Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist who created hallucinogenic drug LSD and advocated its benefits before unwittingly becoming an icon of the 1960s counterculture, died of a heart attack on Tuesday at his hilltop home near Basel, Switzerland. He was 102.
Hofmann’s pharmaceutical cocktail was prescribed legally in psychoanalysis for more than a decade before mainstream usage caused it to be outlawed in the US in 1967. The father of lysergic acid diethylamide promoted it as a controlled substance for medical use and viewed its recreational abuse as dangerous.
As an illicit drug, LSD inspired musicians from the Beatles to Bob Dylan with its psychedelic effects and taking “acid” became a rite of passage for many in the Woodstock generation.
Hippy icon: Albert Hofmann. (Photo: Patrick Straub / AP)
Outspoken exponents, including Harvard University academic Timothy Leary and writer Ken Kesey, claimed the synthetic compound offered an enlightening human experience, while its detractors said the hallucinogen caused brain damage and mental illness.
Hofmann’s self-described “problem child” had its heyday in the 1960s as its availability increased because of mass production by underground chemists such as Augustus Owsley Stanley in San Francisco.
English novelist Aldous Huxley hailed its qualities and took the drug on his deathbed, before countless rock groups and stars, such as the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and the Grateful Dead, experimented with LSD.
Born on 11 January 1906 in Baden, Switzerland, Hofmann studied chemistry at Zurich University, focusing on plants and animals, and completed a doctorate on the chemical make-up of chitin, a protective substance found in fungi and some animals. Hofmann then accepted a job at Sandoz Laboratories, now part of Novartis AG, in Basel, Switzerland.
After US chemists isolated lysergic acid as the active ingredient, Hofmann experimented with other compounds of the drug, including LSD-25, which he created in 1938. Five years later, as he returned to conduct tests on the same compound, he stumbled onto its psychedelic potential.
Hofmann explained the explosion of public interest in his drug during the 1960s as a remedy to counter “alienation from nature” and the “lack of satisfaction in professional employment in a mechanized, lifeless working world.”
“I see the true importance of LSD in the possibility of providing material aid to meditation aimed at the mystical experience of a deeper, comprehensive reality,” Hofmann said. “Such a use accords entirely with the essence and working character of LSD as a sacred drug.” Bloomberg