The discovery of the Hallucigenic effects of LSD by the Swiss chemist, Albert Hofmann in 1943 did not happen by accident. In the 1930's Hoffman was employed by the Sandoz's Company's pharmaceutical-chemical research laboratory in Basel, Switzerland. He began research into the chemical nature of the drug Ergot, which is produced by a lower fungus (Claviceps purpurea) that grows parasitically on rye and on other species of grain. Ergot has long been known throughout the world as both poison and medicine.
Bread made with rye containing ergot has caused many mass poisonings throughout history. With the realization, in the seventeenth century, that ergot-containing bread was causing these poisonings, the epidemics have diminished. The last known, occurred in Russia in 1926-27. Progress in agriculture and storage of grain has greatly reduced the risk of ergot poisoning.
Medicinally, the drug had been administered by midwives to pregnant women in childbirth since the Middle Ages. However, it was not until John Stearns an American physician published his paper entitled, Account of the Putvis Parturiens, a Remedy for Quickening Childbirth, that the drug was recognized by academics in 1808. The use of the drug in childbirth was soon discontinued however. A suitable and safe dosage was very difficult to determine given that the active ingredient was not known at this time.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries chemists began to isolate the active principles of ergot. In 1918 A. Stoll isolated an ergot alkaloid which he named ergotamine. In the early 1930's W.A. Jacobs and L.C. Caig of the Rockefeller Institute of New York isolated and characterized the nucleus common to all ergot alkaloids. They named it lysergic acid.
This leads us to Albert Hoffman, who in 1935 began work synthesizing (artificial production) natural ergot alkaloids. By combining lysergic acid with the amino alcohol propanolamine, he obtained a compound identical to the natural ergot alkaloid, ergobasine. Ergobasine was shown to be therapeutic as a uterotonic and have hemostatic properties.
Encouraged by his success, Hoffman began to synthesize many new lysergic acid compounds, believing that other derivatives might also have interesting pharmacological properties. In 1938 he produced lysergic acid diethylamide, abbreviated LSD-25 (25 because it was the 25th such compound which he had synthesized).
Testing of LSD-25 by the pharmacological department at Sandoz linked the product with a strong effect of the uterus. However, the effect was not as strong as ergobasine and therefore testing was discontinued. In was noted, however, that the experimental animals became restless during the tests.
For 5 years, A. Hofmann worked to synthesize other lysergic acid derivatives. He developed at least three that were manufactured and sold as medicines in improvement of peripheral circulation and cerebral function in geriatric disorders by the Sandoz company.
However, he could not forget about LSD-25. For some reason, he felt that LSD-25 could possess properties which had not been fully explored through testing. Exactly what led him to this conclusion is unclear. Nevertheless, more than 5 years after he first synthesized LSD-25 he repeated the synthesis so that a sample could be given to the pharmacological department for further tests.
During the final step of the synthesis, Hofmann was disturbed by unusual sensations. The following is his description of his experience. Last Friday, April 16, 1943, I was forced to interrupt my work in the laboratory in the middle of the afternoon and proceed home, being affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away. (Hofman, 1983). Hofmann immediately connected his experience with the lysergic acid diethylamide that he was working with. However, he needed more information. He decided on a self-experiment, taking .25mg of LSD-25 on 19 April 1943. After this test, he was sure that his experience the previous Friday was infact due to LSD-25. And so LSD made its entry into the world as a hallucinogenic drug.
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