Hofmann, Dr Albert
Albert Hofmann (January 11, 1906 – April 29, 2008)was a Swiss scientist known best for being the first person to synthesize, ingest, and learn of the psychedelic effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Hofmann was also the first person to isolate, synthesize, and name the principal psychedelic mushroom compounds psilocybin and psilocin. Hofmann, later, was to discover 4-Acetoxy-DET (4-acetoxy-N,N-diethyltryptamine), yet another hallucinogenic tryptamine.
He authored more than 100 scientific articles and numerous books, including LSD: Mein Sorgenkind (LSD: My Problem Child).
Dr. Hofmann studied chemistry at Zurich University because, he said, he wanted to explore the natural world at the level where energy and elements combine to create life. He earned his Ph.D. there in 1929, when he was just 23. He then took a job with Sandoz Laboratories in Basel, attracted by a program there that sought to synthesize pharmacological compounds from medicinally important plants.
It was during his work on the ergot fungus, which grows in rye kernels, that he stumbled on LSD.
LSD was first synthesized on November 16, 1938 by Hofmann, as part of a large research program searching for medically useful ergot alkaloid derivatives. LSD's psychedelic properties were discovered 5 years later. Originally it was believed that this derivative of ergot, lysergic acid, seemed to have no medicinal value, so it was ignored – until one April afternoon in 1943.
On that day Dr Albert Hoffman, after adding an extra 'tail' of a diethylamide group to lysergic acid for the purposes of experimentation, began to feel strange sensations he later described in his laboratory report
last Friday, the 16th of April, I had to leave my work in the laboratory and go home because I felt strangely restless and dizzy. Once there, I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant delirium which was marked by an extreme degree of fantasy. In a sort of trance with closed eyes (I found the daylight unpleasantly glaring) fantastic visions of extraordinary vividness accompanied by a kaleidoscopic play of intense colouration continuously swirled around me. After 2 hours this condition subsided.
This was the first of all LSD experiences – although Hoffman did not know that. In fact, he did not know what had happened. Puzzling over the episode, he wondered whether he might not accidentally have swallowed or inhaled or ingested through his pores some of the substance with which he had been working.
it was inconceivable to me that I could have absorbed enough of this material to produce the above described state. Furthermore, the symptoms themselves did not appear to be related to those of the Ergotamine-Ergonovine group. I was determined to probe the situation and I decided to experiment upon myself with the crystalline lysergic acid diethylamide. If this material were really the cause, it must be active in minute amounts, and I decided to begin with an extremely small quantity which would still produce some action….
To test his hypothesis Hoffman deliberately swallowed 250 micrograms of the chemical he had synthesised. To put this in perspective, the normal dose is 25 to 100 micrograms! After a time...........
I lost all control of time; space and time became more and more disorganised and I was overcome with fears that I was going crazy. The worst part of it was that I was clearly aware of my condition though I was incapable of stopping it. Occasionally I felt as being outside my body. I thought I had died. My 'ego' was suspended somewhere in space and I saw my body lying dead on the sofa. I observed and registered clearly that my alter ego was moving around the room, moaning.
Hoffman went on to report how certain sounds – an automobile horn, running water, even words – transformed into shapes and colours, - synaesthesia.
Hoffman's experience instigated a series of intensive investigations carried on chiefly by two of his colleagues Stoll and Rothlin. After 4 years of experimentation on volunteer subjects, their findings were published.
There is the generally held belief that this was Dr Hofmann's first venture into the spiritual realm, but it would seem that he only carried on with the LSD experiment because he thought he may have refound what he had thought he 'lost'.
Speech he delivered to the 1996 Worlds of Consciousness Conference in Heidelberg, Germany:
One often asks oneself what roles planning and chance play in the realization of the most important events in our lives. [...] This [career] decision was not easy for me. I had already taken a Latin matricular exam, and therefore a career in the humanities stood out most prominently in the foreground. Moreover, an artistic career was tempting. In the end, however, it was a problem of theoretical knowledge which induced me to study chemistry, which was a great surprise to all who knew me. Mystical experiences in childhood, in which Nature was altered in magical ways, had provoked questions concerning the essence of the external, material world, and chemistry was the scientific field which might afford insights into this
Despite his involvement with psychoactive compounds, Dr. Hofmann remained moored in his Swiss chemist identity. He stayed with Sandoz as head of the research department for natural medicines until his retirement in 1971. His principal aim was healing - healing of the physical body and healing of the soul of man, which is why I have classified him as a healer, because that was his whole intent.
Hofman continued to hope, throughout his life, that LSD might become legal again, as it had been in the early years when it was used by psychiatrists. More important to him than the 'entertainment value' of the 'psychedelic experience' [distortion and swirly whirly pictures] 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, is what Dr. Hofmann had experienced while still a child, and it, rather than the LSD experiences, directed much of his personal and professional life.
Albert Hofmann, Speech on 100th birthday
It gave me an inner joy, an open mindedness, a gratefulness, open eyes and an internal sensitivity for the miracles of creation. [...] I think that in human evolution it has never been as necessary to have this substance LSD. It is just a tool to turn us into what we are supposed to be.
Hofmann died of a heart attack on April 29, 2008 and was survived by several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He and his wife, Anita, who died in 2007, had four children, one of whom died at the age of 53. Hofmann revealed that LSD had affected his understanding of death and explained:
"I go back to where I came from, to where I was before I was born, that’s all".
The pictures on this page are by artist Greg Dunn. Dunn earned a PhD in neuroscience before deciding to become a professional artist. The patterns of branching neurons he saw through the microscope reminded him of the aesthetic principles in Asian art, and he realized that neurons could be painted in the sumi-e (ink wash painting) style, which involves making as few brush strokes as possible to capture the soul of the subject.
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