Albert Hofmann, the father of the mind-altering drug LSD whose medical discovery grew into a notorious “problem child,” died on Tuesday. He was 102.
Hofmann died of a heart attack at his home in Basel, Switzerland, said Rick Doblin, president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, in a statement posted on the association’s Web site.
His death was confirmed yesterday by Doris Stuker, a clerk in the village of Burg im Leimental, where Hofmann moved following his retirement in 1971.
Hofmann’s hallucinogen inspired — and arguably corrupted — millions in the 1960s hippy generation. For decades after LSD was banned in the late 1960s, Hofmann defended his invention.
“I produced the substance as a medicine ... It’s not my fault if people abused it,” he once said.
The Swiss chemist discovered lysergic acid diethylamide-25 in 1938 while studying the medicinal uses of a fungus found on wheat and other grains at the Sandoz pharmaceuticals firm in Basel.
He became the first human guinea pig of the drug when a tiny amount of the substance seeped on to his finger during a repeat of the laboratory experiment on April 16, 1943.
“I had to leave work for home because I was suddenly hit by a sudden feeling of unease and mild dizziness,” he subsequently wrote in a memo to company bosses.
“Everything I saw was distorted as in a warped mirror,” he said, describing his bicycle ride home. “I had the impression I was rooted to the spot. But my assistant told me we were actually going very fast.”
Upon reaching home, Hofmann sat down on a divan and began experiencing what he called “vision.”
“What I was thinking appeared in colors and in pictures,” he told Swiss TV network SF DRS for a program marking his 100th birthday two years ago.
Three days later, Hofmann experimented with a larger dose. The result was a horror trip, which he described as being filled with an overwhelming fear that he “would go crazy.”
Hofmann and his scientific colleagues hoped that LSD would make an important contribution to psychiatric research. The drug exaggerated inner problems and conflicts and thus it was hoped that it might be used to recognize and treat mental illness like schizophrenia.