'Father of LSD' Dies at 102
SCOTT SIMON, host:
The Swiss chemist, Albert Hofmann, died this week at the age of 102. Albert Hofmann was known as the father of LSD, a substance he discovered while studying the medicinal uses of fungi for a pharmaceuticals firm in 1938. Mr. Hofmann became his own first trial subject for LSD in April of 1943. A tiny amount of the substance seeped into his finger while he was working in his lab, and he went on what might be the first acid trip. He describes that experience here.
Mr. ALBERT HOFMANN (Chemist): (Through translator) I was sittings on my couch when I started dreaming a wonderful dream. I had visions. I saw lights and beautiful colors that lasted for hours.
SIMON: Albert Hofmann went on to experiment with the substance more than 100 times before it was banned in the late 1960s, but he was never comfortable with those who called LSD a recreational drug or the drug counter-culture. He often called the substance his problem child.
Rick Doblin is president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. He worked with Albert Hofmann over the years and joins us now from the studios of WGBH in Boston.
What was Dr. Hofmann hoping to find when he developed LSD?
Mr. RICK DOBLIN (President, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies): He was hoping to find something that would stimulate circulation in the heart and lungs, and instead he found something that stimulates circulation in the mind.
SIMON: What uses, medicinal uses, did he see for LSD?
Mr. DOBLIN: LSD has been studied in the treatment of alcoholism and heroin addiction. It's been studied in helping people who are facing end-of-life issues, cancer patients with anxiety, it's been used in depression.
SIMON: Now he, I gather, urged psychologists at one point to use it therapeutically.
Mr. DOBLIN: Initially they thought that it was a temporary voyage into insanity, and they felt that psychiatrists could take LSD and have a better empathy with their patients and understand more deeply what their patients were going through.
SIMON: Does that make sense to you anymore?
Mr. DOBLIN: No it doesn't. The idea that it's a voyage into insanity has largely been abandoned. It's something more complex.
SIMON: What did Albert Hofmann think of people who not only used LSD recreationally but people like Timothy Leary who urged it on others?
Mr. DOBLIN: He was very discouraging of that. He felt that it was something that should be used under careful preparation by people who were aware of the range of emotions that it could generate. Albert's very first experience, at times he felt he was dying, he felt he was going crazy, and so he recognized that there are risks as well as benefits from the drug, and he felt that Timothy Leary and others were underplaying the risks and overestimating the benefits.
SIMON: Now that he's safely beyond the reach of the law, to the best of your knowledge, did he use it after it was banned?
Mr. DOBLIN: He definitely did. I think that he respected the law, and he really respected the spirit of the law but felt that in this case the letter of the law was a little bit repressive.
SIMON: Mr. Doblin, thanks so much.
Mr. DOBLIN: Thank you very much.
SIMON: Rick Doblin, president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Albert Hofmann was 102 when he died on Tuesday, suffered a heart attack in his home in Basil, Switzerland.
This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.