Albert Hofmann (January 11, 1906 – April 29, 2008) was a Swiss scientist best known for being the first person to synthesize, ingest and learn of the psychedelic effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Authored more than 100 scientific articles and wrote a number of books, including LSD: My Problem Child. On January 11, 2006, Hofmann became a centenarian, and the occasion of his 100th birthday was the focus of an international symposium on LSD.
Life and career
Hofmann was born in Baden, Switzerland, the first of four children born to factory toolmaker Adolf Hofmann and his wife Elisabeth (born Elisabeth Schenk). Because of his father's low income, Albert's godfather paid for his education. When his father fell ill, Hofmann took up a position as a commercial apprentice in concurrence with his studies. At the age of twenty, Hofmann began his chemistry degree at the University of Zürich, finishing three years later, in 1929. His main interest was the chemistry of plants and animals, and he later conducted important research regarding the chemical structure of the common animal substance chitin, for which he received his doctorate, with distinction, in 1930.
Hofmann joined the pharmaceutical-chemical department of Sandoz Laboratories (now Novartis), located in Basel as a co-worker with professor Arthur Stoll, founder and director of the pharmaceutical department. He began studying the medicinal plant squill and the fungus ergot as part of a program to purify and synthesize active constituents for use as pharmaceuticals. His main contribution was to elucidate the chemical structure of the common nucleus of Scilla glycosides (an active principal of Mediterranean Squill). While researching lysergic acid derivatives, Hofmann first synthesized LSD on November 16, 1938. The main intention of the synthesis was to obtain a respiratory and circulatory stimulant (an analeptic). It was set aside for five years, until April 19, 1943, when Hofmann decided to take another look at it. While re-synthesizing LSD, he accidentally absorbed a small quantity through his fingertips and serendipitously discovered its powerful effects. He described what he felt as 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.
—Albert Hofmann, 
Hofmann became director of the natural products department at Sandoz and went on studying hallucinogenic substances found in Mexican mushrooms and other plants used by the aboriginal people. This led to the synthesis of psilocybin, the active agent of many "magic mushrooms." Hofmann also became interested in the seeds of the Mexican morning glory species Rivea corymbosa, the seeds of which are called Ololiuhqui by the natives. He was surprised to find the active compound of Ololiuhqui, ergine (lysergic acid amide), to be closely related to LSD.
In 1962, he and his wife Anita traveled to southern Mexico to search for the plant "Ska Maria Pastora" (Leaves of Mary the Shepherdess), later known as Salvia divinorum. He was able to obtain samples of this plant but never succeeded in identifying its active compound which has since been identified as the diterpenoid Salvinorin A.
In 1963, Hofmann attended the annual convention of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences (WAAS) in Stockholm.
Hofmann called LSD "medicine for the soul" and was frustrated by the worldwide prohibition that has pushed it underground. "It was used very successfully for 10 years in psychoanalysis," he said, adding that the drug was hijacked by the youth movement of the 1960s and then unfairly demonized by the establishment that the movement opposed. He conceded that LSD can be dangerous in the wrong hands.
In December 2007, Swiss medical authorities permitted a psychotherapist to perform psychotherapeutic experiments with patients who suffer from terminal stage cancer and other deadly diseases. Although not yet started, these experiments will represent the first study of the therapeutic effects of LSD on humans in 35 years, as other studies have focused on the drug's effects on consciousness and body. Hofmann supported the study, and continued to believe in the therapeutic benefits of LSD.
Hofmann was due to speak at the World Psychedelic Forum from March 21 to March 24, 2008, but was forced to pull out because of poor health.
Hofmann died of natural causes on April 29, 2008, in the village of Burg im Leimental, near Basel, Switzerland. He was 102 years old.
Albert Hofmann's autobiographical account of his experience with LSD was published in LSD: My Problem Child (1980). Hofmann also co-authored The Road to Eleusis: Unveiling the Secret of the Mysteries (Hermes Press, 1998, North Atlantic Books, 2008), a collaborative effort with mycologist R. Gordon Wasson, and classical scholars Carl Ruck and Blaise Staples, which reveals the secret mystic elixir that is at the heart of the Eleusinian Mysteries and, therefore, fundamental to the development of Western civilization. Hofmann further describes the relevance of the Eleusinian Mysteries for today's world, and the application of psychedelic experience to the study of metaphysics, in essays published in Entheogens and the Future of Religion, (Council on Spiritual Practices, San Francisco, 1999); and discusses his relationship with LSD enthusiast Timothy Leary in Outside Looking In (Park Street Press, Rochester, VT, 1999). Also, a posthumous book by Albert Hoffman, Hofmann's Elixir: LSD and the New Eleusis, collecting the last essays the author wrote, is in the works and will be released Feb. 24th, 2010.
* Nathaniel S. Finney, Jay S. Siegel: In Memoriam – Albert Hofmann (1906–2008). Chimia 62 (2008), 444–447, doi:10.2533/chimia.2008.444
1. ^ "Albert Hofmann". Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. http://www.maps.org/. Retrieved 2008-04-29.