Al's Last Trip | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Published May 1, 2008 at 10:50 a.m.

Could we ever know — is it even worth contemplating — what impact the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, who died yesterday at 102, had on human affairs?

On April 16, 1943, in his lab at Sandoz Corp. in Basel, Hoffman absorbed a small amount of LSD-25, a substance he had isolated in 1938 while researching the potential pharmaceutical properties of the ergot fungus. A few days later, he ingested 250 mg of LSD-25. He went home and lay down and, as he described the experience, "sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination."

In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away. This was, altogether, a remarkable experience . . . .

No kidding.

In 1954, Oscar Janiger, an LA psychiatrist, began a series of controlled studies, eventually dosing more than 950 people, from all walks of life, age 18 to 81. Janiger's aim was simply to see how different people reacted to LSD. What he found was that the substance had a profound effect on creativity and spirituality.

Janiger's research was shut down in 1962 by the U.S. government, which eventually led Sandoz to cease production of LSD.  The drug, which was a legal experimental psychiatric treatment until 1966, has been manufactured illegally ever since, although the CIA didn't have any trouble getting its hands on it.

LSD never really went away, and in fact was pretty popular again in the 1990s. That resurgence came to an end with the arrest of two chemists, William Pickard and Clyde Apperson. The Drug Enforcement Agency estimated that the availability of LSD dropped by 95 percent. Pickard was sentenced In November 2003 to life without parole, and Apperson got 30 years with no possibility of early release.

Hoffman was scheduled to speak at the World Psychedelic Forum, in Basel, in March, but poor health kept him away.

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