Chemist Who Discovered LSD Dies at 102 Albert Hoffman discovered the psychedelic drug LSD in 1938 while seeking medicinal uses for a fungus found on grains. He was the first human to try the drug — by accident — when a small amount of the chemical was absorbed through his fingertips.
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Chemist Who Discovered LSD Dies at 102

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Chemist Who Discovered LSD Dies at 102

Chemist Who Discovered LSD Dies at 102

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And finally today we bid farewell to the man who discovered lysergic acid diethylamide, otherwise known as LSD.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman first synthesized the powerful drug 70 years ago. He was studying the medicinal uses of a fungus found on kernels of rye grain. He didn't know what LSD was capable of until five years after he discovered it, when some accidentally seeped into his skin.

Professor JAY GINGRICH (Psychiatry, Columbia University): He was working with the compound when all of a sudden he felt very, very strange.

BRAND: Jay Gingrich is a psychiatrist at Colombia University.

Prof. GINGRICH: And he asked his assistant to escort him home and since it was during wartime the only thing he had available was a bicycle.

BRAND: That bicycle was a bit - was a bit strange. Hoffman later described the trip home, quote, "Everything I saw was distorted as in warped mirror." And once he got home he began seeing what he called wonderful visions.

CHADWICK: So wonderful that he took a larger dose of LSD three days later, and this time things didn't go quite as well. Harvard University, psychiatry professor emeritus Lester Grinspoon says Albert Hoffman had a very bad trip.

Professor LESTER GRINSPOON: He thought he was going to die or lose his mind. He had hallucinations. He had a great deal of anxiety.

BRAND: That experience, though, didn't deter the scientist. Albert Hoffman went on to drop acid hundreds of times. He believed LSD could make a big contribution to psychiatric research, and Hoffman thought the drug could help people better understand their place in the natural world.

CHADWICK: Not everyone agreed. The U.S. government banned LSD in 1966, and its potential ills were debated as heard in this education film from that era.

Unidentified Woman # 1: If LSD won't kill my chromosomes, the pollution in the air and water will, so what's the difference?

Unidentified Woman # 2: The difference is we know that if we don't take LSD we won't damage your chromosomes.

BRAND: Even after LSD was banned, Hoffman defended his creation. He said I produced the substance as a medicine. It is not my fault if people abused it.

CHADWICK: Albert Hoffman died at his home near Basel, Switzerland, yesterday. The cause was heart attack. He lived to be 102.

(Soundbite of song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Lucy in the sky with diamonds, Lucy in the sky with diamonds.

CHADWICK: Day to Day's a production of NPR News with contributions from Slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick.

BRAND: And I'm Madeleine Brand.

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