Discoverer of LSD Urges Medical Use of the Drug
Published by Reuters – Monday 21 April, 2003
VIENNA (Reuters Health) – The man who discovered the hallucinogenic drug LSD 60 years ago this week says its use should be allowed under controlled circumstances, including to help psychiatric patients.
Dr. Albert Hofmann, now 97, made the discovery of the properties of LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) at the Sandoz pharmaceutical research laboratory in Basel, Switzerland, on April 19, 1943.
The road to the discovery started in 1929 when he shunned the synthetic chemistry so fashionable at the time to work on the chemistry of natural products.
By 1935 he had become interested in the alkaloids of ergot, a fungus that grows on rye. It had poisoned thousands in the Middle Ages by contaminating bread, although medieval midwives had also used it tentatively, and sometimes lethally, to induce childbirth.
Three years later, Hofmann developed the first artificial ergot alkaloid, clearing the way for its safer use in obstetrics. Then, looking for other uses, he produced a twenty-fifth derivative — labeled D-lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD-25.
It aroused no special interest, and testing was discontinued after Hofmann noted that experimental animals showed some signs of disturbance.
From his home in Rittimatte, in Burg, Switzerland, the retired researcher told Reuters Health how, five years later, he came to fully appreciate what had happened to the animals when “on a peculiar presentiment,” he synthesized a batch of the abandoned LSD-25 and experienced his first “trip” after spilling some on his hand.
Hofmann said: “I noticed strange effects coming over me in the lab. I was not sure what caused them. I thought maybe it was the chloroform. But then I began to realize that it must have been the LSD-25.”
Three days later, on April 19, he decided to do a test by ingesting 400 micrograms, “a massive dose of five times the recommended amount.”
“The lab assistant took me home and called a doctor. It was a hellish trip at first. But as I was coming out it was wonderful.”
Years later — after many others had repeated Hofmann’s trip — the drug was banned worldwide for researchers and chemical adventurers alike, a move that Hofmann said caused him great sadness.
“The problem was that in the beginning there was not enough care taken,” he argued. “It came on the drug scene very quickly, especially in America. The doses people were getting were not controlled, were not right.”
“I believe the answer is to make it possible for doctors to get access to it for therapeutic use like they do heroin or morphine. There are so many potentials for it — people who respond to no other treatment other than LSD, for example. But it is banned, even though many, many doctors want to use it.”
He claimed the drug is safe if carefully controlled, but the ban makes it more attractive and dangerous. “It is glamorous to chase something that’s banned.”
“I hope the ban is lifted,” Hofmann added. “I am 97 now, and this is my hope for the future.”
But Dr. Fabrizio Schifano, a senior lecturer at St. George’s Hospital Medical School in London, told Reuters Health: “Nothing useful came out of the research of that time.”
The consultant psychiatrist and pharmacologist sees no need for a relaxation of the ban.
“In twenty years I have never had the idea of giving psychedelic drugs to any of my patients,” he said. “They have enough problems. I would like to say it should be banned forever, but I really don’t want to offend a great researcher.”