April 30, 2008
Uncle Albert dies at age 102

Associated Press

GENEVA - Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of the mind-altering drug LSD has died. He was 102.

Hofmann died Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at his home in Burg im Leimental, said Doris Stuker, a municipal clerk in the village near Basel where Hofmann moved following his retirement in 1971.

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

"I produced the substance as a medicine... It's not my fault if people abused it," he once said.

The Swiss chemist first synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide-25 on November 16, 1938 while studying the medicinal uses of a fungus found on wheat and other grains at the Sandoz pharmaceuticals firm in Basel.

Five years later, on April 16, 1943, he became the first human guinea pig of the drug when a tiny amount of the substance seeped onto his finger during a repeat of the laboratory experiment.

"I had to leave work for home because I was suddenly hit by a sudden feeling of unease and mild dizziness," he subsequently wrote in a memo to company bosses.

Hofmann sat down and began experiencing what he called "wonderful visions."

"What I was thinking appeared in colors and in pictures," he told Swiss television network SF DRS for a program marking his 100th birthday two years ago. "It lasted for a couple of hours and then it disappeared."

Three days later, Hofmann experimented with a larger dose. The result was a horror trip.

"Everything I saw was distorted as in a warped mirror," he wrote, describing his bicycle ride home. "I had the impression I was rooted to the spot. But my assistant told me we were actually going very fast."

"The substance which I wanted to experiment with took over me. I was filled with an overwhelming fear that I would go crazy. I was transported to a different world, a different time," he wrote.

Limited edition signed blotter, click to enlarge

Hofmann and his scientific colleagues hoped that LSD would make an important contribution to psychiatric research. The drug exaggerated inner problems and conflicts and thus it was hoped that it might be used to recognize and treat mental illness like schizophrenia.

For a time, Sandoz sold LSD 25 under the name Delysid, encouraging doctors to try it themselves. It was one of the strongest drugs in medicine - with just one gram enough to drug an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 people for 12 hours.

Hofmann discovered the drug had a similar chemical structure to psychedelic mushrooms and herbs used in religious ceremonies by Mexican Indians.

LSD was elevated to international fame in the late 1950s and 1960s thanks to Harvard professor Timothy Leary who embraced the drug under the slogan "turn on, tune in, drop out." The film star Cary Grant and numerous rock musicians extolled its virtues in achieving true self-discovery and enlightenment.

Timothy Leary

But away from the psychedelic trips and flower children, horror stories emerged about people going on murder sprees or jumping out of windows while hallucinating. Heavy users suffered permanent psychological damage.

The U.S. government banned LSD in 1966 and other countries followed suit. Hofmann maintained this was unfair, arguing that the drug was not addictive. He repeatedly called for the ban to be lifted to allow LSD to be used in medical research.

Peter Oehen, a psychiatrist in the Swiss town of Biberist, says substances such as LSD and MDMA (also known as ecstasy) can produce results where conventional psychotherapies fail.

"They help overcome the wall of denial that some patients build up," said Oehen, who met Hofmann and has studied his work.

Hofmann welcomed a decision by Swiss authorities last December to allow LSD to be used in a psychotherapy research project.

"For me, this is a very big wish come true. I always wanted to see LSD get its proper place in medicine," he told Swiss TV at the time.

Hofmann himself took the drug - purportedly on an occasional basis and out of scientific interest - for several decades.

"LSD can help open your eyes," he once said. "But there are other ways - meditation, dance, music, fasting."

Even so, the self-described "father" of LSD readily agreed that the drug was dangerous if in the wrong hands. This was reflected by the title of his 1979 book: LSD: My Problem Child.

In it he wrote that, "The history of LSD to date amply demonstrates the catastrophic consequences that can ensue when its profound effect is misjudged and the substance is mistaken for a pleasure drug."

Ruby slippers blotter, click to enlarge

Hofmann retired from Sandoz in 1971. He devoted his time to travel, writing and lectures - which often reflected his growing interest with philosophy and religious questions.

Dieter A. Hagenbach, a friend of 40 years, told The Associated Press that he last spoke to Hofmann on Saturday.

"He was in good spirits and enjoying the springtime," Hagenbach said, adding that Hofmann continued to go for walks in the small picturesque village where he lived in the Swiss Jura mountains, a stone's throw from the French border.

Hofmann's last public appearance was at a Basel ceremony honoring him on his 100th birthday.

"This is really a high point in my advanced age," Hofmann said. "You could say it is a consciousness-raising experience without LSD."

Hofmann is survived by a son and daughter. He was pre-deceased by his wife Anita and two of their four children.

Vinessa • 10:07 AM •

© 2005 • Powered by Movable Type 3.16 • Site by Moxie