[Ibogaine] Albert Hofmann

Howard Lotsof hslotsof at phantom.com
Sun Dec 28 23:03:58 EST 2008


December 28, 2008
Albert Hofmann | b. 1906
Day Tripper

In the circles where LSD eventually thrived, the moment of its  
discovery was more cherished than even the famous intersection of a  
fine English apple with Isaac Newton's inquiring mind, the comic  
cosmic instant that gave us gravity. According to legend, Dr. Albert  
Hofmann, a research chemist at the Sandoz pharmaceutical company,  
fell from his bicycle in April 1943 on his way home through the  
streets of Basel, Switzerland, after accidently dosing himself with  
LSD at the laboratory. The story presented another example of  
enlightenment as trickster. As a narrative it was very fondly  
regarded because so many of us imagined a clueless botanist pedaling  
over the cobblestones with the clockwork Helvetian order dissolving  
under him.

At Sandoz, Hofmann specialized in the investigation of naturally  
occurring compounds that might make useful medicines. Among these was  
a rye fungus called ergot, known principally as the cause of a grim  
disease called St. Anthony's Fire, which resulted in gangrene and  
convulsions. Ergot had one positive effect: in appropriate doses it  
facilitated childbirth. 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. Most  
famously, of course, Hofmann's ergot experiments synthesized D- 
lysergic acid diethylamide tartrate, LSD. On April 16, 1943, he  
apparently absorbed a minuscule amount of the lysergic acid he was  
synthesizing through his fingertips. He went home (he doesn't say  
how) and subsequently submitted a report to Sandoz. This reads in part:

"At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicatedlike  
condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination."

A few days later at work, Hofmann decided to adopt the Romantic  
methods of Stevenson's celebrated Dr. Jekyll. His experimental notes  
commence: '4/19/43 16:20 0.5 cc of 1/2 promil aqueous solution of  
diethylamide tartrate orally = .25 mg tartrate." By 1700 hours he was  
reporting other symptoms along with a "desire to laugh."

The laughter was Mr. Hyde's, not Dr. Jekyll's, because for most of  
this occasion Hofmann was in the grip of what less cultivated  
experimenters would later call a bummer.

"A demon had invaded me, had taken possession of my body, mind and  
soul. . . . It was the demon that scornfully triumphed over my will."

Hofmann did make the journey home by bicycle, with the help of an  
assistant. Contrary to legend, there is no record of his falling. As  
the hours of Hofmann's investigation passed, he felt progressively  
better. In the morning "everything glistened and sparkled."

On the basis of Hofmann's report, three other officials of Sandoz  
sampled LSD. A psychiatric researcher at the University of Zurich,  
Dr. Werner Stoll, repeated the experiment, and Sandoz came to the  
conclusion that modified LSD-25 was a psychotropic compound that was  
nontoxic and could have enormous use as a psychiatric aid. A decision  
was made to make LSD available after the war to research institutes  
and physicians as an experimental drug.

Hofmann was by no means a technocratic philistine. The amazing  
mystical elements activated by this strange fungoid compound were of  
particular interest to him, though he says he never imagined mere  
recreational inebriation as a goal for users. He did, however,  
anticipate self-experimentation by "writers, painters, musicians and  
other intellectuals." By people, in other words, as respectably  
educated folk used to say, "who possessed the background."

How could Hofmann, swathed in the cultural Gemütlichkeit of  
Switzerland, understand that shortly — in America in the '60s — we  
were all, all of us, going to be writers, painters, musicians and  
other intellectuals?

Actually Hofmann soon had his eye on America and its discontents. He  
associated "abuse" of LSD with what he called "materialism,  
alienation from nature through industrialization and increasing  
urbanization, lack of satisfaction . . . a mechanized, lifeless  
working world, ennui and purposelessness in a wealthy, saturated  

Hofmann was a wise man, however, and no more judgmental than any  
scientist should be, and in his writings on the subject he treats the  
hippie acid culture with grandfatherly moderation. Meeting Timothy  
Leary, a figure who arguably turned his magic medicine into a social  
threat, he remonstrated firmly with him, tried hard to see Leary's  
ineffable good points and afterward called him "a charming personage."

As a highly valued executive researcher at Sandoz (now part of  
Novartis), he traveled the world to study psychotropic compounds.  
With his wife he went to Mexico to sample psychedelics at their  
practical source, as administered by the curanderos and curanderas of  
the Sierra Mazateca. It was Hofmann who succeeded in synthesizing  
psilocybin from the "magic mushroom" of the Mazatecas. He also  
isolated a compound similar to LSD from another Native American  
botanic sacramental, the ololiuhqui vine. As a scientist he was  
fascinated by the ritual practiced by the ancient Greeks at Eleusis  
each fall. These rites, honoring the grain goddess Demeter,  
celebrated antiquity's most profound mystery cult. Initiates  
described an intense life-changing experience in the course of the  
nighttime ceremonies. Hofmann believed that one of the components of  
the sacred kykeon, the potion distributed to adepts, was a barley  
extract containing ergot.

Hofmann was close to many of the artists and thinkers who shared his  
fascination with varieties of perception. He corresponded with Aldous  
Huxley and was also a friend of the German mystic and novelist Ernst  
Jünger. He came to know prominent members of the American Beat  
generation, including Allen Ginsberg, whom he met in California in  
1977. Hofmann never approved of mass intoxication or drug use in  
adolescence. Contrary to assertions, however, he did not regret his  
discovery. No great scientist known to history can have been less  
fanatical or more serene. He was always a humanist committed to the  
Over his long life, Hofmann took LSD many times. He developed a  
personal mysticism involving nature, for which he had a lifelong  
passion. One thing this very tolerant man decried in the Western  
drive for facile satisfaction was an alienation from the outdoors.  
The use of LSD made him more and more conscious of it. In nature he  
saw "a miraculous, powerful, unfathomable reality."

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