Albert Hofmann: The Man Who 'Invented' L.S.D. And Bicycle Day

By | November 1, 2020

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A portrait of late Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann at the Swiss National Library on September 21, 2018 in Bern. (Fabrice Cofferini/AFP via Getty Images)

You've probably never wondered who invented L.S.D., but it's not like that stuff grows out of the ground. Someone had to spend considerable time in a lab before they hit on the exact combination of chemicals that makes jam bands sound good. That person was a Swiss chemist named Albert Hofmann, thousands of miles and decades away from the hippie hangouts of Haight-Ashbury.

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Novartis, formerly Sandoz, headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. (Silesia711/Wikimedia Commons)

Schizophrenia On Rye

Albert Hofmann was born in Baden, Switzerland on January 11, 1906. His blue-collar family struggled financially, but Hofmann proved to be an excellent student with an affinity for chemistry, so his godfather offered to pay his tuition at the University of Zurich.Hofmann earned his doctorate degree in 1929 and went to work for Sandoz Laboratories, where he experimented with the synthesis of naturally occurring compounds in mind-altering medicinal plants.

Hofmann's primary focus was ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and produces hallucinations along with severely unpleasant side effects when consumed. He hoped his synthetic ergot compound—called LSD-25 because it was his 25th test of the compound—might effectively treat schizophrenia, depression, dementia, and other mental illnesses without the terrible side effects of the fungus.

L.S.D. showed promise as a treatment for several health conditions: In addition to mental illnesses, the similarity of the drug to a stimulant called nicotinic acid diethylamide suggested it could increase respiratory and circulatory function, and tests showed that it relieved uterine maladies. The patients of this study experienced some pretty severe side effects, however, including restless sleep and disrupted consciousness, so L.S.D. was shelved and all but forgotten by 1938.