Lysergic acid diethylamide, otherwise known as LSD, has a strange and compelling history.
Nowadays, it’s available in the form of acid tabs that you can buy in Canada, but it’s taken a while for that to happen.
In 1938, a Swiss chemist, Albert Hofmann, synthesized LSD while researching lysergic acid derivatives. Five years later, he accidentally ingested the substance and had an interesting experience, to say the least. He experienced what he called a “not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition” where his imagination was “extremely stimulated.”
With eyes closed, he saw “extraordinary shapes” and a “stream of fantastic pictures.”
Sounds pretty nice.
Three days later, Hofmann took 0.25 milligrams of LSD—intentionally this time—and soon asked his laboratory assistant to lead him home. They bicycled. On route, Hofmann worried he was going mad, but when he was home, he once again saw extraordinary shapes and fantastic kaleidoscopic images in perpetual flux.
The special day is now known as “Bicycle Day.”
The Mid-20th Century
In 1949, Sandoz Laboratories, a Swiss multinational pharmaceutical corporation, brought LSD to the attention of the United States, believing the substance possibly had clinical applications.
This gave rise to a period in American history when medical professionals explored the uses of the substance, testing it on undergraduate psychology students and even soldiers. Psychiatrists and psychoanalysts also took it themselves recreationally. These medical professionals didn’t understand what exactly LSD was and were cautiously optimistic about its therapeutic potential.
A psychoanalyst, Sidney Cohen, had a pleasant experience on LSD and, with the help of Aldous Huxley, who wrote a famous book about his own experience of taking LSD, The Doors of Perception, began experimenting with the substance. Cohen wondered if, in addition to having therapeutic benefits, LSD could cure alcoholism.
In one study, a psychiatrist gave LSD to members of Alcoholics Anonymous who had failed to quit drinking and, after one year, about half of them had quit drinking.
Timothy Leary: the Most Dangerous Man in America
Along came the notorious Timothy Leary, a Harvard professor of psychology, who coined the counterculture-era phrase, “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Leary said taking the right dosage of LSD in the right set and setting could have a profoundly beneficial influence on people.
Leary was a controversial figure, idolized by the countercultural generation, who saw him as a guru, and demonized by the media, conservatives, members of Harvard, and parents who complained about him administering drugs to students. In 1962, he found out that the CIA was monitoring his research. Almost a decade later, President Richard Nixon called him “the most dangerous man in America.”
1960 to 2000
In the mid-1960s, the status of LSD became complex and confusing, and its reputation became dubious, with some considering it a sort of panacea for mental illness and emotional problems, while others considering it a devilish thing. Sandoz Laboratories stopped producing LSD, but research and testing on LSD continued until the mid-1970s, when governmental protests grew.
In 1980, research funding declined, and funding continued to decline until the 21st century.
The 21st Century
As of late, there has been a resurgence of medical and public interest in LSD as a substance with therapeutic potential. Recent studies show it may help terminally ill patients come to terms with their mortality, as well as depression and anxiety. Some researchers argue LSD may make you healthier and happier.
Whether LSD will become a commonly prescribed substance is yet to be seen, but, the way things stand, there’s certainly a high possibility.