Albert Hofmann and the Discovery essay

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To that end, throughout the course of his life "he remained convinced that the drug had the potential to counter the psychological problems induced by 'materialism, alienation from nature through industrialisation and increasing urbanisation, lack of satisfaction in professional employment in a mechanised, lifeless working world, ennui and purposelessness in wealthy, saturated society, and lack of a religious, nurturing, and meaningful philosophical foundation of life'." (Telegraph, 1) To Hofmann's view, many of the psychological problems associated with the detachment imposed by modernity could be addressed by guided use of a substance that caused reflection, insight and self-awareness otherwise largely inaccessible.

It was through what was for Hofmann an unwanted combination of premature commercialization and the proliferation which this allowed into the underground market that would cause LSD to earn its dubious reputation and its relationship to recreational rather than psychiatric users. Accordingly, Sandoz would immediately jump on the opportunity to make money off of a substance which was not subjected to full trial examination and labeled its sample form as Delysid. (Telegraph, 1) Widely distributing samples to psychiatric researchers for evaluation and eventual proliferation, Sandoz hoped to gain insight into the greatest prospects for its use. And indeed, "by 1965 more than 2,000 papers had been published offering hope for a range of conditions from drug and alcohol addiction to mental illnesses of various kinds. But the fact that the chemical was cheap and easy to make left it open to abuse, and from the late 1950s onwards, promoted by Dr. Timothy Leary and others, LSD became the recreational drug of choice for western youth." (Telegraph, 1)

Just as the counterculture movement had begun to gain some political and ideological identity and visibility, so too had its association with recreational substances like marijuana and alcohol begun to establish a dominant image. When the implications of the psychedelic experience seemed to resonate with the philosophical and spiritual goals of this movement, LSD became a natural bedfellow. This was, however, a resonance that Hofmann rejected, even famously voicing to Timothy Leary his stringent objection to the fact that its use had been so energetically championed for the youth of America. (Telegraph, 1) Hofmann had argued that this mode of usage was not intended and could have grave psychological consequences.

The public instead viewed it as a pattern with potentially grave sociological consequences, with a campaign mounted against LSD by America's moral hygienists. Particularly as the use of LSD became affiliated with resistance to the War in Vietnam and participation in Civil Rights protests, America's lawmakers would begin to characterize this as a substance which contributed to acts of wanton criminality, of general mob related lawlessness and of hallucinogenic acts of irrational or self-destructive delusion. Hofmann recognized that the public perception of LSD was, in its increased proliferation and misuse, becoming both misunderstood and recognized for some of its more threatening properties. It was to this understanding that he owed his belief that the substance was never intended for recreational purposes and was certainly not advisable to all individuals. This balance is contrasted by the full-blown reactionary obstruction to its further examination by government authorities. As the Telegraph would report, "an outbreak of moral panic, combined with a number of accidents involving people jumping to their deaths off high buildings in the belief that they could fly, led governments around the world to ban LSD. Research also showed that the drug, taken in high doses and in inappropriate settings, often caused panic reactions. For certain individuals, a bad trip could be the trigger for full-blown psychosis." (Telegraph, 1)

Indeed, the psychological capabilities of LSD are not to be taken lightly, and Hofmann believed that its potential benefits were more likely to be realized without the potentially traumatizing negative delusions of the experience when used under the guidance of a therapist and accompanied with such calming or centering activities as the practice of meditation. The delicate nature of patients with psychiatric needs especially underlines the sensibility with which Hofmann wished to approach LSD and predicates the disappointment he felt over its negative perception and the outright legal hostility with which it was treated. The potential benefits of the substance and its remarkable and uncommon properties suggested to its discoverer that LSD was neither a substance to be simplified as had Sandoz, nor to be feared, as had the government, the mainstream public and those in the psychiatric community who chose not to consider its potential benefits. These shortsighted actions would lead to its illegality and the consequent portrayal of LSD as an insidious substance to be noted only for its correlation to bizarre, irrational and dangerous behavior. Naturally, this would also lead to a condition within which the exploration of its effects and properties is now only conducted in fully independent settings by those driven for recreational or personal, rather than scientific or psychiatric, reasons to use LSD.

The Benefits of Hofmann's Discovery:

This points us toward a consideration of the benefits potentially represented by LSD, which have been largely obscured by the somewhat strict association now between LSD and the counterculture movement. Though he objected to the behaviors that justified this association, Hofmann never relented on his centering view of LSD.

The position that Hofmann held on his own deeply controversial revelation was fundamentally positive, but never without a full awareness of its implications when misused. Quite to the point, the man who lived to be 102 years of age would nonetheless remain an active supporter of the substance and a tireless part of the community around which its research had expanded across the second half of the 20th century. To this point, Hofmann would release the statement on the 50th anniversary of his famous "Bicycle Day" underscoring his continued dedication to the positive properties of LSD. Hofmann would declare to his supporters in the research, chemistry, philosophy and psychiatric movements, "you, my dear friends, and millions all over the world who now commemorate the 50th birthday of ergot's child, we all testify gratefully that we got valuable help on the way to what Aldous Huxley said is the end and the ultimate purpose of human life -- enlightenment, beatific vision, love. I think all these joyful testimonies of invaluable help by LSD should be enough to convince the health authorities, finally, of the nonsense of the prohibition of LSD and of similar psychedelics." (HF, 1)

To Hofmann's perception, the prohibition on such substances was a reactionary conservative approach to the misuse observed amongst those in the counterculture movement of the 1960s. The recreational emphasis here placed on the substance and its correlation to protest movements and antiestablishment organizations would politicize its perception in the public, producing a demonizing effect which would be used to ban its usage. While Hofmann did not sympathize with the manner in which it had been adopted by the counter-culture movement, he did perceive that this usage was at least entitled and that legal obstruction to this usage was philosophically misguided and driven by a fundamental misunderstanding of LSD itself.

Indeed, the long life and great social and intellectual success of Hofmann himself reflects quite problematically upon the perspective held by mainstream lawmakers on the subject. The perception and propaganda-based argument that LSD is a strictly dangerous substance which does contain sufficient beneficial properties to be protected from illegality is undermined by Hofmann's own biography. His sentiments on the subject would reinforce the case, with Hofmann frequently recognizing the need for caution and discretion in the manner and motive which accompany its usage. Still, Hofmann experimented aggressively with the substance himself as both a matter of professional study and personal exploration. According to an obituary published in the New York Times at the time of his passing in 2008, "took LSD hundreds of times, but regarded it as a powerful and potentially dangerous psychotropic drug that demanded respect. More important to him than the pleasures of the psychedelic experience was the drug's value as a revelatory aid for contemplating and understanding what he saw as humanity's oneness with nature. That perception, of union, which came to Dr. Hofmann as almost a religious epiphany while still a child, directed much of his personal and professional life." (Smith, 1)

Clearly then, he was deeply biased in support of the constructive use of LSD and at least the objective scientific consideration of its prospective benefits to psychiatric treatment courses. But this would not come about spontaneously and simply as a result of his accidental first psychedelic foray. Instead, the lifelong exploration into hallucinogenic or psychedelic substances that Hofmann would undertake would be guided by many instances in history where groups and populations have recorded without scientific recognition the euphoric and sometimes divinely connoted experiences produced by ingestion. Though Hofmann's substance would be synthesized, it would mimic some of the…[continue]

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