The History of Psychedelics: Part Two
What Is LSD?
In 1938, Swiss biochemist Albert Hofmann was trying to create a new medicine to treat migraines. What he actually made was Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, commonly known as LSD. However, Hofmann didn’t understand the effects of his creation until 1943 when some of the liquid chemical substances spilled on his hand. About 45 minutes afterward, he began to feel dizzy; he experienced some visual disturbance and an urge to laugh. On his way home that day, instead of the familiar road and surroundings, Hofmann felt that he was in one of Salvador Dali’s paintings and wondered if he had permanently damaged his mind.
This accidental psychedelic trip led to great interest in the therapeutic potential of LSD, in particular since the idea of using chemical substances to treat mental illness was novel at the time.
Experiments with LSD began in earnest in the 1950s, alongside research on antidepressants and antipsychotics. Indeed, some LSD trials involved the same investigators who participated in studies of chlorpromazine (15–17). LSD was introduced into this environment on the assumption that biochemistry would provide the discrete tools to eventually unlock the mysteries of the mind.
Many scientists believed that LSD would be the drug to do this. By 1951, more than 100 articles on LSD appeared in medical journals, and by 1961, the number increased to more than 1000 articles. While most articles appeared in English, they also appeared in Japanese, German, Polish, Danish, Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Hungarian, Russian,
Swedish, Slovene, and Bulgarian, indicating that LSD experimentation was not confined to particular regions or national research cultures. Studies of LSD also appealed to medical
researchers employing various methodologies. Some tested its physiological effects on animals; others used human subjects to report on the drug’s capacity to bring the unconscious to the conscious, and others engaged in autoexperimentation with the drug. Given its range of applications, mental health researchers experimented with the drug across paradigms. For psychoanalysts, the drug released memories or revealed the unconscious; for psychotherapists, it brought patients to new levels of self-awareness; and for psychopharmacologists, LSD reactions supported contentions that mental disorders had chemical origins. For approximately the next 15 years, medical research investigating LSD proceeded with few interruptions and heightened expectations.