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Albert Hofmann

Albert Hofmann


Albert Hofmann was born on January 11, 1906, in Baden, Switzerland to Adolf Hofmann and his wife Elisabeth (née Schenk) and grew up as the oldest of four siblings. When his father, a factory toolmaker, became seriously ill, he had to contribute to the family income and therefore began and completed a commercial apprenticeship. Meanwhile, he was getting ready to finish his schooling. His godfather funded him during this time and in 1925 he began to study chemistry at the University of Zurich and graduated with honors four years later. Until his retirement in 1971 he then worked for more than four decades at Sandoz in Basel. In 1935 he married Anita Guanella, the sister of the successful Swiss inventor Gustav Guanella, which worked for the firm of Brown, Boveri & Cie, where Hofmann's father had worked, as well as Albert Hofmann had completed his apprenticeship. In 1943 he (at first accidentally) discovered the hallucinogenic effects of LSD. He lived on the Rittimatte, in the town castle on the edge of the Jura mountain range. Later Hofmann became director of the natural products department at Sandoz and after studying hallucinogenic substances that can be found in the Mexican magic mushrooms and plants used by the aboriginal people he synthesized psilocybin, the active substance of many magic mushrooms. On the occasion of his 100th Birthday in 2006, the symposium "LSD - Problem Child and Wonder Drug" took place in Basel from January 13 to 15. End of 2007, the psychotherapist Peter Gasser received a tentative permission from Solothurn, Aargau's Ethics Commission, to use LSD for therapeutic purposes. In a television interview Albert Hofmann described this as fulfilling his dream. In 2008, on April 29, Albert Hofmann suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 102 years. He wrote over 100 scientific articles and a number of books, including LSD: My Problem Child.

The discovery of LSD

Working as an employee of the pharmaceutical-chemical department of Sandoz Laboratories in Basel Hofmann researched the grain fungus ergot with the aim to develop a circulatory and respiratory stimulant and in 1938 he synthesized various amide derivatives of lysergic acid. The 25th of them caused unrest among the tested animals, but did not seem to be useful or interesting enough for further pharmacological research and was no longer tested. Until April 16, 1943, when he decided to produce LSD again. While working with it, he suddenly felt restlessness, discomfort and slight dizziness, so he had to stop, took his bicycle and drove home. Once home he had to lay down and closed his eyes because he found the daylight to be unpleasantly and intensively bright. For two hours he had an extremely stimulated imagination and "saw" what he described as a steady stream of kaleidoscopic plays of colors, fantastic pictures and amazing shapes. In his book "LSD - My Problem Child" he admits that he probably accidentally absorbed the LSD from the fingertips. On April 19, 1943, at 4:20 pm Hofmann intentionally ingested 250 micrograms of LSD, an amount, that nowadays is considered three to five times as much as the effective dose. And no, this time of day has nothing to do with the origin of the "420" marijuana smokers use.

The "Bicycle Day"

Three days later he wrote down what happened after he had ingested LSD 25 in a self-experiment ... He wrote that by 17:00 he felt slight dizziness and anxiety, had a blurred/altered vision, underwent paralysis and had the urge to laugh. He further reported that what he felt and saw was of the same type as the experience the day before, but much more intense. He was barely able to write and only with the greatest effort he was able ask his laboratory assistant to escort him home - on the BICYCLE! On this "trip" home he felt as if he was barely moving, but his assistant later reported they actually drove pretty fast. His view had totally altered and Hofmann felt threatened by his state, because what once was familiar, had turned into something obscure and seemed to have an own life, everything was moving. When he met his neighbor woman Mrs. R., he perceived her as a vicious, insidious witch with a colored grimace. Once home the dizziness and feeling of fainting were so intense that he had to lie down on the couch. Later, towards the end of the trip, he started to enjoy the experience because now he was not only "seeing" a stream of fantastic images twisting into spirals and bursting colorful fountains with his eyes closed, but his acoustic perception seemed to have connected to the stream and every noise affected the pictures he saw.


Ever since he had researched psychedelic substances such as LSD and psilocybin he was an advocate of their use in psychoanalysis and legalization for research purposes and criticized the misuse of them by the Counterculture in the 1960s and the worldwide prohibition of LSD 25. He always hoped it would be used for a proper purpose.

Further research

Hofmann was also interested in the seeds of Turbina corymbosa, a Mexican morning glory species that contains LSA, lysergic acid amide, which he found to be closely related to LSD. In 1962, Hofmann now was the director of the natural products department at Sandoz and had already studied the hallucinogenic substances found in Mexican magic mushrooms and isolated and synthesized psilocybin, he and his wife Anita traveled to southern Mexico to search for "Ska Maria Pastora" (Leaves of Mary the Shepherdess), the plant that will later be known as Salvia divinorum. He obtained samples of it, but never identified its active compound, the diterpenoid salvinorin A. Furthermore, he isolated and synthesized the active substances of important medicinal plants to research their effects.