On the day that the man who discovered LSD, Dr. Albert Hofmann, died at the age of 102, The Onion asked people what they thought. "It's just like I tell my kids," replied one. "If you get involved with drugs, you're going to end up dead." And the death of this renowned Swiss chemist inspired David Letterman to share with his audience that same evening the fact that researchers have "combined LSD with birth control pills so you can take a trip without the kids."
The New York Times obituary stated that, in April 1943, Hofmann "accidentally ingested the substance that became known to the 1960s counterculture as acid." But the Los Angeles Times obituary stated that he had "accidentally gotten a trace amount of an experimental compoundal compound called lysergic acid diethylamide on his fingertips and taken the world's first acid trip."
And the accurate answer, in Hofmann's own words, from his book, LSD: My Problem Child: "How had I managed to absorb this material? Because of the known toxicity of ergot substances, I always maintained meticulously neat work habits. Possibly a bit of the LSD solution had contacted my fingertips during crystallization, and a trace of the substance was absorbed through the skin."
At first, he didn't know what caused his mysteriously scary and beautiful reactions. He tried breathing the solvents he had used, with no effect. But then, he said in an interview on his 100th birthday, "LSD spoke to me. He came to me and said, 'You must find me.' He told me, 'Don't give me to the pharmacologist, he won't find anything.'"
Four weeks before his death, Carolyn Garcia (also known as Mountain Girl with the Merry Pranksters and as Jerry Garcia's widow) had given a speech at the World Psychedelic Forum in Basel, where Hofmann lived, and she was invited to meet him.
"He was so sweet to me," she recalls, "chatted and joked about musicians and black market LSD, chocolate and cherry trees, instructed me very seriously about the importance of hanging upside down every day, to improve the blood flow to the brain." He discussed with an old friend, Juri Styk, "whether Sandoz Laboratories would other chemical companies to make some LSD for the new studies being conducted in Europe. Important studies, on LSD and dying, cancer relief and spiritual psychological benefits of its use for rebalancing people in crisis. 'Long overdue,' they said."
Carolyn asked Hofmann if the purification of LSD was a long process. He denied it and said, "LSD is very easy to make, you just do the recipe, and if it crystallizes, that is it, it's done and very pure. No need to do anything else." She told him a little about the Grateful Dead, "and he lit up and said he had 'always been hearing about them, they played existential music, yes? And from small beginnings, it got large?'
"With the help of LSD, the energy and telepathic melting together as they played. He understood that. He asked about Jerry. And Juri reminded him about the Acid Tests, and he lit up again and said, 'Oh, yes, the Acid Tests, and the Grateful Dead played there long ago? And you were there?' And I smiled, yes, and pulled out the Acid Test diploma I had made for him. I presented it in the usual fashion, saying that he had proven beyond doubt that he had fulfilled all the requirements and had certainly passed the Acid Test, and had earned this Acid Test diploma."
When she left, he "smiled and asked me to come back, and bring the sun, please. The wind whipping the snow out of the trees as silent puffs of feathers. The walkway to the car was thick with ice. A few cat tracks showed the way. I didn't get to meet the cat, who sleeps on the doctor's bed since his wife passed away. Now where's the cat sleeping tonight?"
The United States government banned LSD in October 1966, and other countries followed. Hofmann insisted that this was not fair. He argued that the drug wasn't addictive, and campaigned for the ban to be lifted so that LSD could be used in medical research. In December 2007, Swiss authorities decided to allow the drug to be used in a psychotherapy research project. "For me," Hofmann told Swiss TV, "this is a very big wish come true. I always wanted to see LSD get its proper place in medicine."
On the day of his death, the Albert Hofmann Foundation declared that "Dr. Hofmann's discoveries have touched countless people and brought tremendous change to the world in more ways than can be counted. We are very glad that Dr. Hofmann could still witness the early stages of new studies with LSD that will start in Switzerland in the near future...."