Legacy of the bike rider

Covered up in the ever-shifting sands of time are the names of those humans who first discovered the intoxicating powers of beer, wine and hemp. Those substances have been with us now for millennia, their first users and admirers long since reduced to a particulate existence.

Ah, but when it comes to the Man Who Invented Acid, well, we certainly know his name. And if I’m gonna cook up an obituary to sci-fi icon Arthur C. Clarke (“A mindbender leaves us,” RN&R, March 27), I’m compelled to do the same for the guy who launched more ecstasy than any other human in history, Dr. Albert Hofmann.

Hofmann died on April 29th at his home in Switzerland, age 102. As the friend who sent me the Hofmann obit commented, “stuff must be good for you.” On April 19, 1943, Hofmann took 250 micrograms (that’s 250 MILLIONTHS of a gram) of LSD-25, a substance he’d synthesized five years earlier in the labs of his employer, the pharmaceutical giant, Sandoz. He thought this tiny amount to be an extremely prudent starting dosage, not expecting much of anything to happen. So when he got walloped sideways and decided he’d better take the rest of the day off, it resulted in him wobbling away to his home on what became one of the most celebrated bike rides of the 20th century.

Now, 65 years later, after the CIA and Leary and Huxley and Kesey and Owsley and the whole “turn on, tune in, drop out” gig, the world remains utterly stigmatized by the still awesome power of Dr. Hofmann’s discovery. So stigmatized that all of the extremely promising research that had inflamed the psychological community in the ’60s in terms of LSD’s ability to work positively on alcoholics, recidivist jail junkies and hopelessly depressed terminal patients, to name but a few, has been stopped dead in its tracks. Governments, of course, had good reason to freak out when LSD rolled out of the research labs and into the streets. This shit was dangerous. I mean, what other drug could be gobbled down on a Saturday morning by a nice boy named Danny, and put him through such changes that by Sunday morning, Danny was declaring to all that, from now on, his new name would be Sunbeam? Rum and cokes sure didn’t cause that kind of existential mischief.

Hofmann was stirred forever by his encounters with his “problem child,” as he called acid. He said in 1984, 41 years after his startling bike ride, “Through my LSD experience and my new picture of reality, I became aware of the wonder of creation, the magnificence of nature and of the plant and animal kingdom. I became very sensitive to what will happen to all this and all of us.” And when asked recently if LSD had given him any insights into death, he said “I go back to where I came from, back to where I was before I was born. That’s all.”