GENEVA — There are those few rare researchers through the ages so devoted to science that they have used their own bodies as a laboratory for their experiments. After inventing the hallucinogenic substance LSD, the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann unintentionally, and then intentionally, took doses of the drug.

In his autobiography published in 1980, Hofmann recounts the first intentional LSD trip on April 19, 1943. On that day, the young chemist ingested the new substance that he'd synthesized in his laboratory at Sandoz, of which the full effects were still unknown to him."I could not speak intelligibly. I asked my laboratory assistant to escort me to my house. On the way, my state began to assume worrying proportions. Everything that entered my field of vision shook and was distorted as if in a curved mirror. I felt like I was not moving forward. However, the lab tech later told me that we were moving very quickly."

Arriving at his home after his bike ride, he switched into a parallel universe.

He then rode his bike back home. He embarked on the first LSD "trip" in the history, paving the way for many other psychedelic and scientific experiments.

Strange sensations

Hofmann had isolated lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in 1938 from a parasitic crop fungus, rye ergot. Initially, he dismissed the potential of this substance, not seeing its full potential. In April 1943, he returned to it. He first absorbed a tiny amount of it inadvertently, probably by rubbing his eyes. The strange sensations he was seized with would ultimately lead him to try the substance again.

Animated short of Hofmann's first LSD trip in 1943 Video: rolie1982 on YouTube

Without knowing the strength of LSD’s hallucinogenic effects, Hofmann took what he thought was a small amount, 0.25 milligrams. This is actually a massive dose. Arriving at his home after his bike ride, he switched into a parallel universe. The nice neighbor who occasionally visited him was instead transformed into "a malicious witch with a colorful mask." He struggled in vain against the altered perceptions imposed on him. "All of my attempts to put an end to the disintegration of the outside world and the dissolution of my ego seemed like lost pain," he wrote in his autobiography. Finally, the effects faded and by the next day, the chemist had returned to a nearly normal state.

Exploring the soul

A few years later, a patent on LSD was filed by Sandoz pharmaceuticals, which set out to market the substance. Its therapeutic effects were the subject of multiple scientific studies, but it was within the American counter-culture that LSD really had the most effect, starting first with the Beat Generation, then the hippies. Psychology professor and activist Timothy Leary encouraged widespread consumption, believing that LSD can help everyone achieve a higher level of consciousness. But the substance had by then acquired a troublesome reputation linked to the bad trips it can cause, and eventually was criminalized throughout the West in the late 1960s.

He dropped acid for the last time at the age of 97.

Albert Hofmann deplored the mass use of “his” drug, which he considered risky. But, all of his life, he remained convinced of the use of the LSD as a tool to not only explore the human soul, and a means to relieve the blues. This latter use is still being pursued today by a few scientists, including Solothurn psychiatrist Peter Gasser. In 2007, he studied the benefit of taking small doses of LSD to reduce anxiety brought on by fatal illness. His main intention, before evaluating the benefits of this therapeutic approach, was to show that it could be carried out safely in the practice.

Albert Hofmann at age 100 -- Photo: Stepan

As for the inventor of LSD, he does not seem to have suffered from his own psychedelic experiences. Albert Hofmann passed away at the ripe age of 102 in 2008. Two years earlier, when he celebrated his 100th birthday in Basel at a LSD conference, he announced that he dropped acid for the last time at the age of 97.