The discovery of LSD was pretty much an accident, and it happened on Friday, April 16, 1943, in Basle, Switzerland.
For eight years, chemist Prof Albert Hofmann had been methodically synthesizing new molecules from ergot, a fungus which grows on diseased rye.
Ergot had an intriguing contradictory reputation. On the one hand, it was highly-regarded in folk medicine for speeding up the contractions during childbirth. On the other, it was the cause of St. Anthony's Fire, a horrific scourge that had blighted entire Medieval villages with gangrene, madness and death when it infected their grain stores.
back to top
another day at the office
Hofmann chose April 16th to re-investigate LSD-25, a molecule he had synthesized five years earlier.
It took him all morning to crystallize a batch of the fine white powder but, by midday, he found himself feeling strangely restless and dizzy. Thinking he was coming down with a cold, he took the afternoon off and went to bed.
Then the hallucinations began.
"An uninterrupted stream of fantastic images of extraordinary plasticity and vividness," passed before his eyes, "accompanied by an intense kaleidoscopic play of colours."
After two hours, the effects abated and Hofmann was left breathless and wondering.
back to top
a massive dose
Suspecting that LSD-25 was at the root of the weirdness, he returned to his lab on Monday to investigate. He dissolved what he thought was a prudent amount - 250 millionths of a gram - in water and drank it down. It was actually a massive dose.
40 minutes later he became dizzy, observed some visual disturbance and had a strong desire to laugh. He asked his assistant to call a doctor and then proceeded to cycle home.
It was the strangest bicycle ride of his life. The buildings around him "yawned and rippled" and although he pedaled steadily, he didn't appear to be moving.
back to top
highs and lows
Eventually he got home, but by now believed he had permanently lost his mind. When a friendly neighbor brought him some milk, he perceived her as a "malevolent, insidious witch" wearing "a lurid mask."
After six hours of highs and lows, the effects subsided and Hofmann finally fell asleep.
He awoke the next day knowing he had discovered a new and extremely powerful conscious-altering substance. He didn't know however, the effect his "problem child" would have on his career, an entire generation, and the world.
"Of greatest significance to me has been the insight that I attained as a fundamental understanding from all of my LSD experiments: what one commonly takes as 'the reality' including the reality of one's own individual person, by no means signifies something fixed, but rather something that is ambiguous - that there is not only one, but that there are many realities, each comprising also a different consciousness of the ego"
Albert Hoffman in "LSD, My Problem Child"