Thank you, Dr. Hofmann

New York Times obit of Albert Hofmann

Dr. Hofmann first synthesized the compound lysergic acid diethylamide in 1938 but did not discover its psychopharmacological effects until five years later, when he accidentally ingested the substance that became known to the 1960s counterculture as acid.

He then took LSD hundreds of times, but regarded it as a powerful and potentially dangerous psychotropic drug that demanded respect. More important to him than the pleasures of the psychedelic experience was the drug’s value as a revelatory aid for contemplating and understanding what he saw as humanity’s oneness with nature. That perception, of union, which came to Dr. Hofmann as almost a religious epiphany while still a child, directed much of his personal and professional life.

From the obituary in The Telegraph:

…. 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 industrialisation and increasing urbanisation, lack of satisfaction in professional employment in a mechanised, lifeless working world, ennui and purposelessness in wealthy, saturated society, and lack of a religious, nurturing, and meaningful philosophical foundation of life”….

One of the greatest crimes of the War On Some Drugs is the suppression of LSD as a tool for introspection. In his entirely worthwhile memoir/cookbook PIHKAL, Alexander Shulgin wrote: “It is essential that our present negative propaganda regarding psychedelic drugs be replaced with honesty and truthfulness about their effects, both good and bad.”

Shulgin also wrote: “Our generation is the first, ever, to have made the search for self-awareness a crime, if it is done with the use of plants of chemical compounds as the means of opening the psychic doors. But the urge to become aware is always present…”

I had a hard time with LSD when I was a kid, because it threw the doors of my subconscious a little too wide open and a little too abruptly. When I came back to it a few years later, after having done some work (with the help of Alice Miller‘s The Drama of the Gifted Child and an excellent psychotherapist) to untie some knots in my character, I found that an occasional dose could be an opportunity for aesthetic enrichment and a realignment of emotional and spiritual priorities.

I am not advising anyone to take drugs. But I will fight for everyone’s right to choose for ourselves whether or not to do so.

CNN.com’s typical mainstream-media take:

Hofmann’s hallucinogen inspired — and arguably corrupted — millions in the 1960′s hippie generation. For decades after LSD was banned in the late 1960s, Hofmann defended his invention.

On a more positive note, Steve Gimbel (editor of Grateful Dead and Philosophy) has a post that quotes a letter from Hofmann. An excerpt from the letter:

I must admit that the fundamental question very much occupies me, whether the use of these types of drugs, namely of substances that so deeply affect our minds, could not indeed represent a forbidden transgression of limits. As long as any means or methods are used, which provide only an additional, newer aspect of reality, surely there is nothing to object to in such means; on the contrary, the experience and the knowledge of further facets of the reality only makes this reality ever more real to us. The question exists, however, whether the deeply affecting drugs under discussion here will in fact only open an additional window for our senses and perceptions, or whether the spectator himself, the core of his being, undergoes alterations. The latter would signify that something is altered that in my opinion should always remain intact.

Read the rest on Steve’s blog.

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3 Responses to “Thank you, Dr. Hofmann”

  1. Barry Barnes says:

    Both CNN and Yahoo News had information that appeared to have been written in 1978 rather than 2008. It’s unfortunate that the press still has such an uninformed, negative position.

    I’m reminded of the book “Licit & Illicit Drugs” published by Consumers Union in 1972 where they very carefully examined all the drugs used in America at that time including caffeine and nicotine as well as marijuana and LSD. They concluded 36 years ago that the horror stories associated with LSD were often figments of the press and that LSD use had “not benefited users as much as they suppose — nor has it damaged them as much as has been alleged.” (p. 535) They also concluded that nicotine represented the most serious drug problem at that time.

  2. cousinkix1953 says:

    “Our generation is the first, ever, to have made the search for self-awareness a crime.”

    It wasn’t us. The World War II generation (our parents) were running the country in the 60s. The state of California was the first to ban LSD in October of 1966. Ronald Reagan couldn’t wait to sign this biil shortly after winning the gubenatorial election.

    The Gipper campaigned against Ken Kesey, the Merry Pranksters and those Grateful Dead concerts in San Francisco. Portions of his rants can be found on the internet. A bunch of teenagers under 21, couldn’t even vote at the time; so you can’t blame them for the results, or those drug laws enacted before 1972…

  3. david says:

    When Shulgin refers to “our generation,” he is referring to a generation older than that of us boomers and post-boomers. Sasha is in his early 80s.

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