Happy Birthday LSD!

LSD turned 71 yesterday! Albert Hofmann first synthesised the drug 71 years ago on 16th November 1938. He wasn’t actually looking for the key to the “Doors of Perception” but trying to discover a respiratory and circulatory stimulant. He didn’t realise what he’d made either as he shelved the substance until 1943 when he splashed a small amount of the substance on his skin. Like many other pioneering scientists, Hofmann became his own guinea pig and embarked on the world’s first LSD trip.

… 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


It can’t be that bad for you, Hofmann lived to the age of 102!

Startled by the effects, Hofmann decided to experiment with his new substance again and, three days later gave himself a heroic dose of 250 micrograms (a “threshold dose is actually 20mg). Becoming anxious, Hofmann asked his lab assistant to escort him home and their journey back became known as “Bicycle Day”. Hofmann alternated between worry that the LSD had poisoned him and concern that his next door neighbour was a malevolent witch. After a visit from a doctor, who assured Hofmann that he was perfectly well, our brave scientist began to relax and…

… 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

Hofmann regarded his discovery as a useful tool, describing it as “medicine for the soul” and was upset by the eventual worldwide prohibition that pushed it underground. There had been embryonic studies on the effects of the drug on terminally ill patients that suggested it helps them put their lives and their place in the universe into perspective. Recently Swiss doctors have once again begun to research with terminally ill patients and we at The Notes await their findings with interest.

But whether LSD will manage to become a mainstream component of the psychologists arsenal is another matter. While existing drug laws are often criticised by scientists and legal experts as outdated, unwieldy and failing (and Duff posted on this recently in Speaking truth to power in the War on Drugs), it’s quite another thing to find a politician prepared to risk their neck for the stoner vote.

While we wait for that day, here’s my favourite LSD story, recently animated by James Blagden. Dock Ellis was a Major League Baseball player pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1970. And, to date, he is the only player to have thrown a complete game no-hitter while tripping!

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