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<nettime> Albert Hoffmann turns 100
Felix Stalder on Wed, 11 Jan 2006 22:04:45 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Albert Hoffmann turns 100

Today, Albert Hoffmann, the chemist from Basel, Switzerland who synthesized 
LSD, turns 100. There's a symposium (www.lsd.info) where he will deliver a 
keynote. Below's an excerpt of his autobiography in which he remembers his 
first trip, while barely a kilometer away, on the other side of the border, 
Europe was consumed by quite a different trip. 

Albert Hofmann: LSD - My Problem Child



      4/19/43 16:20: 0.5 cc of 1/2 promil aqueous solution of diethylamide 
tartrate orally = 0.25 mg tartrate. Taken diluted with about 10 cc water. 

      17:00: Beginning dizziness, feeling of anxiety, visual distortions, 
symptoms of paralysis, desire to laugh.

      Supplement of 4/21: Home by bicycle. From 18:00- ca.20:00 most severe 
crisis. (See special report.)

Here the notes in my laboratory journal cease. I was able to write the last 
words only with great effort. By now it was already clear to me that LSD had 
been the cause of the remarkable experience of the previous Friday, for the 
altered perceptions were of the same type as before, only much more intense. 
I had to struggle to speak intelligibly. I asked my laboratory assistant, who 
was informed of the self-experiment, to escort me home. We went by bicycle, 
no automobile being available because of wartime restrictions on their use. 
On the way home, my condition began to assume threatening forms. Everything 
in my field of vision wavered and was distorted as if seen in a curved 
mirror. I also had the sensation of being unable to move from the spot. 
Nevertheless, my assistant later told me that we had traveled very rapidly. 
Finally, we arrived at home safe and sound, and I was just barely capable of 
asking my companion to summon our family doctor and request milk from the 

In spite of my delirious, bewildered condition, I had brief periods of clear 
and effective thinking - and chose milk as a nonspecific antidote for 

The dizziness and sensation of fainting became so strong at times that I could 
no longer hold myself erect, and had to lie down on a sofa. My surroundings 
had now transformed themselves in more terrifying ways. Everything in the 
room spun around, and the familiar objects and pieces of furniture assumed 
grotesque, threatening forrns. They were in continuous motion, animated, as 
if driven by an inner restlessness. The lady next door, whom I scarcely 
recognized, brought me milk - in the course of the evening I drank more than 
two liters. She was no longer Mrs. R., but rather a malevolent, insidious 
witch with a colored mask.

Even worse than these demonic transformations of the outer world, were the 
alterations that I perceived in myself, in my inner being. Every exertion of 
my will, every attempt to put an end to the disintegration of the outer world 
and the dissolution of my ego, seemed to be wasted effort. A demon had 
invaded me, had taken possession of my body, mind, and soul. I jumped up and 
screamed, trying to free myself from him, but then sank down again and lay 
helpless on the sofa. The substance, with which I had wanted to experiment, 
had vanquished me. It was the demon that scornfully triumphed over my will. I 
was seized by the dreadful fear of going insane. I was taken to another 
world, another place, another time. My body seemed to be without sensation, 
lifeless, strange. Was I dying? Was this the transition? At times I believed 
myself to be outside my body, and then perceived clearly, as an outside 
observer, the complete tragedy of my situation. I had not even taken leave of 
my family (my wife, with our three children had traveled that day to visit 
her parents, in Lucerne). Would they ever understand that I had not 
experimented thoughtlessly, irresponsibly, but rather with the utmost 
caution, an-d that such a result was in no way foreseeable? My fear and 
despair intensified, not only because a young family should lose its father, 
but also because I dreaded leaving my chemical research work, which meant so 
much to me, unfinished in the midst of fruitful, promising development. 
Another reflection took shape, an idea full of bitter irony: if I was now 
forced to leave this world prematurely, it was because of this Iysergic acid 
diethylamide that I myself had brought forth into the world.

By the time the doctor arrived, the climax of my despondent condition had 
already passed. My laboratory assistant informed him about my selfexperiment, 
as I myself was not yet able to formulate a coherent sentence. He shook his 
head in perplexity, after my attempts to describe the mortal danger that 
threatened my body. He could detect no abnormal symptoms other than extremely 
dilated pupils. Pulse, blood pressure, breathing were all normal. He saw no 
reason to prescribe any medication. Instead he conveyed me to my bed and 
stood watch over me. Slowly I came back from a weird, unfamiliar world to 
reassuring everyday reality. The horror softened and gave way to a feeling of 
good fortune and gratitude, the more normal perceptions and thoughts 
returned, and I became more confident that the danger of insanity was 
conclusively past.

Now, 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. It was particularly 
remarkable how every acoustic perception, such as the sound of a door handle 
or a passing automobile, became transformed into optical perceptions. Every 
sound generated a vividly changing image, with its own consistent form and 

Late in the evening my wife returned from Lucerne. Someone had informed her by 
telephone that I was suffering a mysterious breakdown. She had returned home 
at once, leaving the children behind with her parents. By now, I had 
recovered myself sufficiently to tell her what had happened.

Exhausted, I then slept, to awake next morning refreshed, with a clear head, 
though still somewhat tired physically. A sensation of well-being and renewed 
life flowed through me. Breakfast tasted delicious and gave me extraordinary 
pleasure. When I later walked out into the garden, in which the sun shone now 
after a spring rain, everything glistened and sparkled in a fresh light. The 
world was as if newly created. All my senses vibrated in a condition of 
highest sensitivity, which persisted for the entire day.

This self-experiment showed that LSD-25 behaved as a psychoactive substance 
with extraordinary properties and potency. There was to my knowledge no other 
known substance that evoked such profound psychic effects in such extremely 
low doses, that caused such dramatic changes in human consciousness and our 
experience of the inner and outer world.

What seemed even more significant was that I could remember the experience of 
LSD inebriation in every detail. This could only mean that the conscious 
recording function was not interrupted, even in the climax of the LSD 
experience, despite the profound breakdown of the normal world view. For the 
entire duration of the experiment, I had even been aware of participating in 
an experiment, but despite this recognition of my condition, I could not, 
with every exertion of my will, shake off the LSD world. Everything was 
experienced as completely real, as alarming reality; alarming, because the 
picture of the other, familiar everyday reality was still fully preserved in 
the memory for comparison.

Another surprising aspect of LSD was its ability to produce such a 
far-reaching, powerful state of inebriation without leaving a hangover. Quite 
the contrary, on the day after the LSD experiment I felt myself to be, as 
already described, in excellent physical and mental condition.

I was aware that LSD, a new active compound with such properties, would have 
to be of use in pharmacology, in neurology, and especially in psychiatry, and 
that it would attract the interest of concerned specialists. But at that time 
I had no inkling that the new substance would also come to be used beyond 
medical science, as an inebriant in the drug scene. Since my self-experiment 
had revealed LSD in its terrifying, demonic aspect, the last thing I could 
have expected was that this substance could ever find application as anything 
approaching a pleasure drug. I failed, moreover, to recognize the meaningful 
connection between LSD inebriation and spontaneous visionary experience until 
much later, after further experiments, which were carried out with far lower 
doses and under different conditions.

The next day I wrote to Professor Stoll the abovementioned report about my 
extraordinary experience with LSD-25 and sent a copy to the director of the 
pharmacological department, Professor Rothlin.

As expected, the first reaction was incredulous astonishment. Instantly a 
telephone call came from the management; Professor Stoll asked: "Are you 
certain you made no mistake in the weighing? Is the stated dose really 
correct?" Professor Rothlin also called, asking the same question. I was 
certain of this point, for I had executed the weighing and dosage with my own 
hands. Yet their doubts were justified to some extent, for until then no 
known substance had displayed even the slightest psychic effect in 
fractionof-a-milligram doses. An active compound of such potency seemed 
almost unbelievable.

Professor Rothlin himself and two of his colleagues were the first to repeat 
my experiment, with only onethird of the dose I had utilized. But even at 
that level, the effects were still extremely impressive, and quite fantastic. 
All doubts about the statements in my report were eliminated. 


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