By Peter Gorman

Born on Jan. 11, 1906, in Baden, Switzerland, Albert Hofmann graduated from the University of Zürich with a degree in chemistry and then went to work for Sandoz Pharmaceutical in 1929. Hoping to develop a stimulant for blood circulation, he synthesized lysergic acid from ergot in 1938, which led him to discover lysergic acid diethylamide. It took five years for Hofmann to revisit his LSD-25.

On April 16, 1943, when a minute amount of the chemical entered Hofmann’s bloodstream through his skin, the world’s first acid trip was underway. Suddenly, he went into a “very strange, dreamlike state. Everything changed, everything had another meaning.” Thinking he was ill, he went home to lie down, but the altered state stayed with him. “I would think of something,” he told HIGH TIMES in 1995, “and as soon as I did I could see it. It was wonderful.”

Three days later, Hofmann made a solution with water and five milligrams of LSD, then drank a tiny bit of it, enough to dose himself with 250 micrograms of the drug. The experiment was so intense that he asked his lab assistant to take him home. They rode bicycles. “It was about six kilometers from my lab to my little village, and throughout it I had the feeling that time was standing still,” he recalled. “It was a very unusual feeling, one I’d never had before. There was a change in the experience of life, of time. I was already deep in the LSD trance, in LSD inebriation, and one of its characteristics, just on this bicycle trip, was of not coming from anyplace or going anyplace. There was absolutely no feeling of time.”

At home he had his assistant call a doctor, who sat with him during what he described as a “horribly difficult” experience that lasted several hours. But as it drew to a close, the difficulty turned to happiness. “I saw our world in a new light,” he said. “Our normal world that we don’t normally think of as wonderful, was a wonderful world. It was a rebirth.”

Hofmann and several others at Sandoz knew that for so small a dose to have such a profound effect on human consciousness—while having almost no effect on the human body—it must have been working at the very center of the psychic core of the human brain. To see if they were right, shortly thereafter Sandoz began supervised testing on humans in a psychiatric clinic in Zurich. Based on the results from those early tests (which were published in 1947), Sandoz began distributing one gram of crystalline LSD-25 to investigators around the world under the label Delysid. Each gram was capable of producing between 10,000 and 20,000 trips. The psychedelic revolution had begun.

For 20 years, until it was outlawed in 1966, LSD was used in psychiatry, psychotherapy, addiction therapy and as a creativity enhancer. Banning LSD, however, did nothing to slow down its influence: LSD’s mind-expanding properties would fuel the hippie revolution, influence rock’n’roll and help spawn home computers, the Internet and DNA research.

Hofmann wasn’t finished. When investment banker turned mycologist Gordon Wasson and his wife traveled to Mexico in 1956 and became the first outsiders to take part in a magic-mushroom ceremony, it was Hofmann who was able to isolate the mushroom’s active principles, which he named psilocybin and psilocin, and then to synthesize them. Wasson also introduced Hofmann to another hallucinogenic plant in Mexico, ololuiqui, the seeds of a type of morning-glory flower. (Wasson had acquired the seeds from a Zapotec Indian.) “What we found as the active principle,” Hofmann told HT, “was lysergic acid amide. Very closely related to lysergic acid diethylamide.”

It was an extraordinary find, one that Hofmann said “showed that LSD was not just a laboratory product. It’s closely related, chemically, pharmacologically and psychologically, with an old Indian magic drug. Which means that LSD belongs to the sacred magic plants of Mexico.”

Hofmann, who also invented medicines that help cerebral function, blood circulation and blood-pressure stablization, remained with Sandoz as head of the company’s Pharmaceutical-Chemical Research Laboratories, Division of Natural Products, until he retired in 1971. And while the DEA and governments worldwide shudder at the very notion of the personal freedom and spiritual insight gained by people who utilize LSD, others have heaped acclaim on its inventor. Hofmann is a member of the Nobel Prize Committee, a fellow of the World Academy of Sciences and a member of the International Society of Plant Research. He’s spent the last 30 years writing books and lecturing.

If there are certain occasions in history in which momentous events occur—events that alter the course of life on this planet—certainly the synthesis of LSD is among them. We can all thank Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, who is about to hit the century mark. He must be doing something right.

Botanist Richard Schultes’ writings about the use of ayahuasca inspired a generation of seekers, including William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, to travel to the Amazon in search of the magical and visionary medicine. Schultes also turned Gordon Wasson on to the whereabouts of magic mushrooms in Mexico.

The third member of the Holy Trinity of Psychedelics—along with Hofmann and Schultes—was investment banker R. Gordon Wasson. Following Schultes’ lead, Wasson did magic mushrooms with the Mexican curandera Maria Sabina in 1955. Life magazine published Wasson’s story in 1957. And the Western world has been looking in cow pies ever since.

Psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond turned on author Aldous Huxley and later coined the word “psychedelic.” In 1953, Huxley volunteered for Osmond’s mescaline research, which led to his book The Doors of Perception. In 1956, Osmond wrote to Huxley: “To fathom hell or soar angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelic.” The word, meaning “mind-manifesting,” stuck.

Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, published in 1954, whet the appetite of the Beat Generation, which flocked to the Southwest to eat peyote, the source of mescaline. Huxley and his wife Laura, also an author, later became spiritual figureheads for a generation of hippies, and the little book became a seeker’s bible.

Whereas Hofmann, Schultes, Wasson and Osmond experimented with psychedelics for medical and spiritual reasons, Leary wanted everyone to “turn on, tune in, drop out.” Booted from Harvard for doling out magic mushrooms and LSD in unsanctioned experiments, Leary preached that proper “set and setting” were vital to having a peak experience.

A psychologist who worked with Leary at Harvard, Ram Dass’ experience with psychedelics—first magic mushrooms and then LSD—began in 1961, when he was still known as Richard Alpert. While in India, Alpert rechristened himself Ram Dass. His book Be Here Now remains the perfect companion for tripping.

After the Feds outlawed LSD in 1966, Augustus Owsley Stanley III became the first chemist to mass-produce high-quality acid. His Purple Haze, White Lightning and Orange Sunshine are legendary for being the closest in purity to Sandoz’s original LSD-25. Owsley supplied Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters’ Acid Tests, as well as the Grateful Dead.

Ken Kesey first took psilocybin, mescaline and LSD at a government research program in Menlo Park, CA, in the late ’50s. Following the success of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Kesey and the Merry Pranksters began throwing outlandish parties fueled by Owsley acid, dubbed the Acid Tests and featuring music by the Grateful Dead.

While the ’60s had Leary, Kesey, Ram Dass and Allen Ginsberg as their psychedelic spokesmen, the ’80s and ’90s had Terence McKenna. Author, thinker and psychonaut, McKenna proselytized about mushrooms and ayahuasca, the visionary vine of South America—sparking interest in shamanism and psychedelic substances for a new generation.