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Happy Bicycle Day!

At 4:20 in the afternoon, on April 19th, 1943, the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann deliberately ingested 250 micrograms of LSD-25, a substance he had discovered during experiments with alkaloids of the fungus ergot. Despite the vanishingly small dosage, he soon found himself stricken with dizziness, euphoria, and an inescapable compulsion to laugh. Within the hour, he could barely write or speak intelligibly, and fearing he’d poisoned himself, rode his bicycle to his nearby home, called a doctor, asked for a glass of milk and collapsed on a sofa. What happened next is best described by Hofmann himself, from his autobiographical book, LSD – My Problem Child:

My surroundings had now transformed themselves in more terrifying ways. Everything in the room spun around, and the familiar objects and pieces of furniture assumed grotesque, threatening forms. They were in continuous motion, animated, as if driven by an inner restlessness. The lady next door, whom I scarcely recognized, brought me milk – in the course of the evening I drank more than two liters. She was no longer Mrs. R., but rather a malevolent, insidious witch with a colored mask.

Even worse than these demonic transformations of the outer world, were the alterations that I perceived in myself, in my inner being. Every exertion of my will, every attempt to put an end to the disintegration of the outer world and the dissolution of my ego, seemed to be wasted effort. A demon had invaded me, had taken possession of my body, mind, and soul. I jumped up and screamed, trying to free myself from him, but then sank down again and lay helpless on the sofa. The substance, with which I had wanted to experiment, had vanquished me. It was the demon that scornfully triumphed over my will. I was seized by the dreadful fear of going insane. I was taken to another world, another place, another time. My body seemed to be without sensation, lifeless, strange. Was I dying? Was this the transition?

After a doctor arrived and examined him, finding no physical abnormalities besides extremely dilated pupils, Hofmann realized he wasn’t in danger of losing his mind or dying and his experience suddenly took a turn for the better:

Now, little by little I could begin to enjoy the unprecedented colors and plays of shapes that persisted behind my closed eyes. Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in colored fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves in constant flux. It was particularly remarkable how every acoustic perception, such as the sound of a door handle or a passing automobile, became transformed into optical perceptions. Every sound generated a vividly changing image, with its own consistent form and color.

Late in the evening my wife returned from Lucerne. Someone had informed her by telephone that I was suffering a mysterious breakdown. She had returned home at once, leaving the children behind with her parents. By now, I had recovered myself sufficiently to tell her what had happened.

Exhausted, I then slept, to awake next morning refreshed, with a clear head, though still somewhat tired physically. A sensation of well-being and renewed life flowed through me. Breakfast tasted delicious and gave me extraordinary pleasure. When I later walked out into the garden, in which the sun shone now after a spring rain, everything glistened and sparkled in a fresh light. The world was as if newly created. All my senses vibrated in a condition of highest sensitivity, which persisted for the entire day.

Thus went the world’s first acid trip.

Inspired by this experience, Hofmann went on to make several other important contributions to the study of these fascinating substances: he synthesized psilocybin from “magic mushrooms,” documented the LSD-like active ingredient in morning glory seeds and obtained the first samples of Salvia divinorum that led to its official botanical identification.

Hofmann celebrated his 100th birthday this year, on January 11th. After a life spent experimenting with and directly experiencing the effects of numerous psychedelic drugs, he remains physically healthy (considering his age!) and mentally sharp, and is internationally revered and respected for his pioneering work. The same can’t be said, however, for his “problem child,” which, contrary to scientific evidence, many governments around the world continue to define as an unsafe, addictive drug with no acceptable medical use.

The tide is turning. Just last week, The Lancet published an editorial calling for an end to the “demonization” of psychedelics like LSD and a renewal of scientific inquiry after decades of suppression.

But any successful change in a nation’s drug policy will require more than a page in a respected journal. If you’re reading this and you agree psychedelics deserve further study for potentially useful applications, why not celebrate this year’s Bicycle Day with an e-mail to your favorite representative government official letting them know? If you want to learn more about what you can do to support this research, or the website for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies are good places to start.

“I think that in human evolution it has never been as necessary to have this substance LSD. It is just a tool to turn us into what we are supposed to be.”
– Albert Hofmann