Today is Bicycle Day, one of psychedelics’ unofficial birthdays. To celebrate, we’ll take a look at Albert Hofmann, his work with LSD, and his now-famous bicycle ride.
Albert Hofmann, early history
Albert Hofmann (1906-2008) was a Swiss chemist renowned for his discovery of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Hofmann’s work not only revolutionized the field of psychedelic research but sparked modern day interest in the exploration of human consciousness.
Albert Hofmann was born on January 11, 1906, in Baden, Switzerland. He was the eldest of four children in a modest, working-class family. Despite his humble beginnings, Hofmann demonstrated a natural aptitude for science and an insatiable curiosity. He pursued his passion for chemistry by studying at the University of Zurich, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1929 under the guidance of Professor Arthur Stoll.
Sandoz Laboratories and the Discovery of LSD
In 1929, Hofmann began working at Sandoz Laboratories (now part of Novartis) in Basel, Switzerland. His primary focus was on the study of ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and other grains. Ergot alkaloids had long been used in medicine, particularly as treatments for postpartum hemorrhaging and migraines. In 1938, while working on synthesizing new ergot derivatives, Hofmann created LSD-25, the 25th compound in a series of lysergic acid derivatives. At the time, he did not recognize the psychoactive properties of the substance and set it aside. It was not until five years later, in 1943, that Hofmann decided to revisit LSD-25 for further research.
Bicycle Day and the First LSD Trip
On April 16, 1943, Hofmann returned to his mysterious compound. While re-synthesizing LSD, he accidentally absorbed a small amount of the drug and discovered its powerful effects:
“… 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 about two hours this condition faded away.” (From “LSD, My Problem Child” — Albert Hofmann)
A few days later, on April 19, 1943, Hofmann conducted a self-experiment with a dose of 0.25 milligrams or 250 micrograms (a pretty serious dose, considering that most full trips start at 100 micrograms).
Hofmann’s experiment took an unexpected turn as he started feeling the intense effects of the drug, which included hallucinations, anxiety, and a sense of disconnection from reality.
A local doctor could find nothing wrong with him physically except for some very dilated pupils. Eventually, the intensity and apprehension of the journey began to shift and Hofmann was able to settle into the experience…
“… 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 during this first-ever LSD trip that Hofmann asked his lab assistant to accompany him home. Due to wartime restrictions on vehicle use, the pair rode bicycles, and “Bicycle Day” was born.
Impact of LSD and Hofmann’s Later Years
Following the discovery of LSD’s psychoactive properties, Sandoz Laboratories began producing and distributing the compound under the name “Delysid” for psychiatric research purposes. Throughout the 1950s, LSD was distributed to hundreds of researchers, being used in psychotherapy and experimental treatments for alcoholism, anxiety disorders, and other mental health issues. Time magazine and other mainstream platforms published many positive reports on LSD during the 50s.
Hofmann continued to work at Sandoz Laboratories until his retirement in 1971. During this time, he continued his work on LSD and other psychoactive compounds, discovering 4-Acetoxy-DET, a hallucinogenic tryptamine, in 1958. He also studied other hallucinogenic substances found in mushrooms and other plant medicines, expanding his research to include medicines used by indigenous peoples. Hofmann and his co-workers were the first to isolate psilocybin and psilocin from the mushroom P. mexicana.
Over his life and career, Hofmann became an advocate and spokesperson for the potential of LSD and psychedelics. Authoring over 100 scientific articles and numerous books, including: “LSD: My Problem Child” and “Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers”.
Albert Hofmann passed away on April 29, 2008, at the age of 102, but his legacy as the inventor of LSD and the father of modern psychedelics endures.
“It gave me an inner joy, an open mindedness, a gratefulness, open eyes and an internal sensitivity for the miracles of creation… 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
For more on LSD check out What Is LSD? and this informational video on Hofmann and the discovery of LSD
Editor’s Note: Some passages of this text were produced using ChatGPT