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Albert Hofmann, Inventor of LSD, Embarks on Final Trip

He was the first person to experience an acid trip--for both good and bad
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©PHILIP H. BAILEY

Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, inventor of LSD, died yesterday at the age of 102, just 10 days after the 55th anniversary of his notorious bicycle trip while tripping on "acid". Hofmann, who suffered a heart attack at home in Basel, Switzerland, was the first person to synthesize lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD, and the first human known to experience its mind-bending effects.

The drug was the 25th he created from the basic chemical ingredients of ergot, a fungus that forms on rye, in his search for treatments for circulation and respiratory problems. He reports in his 1979 autobiography LSD, My Problem Child, that he became restless and dizzy when he accidentally ingested the compound while making it—and "perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors" for about two hours.

The very next day (April 19, 1943), he swallowed 0.25 milligram of the acid to confirm that it had caused his odd symptoms. Overcome by dizziness and anxiety, he asked an assistant to bicycle him home; once there, he writes that he was overcome by feelings that he might die (prompting a later call to his physician), along with delusions that included perceiving a kindly neighbor transformed into a malevolent witch.

Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, his employer at the time, tried to promote LSD as a drug to treat psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia under the trade name Delysid by sending samples to psychiatrists—and the compound was briefly used as the treatment du jour in conjunction with psychoanalysis.

But acid swiftly found its way into wider use among artists, writers (such as Brave New World's Aldous Huxley), actors (including established movie stars like Cary Grant), and rebellious teens in the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, it became so popular as a way to "tune in, turn on and drop out" that in 1966 New York State and California made it a crime to possess it; the U.S. government followed suit in 1970.

Hofmann also manufactured a wide range of medical drugs from ergot, including methergine (which is still used to halt bleeding after birth) and hydergine (which improves circulation). In the psychedelic realm, he was also the first to synthesize psilocybin, the active ingredient in so-called magic mushrooms (Psilocybe mexicana).

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