Discovery of LSD

“How dull would life be, if one of its dominating factors, what we call accident or chance, were missing, and if we would never become surprised”

– Albert Hoffman, Swiss chemist who discovered LSD.

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was accidently discovered in a Swiss lab in 1938 by chemist Albert Hoffman though it would not be until April 16, 1943 that Hoffman experienced the effects of his discovery.[1]  Hoffman did intentionally resynthesize the compound in order to further test it but he had involuntarily exposed himself and had no way of knowing what the effects would be.  Hoffman then began to see a spectrum of colors and slight obscurities to reality.  Hoffman was unaware of how these sensations came about but after testing dichloroethylene, the purifying agent of LSD, he concluded that it was through his fingertips contacting LSD itself and absorbing it that had created the visions.  Three days later Hoffman diluted .25 mg of LSD in 10 cc of water and drank it resulting in what he later referred to as a horror trip.[2]  This was largely due to Hoffman being the very first person to ingest LSD and while experiencing both extreme hallucinations and distortions believed he had just killed himself.  It is not hard to imagine that Hoffman would have believed his reality was ending whether in death or insanity but once it began to return, he was excited by the results.  Hoffman’s first trip would go on to be remembered as ‘Bicycle Day’ aThe end of his trip had left him in a new, clearer world and he immediately shared his findings with professors Arthur Stoll and Ernest Rothlin.  Fifty years later Hoffman would describe how apart from the surprise of what LSD could do to the mind, there was the surprise of how abused the drug was outside of the medical field, particularly in the United States.[3]

Albert Hoffman discussing his experience with LSD and making the metaphor of consciousness to a tv signal and projection.

Following Albert Hoffman’s discovery of LSD scientists around the world began to theorize that the symptoms of severe mental illnesses were mimicked by psychedelics due to a shared distorted neurochemistry.[4]  Dr. Max Rinkel who was the first to not only bring but also take LSD in the United States reported promising findings at the 1950 American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting.[5]  Rinkel found that mental illness, specifically schizophrenia, could be studied in a controlled setting by observing a reconstructed state of psychoses.  Similarly, Dr. Paul Hoch’s thesis stated that LSD was a “psychotomimetic” which meant it mimicked the symptoms of “madness”.[6]  The scientific community began to study how the effects could then be reversed which would perhaps be the key to curing such illnesses as schizophrenia. 

[1] Albert Hofmann, Die Mutterkornalkaloide: Vom Mutterkorn zum LSD, 2nd edition (Nachtschatten Verlag, 2012),  10.

[2] Hofmann, 13.

[3] A. Pletscher, Dieter Ladewig, and Schweizerische Akademie der Medizinischen Wissenschaften Symposium, “50 Years of LSD: Current Status and Perspectives of Hallucinogens : A Symposium of the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences, Lugano-Agno (Switzerland), October 21 and 22, 1993” (New York: Parthenon PubGroup, 1994), 15.

[4] Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain, Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond, Revised edition (New York: Grove Press, 1994).

[5] Jonathan D. Moreno, “Acid Brothers: Henry Beecher, Timothy Leary, and the Psychedelic of the Century,” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 59, no. 1 (2016): 107–21,

[6] Lee and Shlain, Acid Dreams.