[Paleopsych] NYT: Nearly 100, LSD's Father Ponders His 'Problem Child'

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Nearly 100, LSD's Father Ponders His 'Problem Child'
[The article is from Saturday, and he did indeed make it to his 100th 
earlier today. Because of this centennial, I'm not sending out a single 
long article today, but rather a few shorter ones. I am nearly finished 
reading Joel Garreau's _Radical Evolution_.]

    The Saturday Profile
    BURG, Switzerland

    ALBERT Hofmann, the father of LSD, walked slowly across the small
    corner office of his modernist home on a grassy Alpine hilltop here,
    hoping to show a visitor the vista that sweeps before him on clear
    days. But outside there was only a white blanket of fog hanging just
    beyond the crest of the hill. He picked up a photograph of the view on
    his desk instead, left there perhaps to convince visitors of what
    really lies beyond the windowpane.

    Mr. Hofmann will turn 100 on Wednesday, a milestone to be marked by a
    symposium in nearby Basel on the chemical compound that he discovered
    and that famously unlocked the Blakean doors of perception, altering
    consciousnesses around the world. As the years accumulate behind him,
    Mr. Hofmann's conversation turns ever more insistently around one
    theme: man's oneness with nature and the dangers of an increasing
    inattention to that fact.

    "It's very, very dangerous to lose contact with living nature," he
    said, listing to the right in a green armchair that looked out over
    frost-dusted fields and snow-laced trees. A glass pitcher held a
    bouquet of roses on the coffee table before him. "In the big cities,
    there are people who have never seen living nature, all things are
    products of humans," he said. "The bigger the town, the less they see
    and understand nature." And, yes, he said, LSD, which he calls his
    "problem child," could help reconnect people to the universe.

    Rounding a century, Mr. Hofmann is physically reduced but mentally
    clear. He is prone to digressions, ambling with pleasure through
    memories of his boyhood, but his bright eyes flash with the
    recollection of a mystical experience he had on a forest path more
    than 90 years ago in the hills above Baden, Switzerland. The
    experience left him longing for a similar glimpse of what he calls "a
    miraculous, powerful, unfathomable reality."

    "I was completely astonished by the beauty of nature," he said, laying
    a slightly gnarled finger alongside his nose, his longish white hair
    swept back from his temples and the crown of his head. He said any
    natural scientist who was not a mystic was not a real natural
    scientist. "Outside is pure energy and colorless substance," he said.
    "All of the rest happens through the mechanism of our senses. Our eyes
    see just a small fraction of the light in the world. It is a trick to
    make a colored world, which does not exist outside of human beings."

    He became particularly fascinated by the mechanisms through which
    plants turn sunlight into the building blocks for our own bodies.
    "Everything comes from the sun via the plant kingdom," he said.

    MR. HOFMANN studied chemistry and took a job with the Swiss
    pharmaceutical company Sandoz Laboratories, because it had started a
    program to identify and synthesize the active compounds of medically
    important plants. He soon began work on the poisonous ergot fungus
    that grows in grains of rye. Midwives had used it for centuries to
    precipitate childbirths, but chemists had never succeeded in isolating
    the chemical that produced the pharmacological effect. Finally,
    chemists in the United States identified the active component as
    lysergic acid, and Mr. Hofmann began combining other molecules with
    the unstable chemical in search of pharmacologically useful compounds.

    His work on ergot produced several important drugs, including a
    compound still in use to prevent hemorrhaging after childbirth. But it
    was the 25th compound that he synthesized, lysergic acid diethylamide,
    that was to have the greatest impact. When he first created it in
    1938, the drug yielded no significant pharmacological results. But
    when his work on ergot was completed, he decided to go back to LSD-25,
    hoping that improved tests could detect the stimulating effect on the
    body's circulatory system that he had expected from it. It was as he
    was synthesizing the drug on a Friday afternoon in April 1943 that he
    first experienced the altered state of consciousness for which it
    became famous. "Immediately, I recognized it as the same experience I
    had had as a child," he said. "I didn't know what caused it, but I
    knew that it was important."

    When he returned to his lab the next Monday, he tried to identify the
    source of his experience, believing first that it had come from the
    fumes of a chloroform-like solvent he had been using. Inhaling the
    fumes produced no effect, though, and he realized he must have somehow
    ingested a trace of LSD. "LSD spoke to me," Mr. Hofmann said with an
    amused, animated smile. "He came to me and said, 'You must find me.'
    He told me, 'Don't give me to the pharmacologist, he won't find
    anything.' "

    HE experimented with the drug, taking a dose so small that even the
    most active toxin known at that time would have had little or no
    effect. The result with LSD, however, was a powerful experience,
    during which he rode his bicycle home, accompanied by an assistant.
    That day, April 19, later became memorialized by LSD enthusiasts as
    "bicycle day."

    Mr. Hofmann participated in tests in a Sandoz laboratory, but found
    the experience frightening and realized that the drug should be used
    only under carefully controlled circumstances. In 1951, he wrote to
    the German novelist Ernst Junger, who had experimented with mescaline,
    and proposed that they take LSD together. They each took 0.05
    milligrams of pure LSD at Mr. Hofmann's home accompanied by roses,
    music by Mozart and burning Japanese incense. "That was the first
    planned psychedelic test," Mr. Hofmann said.

    He took the drug dozens of times after that, he said, and once
    experienced what he called a "horror trip" when he was tired and Mr.
    Junger gave him amphetamines first. But his hallucinogenic days are
    long behind him.

    "I know LSD; I don't need to take it anymore," Mr. Hofmann said.
    "Maybe when I die, like Aldous Huxley," who asked his wife for an
    injection of LSD to help him through the final painful throes of his
    fatal throat [3]cancer.

    But Mr. Hofmann calls LSD "medicine for the soul" and is frustrated by
    the worldwide prohibition that has pushed it underground. "It was used
    very successfully for 10 years in psychoanalysis," he said, adding
    that the drug was hijacked by the youth movement of the 1960's and
    then demonized by the establishment that the movement opposed. He said
    LSD could be dangerous and called its distribution by Timothy Leary
    and others "a crime."

    "It should be a controlled substance with the same status as
    morphine," he said.

    Mr. Hofmann lives with his wife in the house they built 38 years ago.
    He raised four children and watched one son struggle with alcoholism
    before dying at 53. He has eight grandchildren and six
    great-grandchildren. As far as he knows, no one in his family besides
    his wife has tried LSD.

    Mr. Hofmann rose, slightly stooped and now barely reaching five feet,
    and walked through his house with his arm-support cane. When asked if
    the drug had deepened his understanding of death, he appeared mildly
    startled and said no. "I go back to where I came from, to where I was
    before I was born, that's all," he said.

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