A Brief History
On April 19, 1943, Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman became the first known person to ever dose himself with the hallucinogenic drug LSD, after previously having discovered the psychedelic properties of the substance only 3 days earlier. Hoffman, not to be confused with 1960’s American radical Abbie Hoffman (1936-1989), also rates in the history of mind blowing drugs as the person that discovered the stuff that makes psychedelic mushrooms powerful hallucinogens, specifically the compounds Psilocybin and Psilocin.
Hoffman’s birth in Baden, Switzerland in 1906, to a working class family did not foreshadow the heights of scientific status Albert would ascend to. In fact, Albert worked as an industrial apprentice while attending the University of Zürich, from which he graduated in only 3 years. His interest in chemistry led directly to research, and his doctoral dissertation concerned the substance called “chitin,” that hard material that makes up the exoskeleton of arthropods and insects among other things.
While working for the Sandoz Laboratories firm, later to become part of Novartis, Hoffman investigated medicinal plants and the fungus, ergot. His research included the use of Lysergic Acid to break down chemical compounds, and in 1938 he was able to synthesize LSD (technically speaking, LySergic acid Diethylamide) for the first time. Various experiments followed before Hoffman took the psychedelic step of actually trying his creation on himself. His decision to try the compound on himself came 3 days after he had accidentally introduced LSD into his system by absorbing a small amount through his unprotected fingertips. Realizing he had a powerful hallucinogenic drug on his hands, he took the historic step of testing the LSD on himself on April 19, 1943. Hoffman considered LSD his “sacred drug,” and continued to take small doses of the stuff throughout his life, although he was never able to arrive at a medical use for the substance as he had originally hoped. Although nobody yet has developed a serious medical application for LSD, many have touted the substance as a mind “expanding” or spiritual enhancing device, including “LSD Guru” Timothy Leary.
Hoffman’s research continued into the hallucinogenic effects of certain plants and mushrooms, resulting in his discovery of Psilocybin and Psilocin. As a noted researcher, Hoffman published a large volume of work in the form of over 100 articles and books. A notable book by Albert Hoffman is LSD: Mein Sorgenkind (LSD: My Problem Child).
In direct contrast to the usual warnings about drug use being “bad for you,” Hoffman lived to the ripe old age of 102, when he finally died in his native Switzerland in 2008. Cause of death was reported to be a heart attack. While people on LSD have done hurtful and dangerous, even fatal things, no death directly attributed to LSD overdose has been documented. (Please see our article about the “War on Drugs.”)
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For more information, please see…
Hoffman, Albert. LSD: My problem child. Oxford University Press, 2019.
Hoffman, Albert. Hofmann’s Elixir: LSD and the the New Eleusis. Strange Attractor Press, 2010.
The featured image in this article, a diagram by Mikael Häggström of possible physical effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), has been released into the public domain worldwide by the copyright holder of this work.