Thesis: Albert Hofmann

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Albert Hofmann and the Discovery of LSD

The association between psychedelic drugs and counterculture or youth movements is the driving force in the public perception of substances such as salvia, peyote, psilocybe 'magic' mushrooms and Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). The manner in which its usage is frequently depicted correlates its hallucinogenic properties to recreational abuse, ingestion during music festivals, the promotion of irrational or dangerous behavior, the persistence of negative neurological conditions and the association with the abuse of other recreational drugs. It is also understood in a limited context that such hallucinogenic substances relate to the spiritual practices and ritual traditions of a wide array of tribal or aboriginal cultures. However, a reflection on the life, work and philosophy of Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann stands as testament to the belief that psychedelic substances have a distinctly beneficial and fundamentally unique impact on human subjects that can be constructive in navigating psychological afflictions, overcoming traumatic experiences and producing intellectual epiphanies with curative potential concerning one's emotional condition.

Albert Hofmann:

One of the most controversial discoverers of the 20th century, Hofmann came from decidedly humble beginnings. He was born to a modest family in Baden, Switzerland. His father's work as a factory laborer and the absence of his formal education retained the family to fairly poor conditions. (Smith, 1) Nonetheless, Hofmann, who was born in 1906, would report happily on a childhood spent largely outdoors. Here, he would explore the ruins of local castles and roam the hillsides consuming the stimuli of nature. He would consistently report this to be one of his greatest pleasures and a source of the spirituality that encompassed his life but tended not to connect him to organized religion. (Smith, 1)

The impoverished state of Hofmann's family stacked the odds against him in terms of furthering an education. However, the promise and perspicacity which had shown would incline his godfather to sponsor Hofmann at university. (Wikipedia, 1) Thus, he "went on to study chemistry at Zurich University because, he said, he wanted to explore the natural world at the level where energy and elements combine to create life. He earned his Ph.D. there in 1929, when he was just 23." (Smith, 1) The ready enthusiasm and fast success that Hofmann experienced in his studies would be a significant presence in the revelations that were to come about in the years to follow.

Immediately following his time at university, he would accept a position that would allow him to work under Professor Arthur Stoll, whose work with natural substances rather than synthetic compounds matched Hofmann's personal body of interest. It was thus that he came to join the pharmaceutical firm called Sandoz, working in a laboratory in his home town of Basel. On the instance at which he stumbled upon LSD by unintentionally experiencing its effects, he reports that "Time and again I hear or read that LSD was discovered by accident. This is only partly true. LSD came into being within a systematic research program, and the "accident" did not occur until much later: when LSD was already five years old, I happened to experience its unforeseeable effects in my own body - or rather, in my own mind." (Hofmann, 36)

While working at the pharmaceutical labs of Sandoz, which is today known as Novartis, Hofmann would inadvertently experience the effects of LSD, becoming the first man to experience a synthesized psychedelic reaction in a laboratory setting. Hofmann had been commissioned by Sandoz to investigate the psychotropic benefits if any to the active agents in ergot, a fungus produced by rye grains. Known both for its poisonous capabilities and its connection to gangrene and blood constriction, ergot was also known to have some hallucinogenic properties, though these were not specifically the cause for interest therein. (Stone, 1) Based on the ability of ergot, in modest doses, to help ease labor pains for women during childbirth, Hofmann had begun to explore its psychotropic potential. It was thus that "Hofmann set out to find whether there might be further therapeutic applications for ergot derivatives. Indeed, he discovered some for Sandoz, including Hydergine, a medication that, among other things, enhances memory function in the elderly." (Stone, 1)

However, it would be the derivative lysergic acid compound drawn from certain types of the ergot fungus that would lead to Hofmann's most important discovery. For those who have attached cultural, philosophical, social, spiritual or personal values to the use of LSD, April 16th, 1943 is considered a landmark day, as this is recorded as the moment when Hofmann accidentally absorbed LSD in its liquid form through his fingertips and began to experience its uncommon and absorbing effects. (Stone, 1) After becoming dizzy and restless while at the laboratory, Hofmann would retreat to his home. Here, he recorded that "At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicatedlike condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination." (Stone, 1)

This unexpected response, which Hofmann surmised was likely to have been connected to an accidental intake of the substance, resulted in Hofmann's decision to experiment more intentionally with LSD. Therefore, three days later on April 19th, Hofmann would ingest 250 mg of the substance in an effort to confirm the nature of its effects and further to determine whether these effects had any practical value. Referred to in the historical timeline of acid's evolution as Bicycle Day, this would be the first intentional psychedelic 'trip,' in which Hofmann would come to understand both the euphoric and positive aspects of the substance and the intensely powerful sensations and feelings which it can impose upon its user. (Stone, 1) On the day in question, Hofmann would begin to experience so overwhelming a sensation that he once again felt compelled, this time escorted by a neighbor who had been made aware of the self-induced experiment, to leave the Sandoz labs and return to his home. Hofmann traveled home by bicycle, hence the name by which the event is referred to in Hofmann's most famous writing, 1979's LSD: My Problem Child.

Upon returning home, Hofmann would experience an array of symptoms which he would also describe in his text, referring in detail to many of the observations and encounters that are commonly understood not as the hallucinogenic traits of LSD. Quite indeed, Hofmann would describe sensations that filled him with dread and unfamiliarity, but which would eventually give way to feelings of clarity and self-awareness. His description of the rigors of the experience are particularly compelling as they form something of a consistent basis for the negative claims of its impact and some of the problematic behaviors to which this impact would give rise in later recreational users. To the point, Hofmann would tell of his return home that "his 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 forms. 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." (Hofmann, 36)

The sense of fear and the dark imagery that appeared to Hofmann correlated to his unfamiliarity with the symptoms of the substance and his uncertainty over whether or not he had imposed any harm upon himself by ingesting it. These sensations coalesced violently to send Hofmann on the course for what is commonly referred to in the recreational usage of LSD as a 'bad trip.' Here, the intense emotional experience of the substance which may open an individual to great insight, revelation and fanciful intoxication can similarly magnify the seeming significance of negative perceptions, reflections and perspectives. So would Hofmann indicate that even more than the decidedly threatening connotation of those things which he perceived visually would be the overwhelming personal reflection and the repulsion which this also seemed to stimulate in him. As Hofmann would detail in his recollection of the first experiment, "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." (Hofmann, 36) Here is elaborated something of the danger to one's psychological orientation in the consumption and endurance of the psychedelic experience.

So when in the future when LSD had been adopted as a recreational drug by the so-called 'hippie' movement, even in spite of his longstanding support of the substance for further experimentation and the consideration of its beneficial properties, Hofmann considered this to be a dangerous and unstudied distortion in the ideas which he had accommodated to synthesize the substance in the first place. According to an article published in the Telegraph (2008), Hofmann deeply lamented the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/albert-hofmann/7558.