Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist that discovered the hallucinogenic properties of LSD, died at his home in Basel on Tuesday. He was 102.
Hofmann didn’t start out looking for a way to alter his consciousness. He was researching “medically useful ergot alkaloid derivatives” (ergot is a fungus that infects grains; some think that the Salem Witch Trials were caused, in part, by an ergot infection of the colonists’ grain stores). When conducting one experiment in particular, he accidentally spilled a tiny amount of the chemical lysergic acid diethylamide on his hand. He reported that he “became dizzy and was forced to stop work”. He then went home and was “affected by a ‘remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness’. He got into bed and “sank into a not unpleasant ‘intoxicated like condition’ which was characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination”. He stated that he was in “a dreamlike state, and with his eyes closed he could see uninterrupted streams of ‘fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors’. The condition lasted about two hours after which it faded away.”
Hofmann believed that LSD was useful in analysis of how the mind works, and hoped that it could be used to recognize and treat illnesses like schizophrenia. Over the years, he defended his “wonder drug” and “problem child” after it was banned in the 1960s.