Correction to This Article
The April 30 obituary for Albert Hofmann incorrectly reported fatal overdoses from the hallucinogen LSD. There are no known deaths directly attributable to overdoses of LSD, although its mind-altering effects have led some users to misjudge dangers and harm themselves.

Albert Hofmann, 102; Chemist Discovered LSD

Albert Hofmann's formulation of LSD had wide-ranging social effects, and the drug was eventually made illegal.
Albert Hofmann's formulation of LSD had wide-ranging social effects, and the drug was eventually made illegal. (Family Photo - Family Photo)
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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Albert Hofmann, 102, a Swiss chemist and accidental father of LSD who came to view the much-vilified and abused hallucinogen he discovered in 1938 as his "problem child," died April 29 at his home in Burg, a village near Basel, Switzerland, after a heart attack.

His death was confirmed by Rick Doblin, the Boston-based founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a nonprofit pharmaceutical company developing LSD and other psychedelics for prescription medicines.

Lysergic acid diethylamide, thousands of times stronger than mescaline, can give its user an experience often described as psychedelic -- a kaleidoscopic twirling of the mind pulsating with color and movement.

After its discovery, LSD was viewed as a wonder drug with the potential to treat problems including schizophrenia and alcoholism. For the latter, some held the theory that chronic drinkers quit only after experiencing the hallucinations of delirium tremens.

LSD attracted many prominent advocates. They included Aldous Huxley, author of "Brave New World," and psychologist Timothy Leary, who saw the drug as a potent way for people to live up to his 1960s counterculture motto: "Turn on, tune in, drop out."

The CIA was also widely reported to have used LSD in experiments on unwitting subjects. This, and greater recreational use that caused some fatal overdoses, led to the widespread condemnation of the drug and, by the early 1970s, its criminalization. As a result, research permission and funding from state and federal agencies was terminated.

In Dr. Hofmann's opinion, outlawing LSD made its use even more attractive to young people and diminished any safeguards. He spoke of many hippies stopping by his home on the way to their spiritual quest, hoping to score from his "secret stash."

Dr. Hofmann came across LSD while working on medicinal uses of a fungus to act as a circulatory heart-lung stimulant. His first LSD "trip" occurred in 1943, a troubling experience that led him to write in his journal, "A demon had invaded me, had taken possession of my body, mind and soul."

Dr. Hofmann remained wary of LSD's recreational uses as well as its portrayal in the media.

"I was not surprised that it became a ritual drug in the youth anti-establishment movement, but I was shocked by irresponsible use that resulted in mental catastrophes," he told Playboy magazine in 2006. "That's what gave the health authorities a pretext for totally prohibiting its production, possession and use."

Albert Hofmann was born Jan. 11, 1906, in Baden, Switzerland. He was the oldest of four children, and after his father, a toolmaker, fell seriously ill, he was forced as a teenager to seek a commercial apprenticeship to support the family.

While learning a trade, he continued his private schooling with financial help from his godfather. In 1930, he received a doctorate from the University of Zurich, where he studied the chemistry of plants and animals, and he joined the pharmaceutical-chemical firm Sandoz (now Novartis) in Basel.

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