchers found that lifetime use of psilocybin or mescaline and past year use of LSD were associated with lower rates of serious psychological distress; lifetime use of LSD was also significantly associated with a lower rate of outpatient mental health treatment and psychiatric medicine prescription. Recent clinical trials have also failed to find any evidence of any lasting harmful effects of psychedelics. So the black and white government fear-mongering films were just that after all, propaganda.
Stanislav Grof, another famous psychedelic researcher and author, suggests that psychedelics may offer a solution to the global crises currently affecting our planet,
“In the last few decades, it has become increasingly clear that humanity is facing a crisis of unprecedented proportions. Modern science has developed effective measures that could solve most of the urgent problems in today’s world–combat the majority of diseases, eliminate hunger and poverty, reduce the amount of industrial waste, and replace destructive fossil fuels by renewable sources of clean energy. The problems that stand in the way are not of economical or technological nature. The deepest sources of the global crisis lie inside the human personality and reflect the level of consciousness evolution of our species.
In one of my early books I suggested that the potential significance of LSD and other psychedelics for psychiatry and psychology was comparable to the value the microscope has for biology or the telescope has for astronomy. My later experience with psychedelics only confirmed this initial impression. These substances function as unspecific amplifiers that increase the cathexis (energetic charge) associated with the deep unconscious contents of the psyche and make them available for conscious processing. This unique property of psychedelics makes it possible to study psychological undercurrents that govern our experiences and behaviours to a depth that cannot be matched by any other method and tool available in modern mainstream psychiatry and psychology. In addition, it offers unique opportunities for healing of emotional and psychosomatic disorders, for positive personality transformation, and consciousness evolution.”
A New Era of Healing and Therapy
It is clear that psychedelics may offer a solution to many ailments and trauma’s suffered by the general population. Furthermore, just as Stanislav Grof stated, the greater picture of ecologic and social crisis that is currently destroying our planet and stunting the evolution of the human species is more likely the external reflection of our unexplored and wounded consciousness.
Thankfully, in the last decade, psychedelic research has been ignited once again, as the government has begun approving controlled clinical trials. Scientists, who at one time had their careers silenced if they brought up psychedelics in the workplace, are now being provided the freedom to explore the medicinal applications of drugs like LSD, MDMA, psilocybin, DMT and mescaline. There has been a shift in the general understanding of entheogenic compounds like LSD; we are doing our own research and deciding for ourselves what is “dangerous” and what is not. We are looking inwards to heal, rather than turning to the common vices such as alcohol and the biggest killer of them all, pharmaceuticals. Sacred planet medicines such as ayahuasca (which contains the potent psychedelic DMT) are also gaining widespread attention in the Western World and are leading the way for us to gain deeper understandings of ourselves, our connection to the each other, and the planet. As more barriers and limitations are lifted from the scope of scientific research, we will continue to see new innovations and revolutions in fields such as medicine, holistic health and psychotherapy.
1.) http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/235827?uid=3739448&uid=2&uid=3737720&uid=4&sid=21102880846417 (LSD Before Leary: Sidney Cohen’s Critique of 1950s Psychedelic Drug Research)
2.) http://www.lycaeum.org/research/researchpdfs/0908.pdf (The Use of LSD In Psychotherapy and Alcoholism)
3.) http://www.amsciepub.com/doi/pdf/10.2466/pr0.1918.104.22.168 (LSD: Therapeutic Effects, Stanford University Study)
4.) http://alcoholismstatistics.net/ (Alcoholism Stats)
5.) http://web.petabox.bibalex.org/web/20011116091659/www.usdoj.gov/dea/pubs/lsd/lsd-4.htm (DEA publication about LSD)
6.) http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1011615-overview (LSD Toxicity Reports)
8.) Grof, Stanislav (1998). The Cosmic Game: Explorations of the Frontiers of Human Consciousness. SUNY Press.
9.) Hofmann, Albert (1979). LSD: My Problem Child. L.P Tarcher, Inc.