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Albert Hofmann

An unlikely chemist makes an even unlikelier discovery. Arpita tells the story of how Albert Hofmann brought LSD (and a very memorable bicycle ride) to the western world. 

Episode Transcript Aarati: 0:10 Hello, everyone. And welcome back to the Smart Tea Podcast, where we talk about the lives of scientists and innovators who shape the world. Hope you're doing well. How are you doing, Arpita? Arpita: 0:21 I'm doing really well. Um, I just got a summer haircut and I'm feeling like a new woman. Aarati: 0:28 I was going to say, you're looking especially fresh and nice today. Arpita: 0:32 Thank you so much. Thank you for noticing. I have little bangs right now too, which are going to be kind of fun to play with. I had got, like, really tired of my very long hair. This feels like such a mundane update after my last update was I got married, but I Aarati: 0:52 No, but to be fair, you deserve a bit of mundane after what you just went through. Arpita: 0:57 Thank you so much. I feel like a new person right now. Also, pause. If you hear crazy things in the background, those are just my cats having zoomies. but all is well. Aarati: 1:10 No worries. Oh, I think I see Poppy Arpita: 1:12 Can you see them? Aarati: 1:13 Yeah. So cute. Arpita: 1:16 Yeah, they're just having their evening zoomies right now. So excuse any of their drama. Aarati: 1:21 No worries. Arpita: 1:22 How are you, Aarati? How are you doing? Aarati: 1:24 Well, far from mundane, actually, I'm bringing the excitement with today's, updates. Arpita: 1:30 Great. One of us has to. Aarati: 1:33 So I am in the L. A. area visiting a friend right now, and yesterday we went to Six Flags, Magic Mountain. Arpita: 1:43 That's an intense theme park. Aarati: 1:45 It really is. I had no idea. I, I, don't ride roller coasters really, like, and I kind of thought I was ambivalent towards them, but after yesterday, I've had enough roller coasters to last me the next 20 years. Maybe my lifetime, I'm not sure. Oh my God, it was insane, On the very first ride that we got onto, it was this roller coaster called X2, which I looked up later is apparently one of the scariest roller coasters in America, and I had no idea. Arpita: 2:20 It sounds bad. Aarati: 2:20 It was the was the very first roller coaster we got onto, like, great. So, we get onto this roller coaster... Arpita: 2:28 wait, that was the first one you got onto? Aarati: 2:30 Yeah, of the day. We, I don't think any of us had any idea what we were doing, and we're just like, let's ride some roller coasters. Here's one called X2. Let's go. Arpita: 2:39 Oh my god. Wasn't one the scary peppers from the last episode called X something? Like, I feel like that would have been fair warning that Aarati: 2:45 Yes it was just a called Arpita: 2:47 Pepper X. This one is just called rollercoaster X. Aarati: 2:50 X2. This is X2. Arpita: 2:52 Yeah, even worse. Even worse. Aarati: 2:54 So we were in line to get on, and we were, okay, this is coming from such a point of naivety, you have to understand, in hindsight, this was completely the wrong call to make, but we were in line to get on, and they had us, like, put down our, any, like, backpacks or water bottles that we're carrying, and stuff like that. And my friend, she had her phone in her pocket and her wallet and keys and stuff and we were like, oh, is it going to be safe there? And she's like, yeah, it's pretty safe. It's like tight. My pockets are tight. So do you, could you hold onto my phone for me? Arpita: 3:30 No. Aarati: 3:32 So she puts my phone in her pocket and we get on the ride. So she's carrying like two or three phones, her wallet, her keys, all in her pockets. Right. And we go on this ride. This ride is the craziest thing. I was so sure I was gonna die. I was fighting for my life. Like, seriously, because not only is the ride itself corkscrewing around and, like, doing loop de loops and stuff, but your seat itself is actually turning as well and spinning. And so Arpita: 4:06 I would call 9 1 1. Aarati: 4:08 I, I couldn't even, those two minutes were sheer terror for me. So we get off the ride. I am just like shaking from the adrenaline. I can't believe that I just went through that and we start walking away and people are like, oh my god, that was so great. Wonderful. Blah blah blah. And I turned to my friend and she has her phone out because she's like take which survived the ride, you know It was fine. So she has her phone out She's like taking pictures of stuff and I say,"oh, thank you so much for holding on to my phone. Can I have it back" and she searches all of her pockets. My phone is gone. Arpita: 4:43 No, no. Aarati: 4:47 Her her wallet is there her keys are there, both the other phones that she was holding. Just my phone, managed to fly out of her pocket at some point during the ride. Arpita: 4:58 Oh no. Aarati: 5:00 Yeah, it was gone. So she tracks my location and so she, she could ping my phone. So we knew exactly where it was. It was like under the rollercoaster somewhere under the rollercoaster that was inaccessible, like in an, in a restricted area, but it was pinging. And so we're like, Hey, it's alive. Like my phone miraculously didn't die from, being flung out of a roller coaster. I don't how. So we talked to some people and they said, yeah, you can't get it back until the end of the night when we, the park closes and we do our final sweep. And it was funny cause when we went up to the guy to tell him like, Hey, we lost the phone. He was like,"Oh, on X2?" Like immediately. And we're like, yes! Arpita: 5:45 Oh no. I can't believe they don't tell you. They, I can't believe like when you get on the ride there, they don't say, make sure your pockets are empty. Aarati: 5:52 Yeah, on other rides they did, but like none of them were nearly as intense as X2. But on other rides they were like shouting at us, like, take off your hats, take off your sunglasses, like, empty your pockets, leave them on the side, you know. So, but on X2 they're just like, yeah, get on the ride, have fun, enjoy. Arpita: 6:11 Oh, no. And that was the first one, too, so you couldn't even have the context of the other roller coasters. Oh, no. Aarati: 6:19 Yeah. Exactly, so the whole day, basically, I had to go without my phone, which, you know, is, was terrible. I was just anxiety ridden about it, and by the end of the night, we, uh, knew they were doing their final sweep, so we started, like, pinging my phone like crazy, trying to light it up. All my friends were calling my phone, like, trying to help them find it, and they finally found it. Um, it is alive. The screen is completely smashed. Um, yeah, like, I don't know if you can, I don't know if you can see it really, but Arpita: 6:52 Oh, yeah, it doesn't look good. Aarati: 6:53 yeah, there are cracks all over. It's functional though. Like I can take pictures, I can call people, I can text people. It's, it's totally functional. So I'm very impressed. Oh, also in this whole story, I forgot to tell you that my phone is actually also a wallet phone. Like it has a case that's a wallet. Arpita: 7:11 Oh, oh, that has your, like, ID and Aarati: 7:13 driver's license and two credit cards in the back of there. So the credit cards are gone. Uh, but miraculously they found my driver's license somewhere else, like separate from my phone. Arpita: 7:27 Fine. Aarati: 7:27 Which I was like, I will take it. I will take my driver's license and my phone. Those are the two most important things. I can cancel my credit cards and get new ones. That's fine. Like, Arpita: 7:36 those are the easy ones to replace, for sure, is the credit cards. It's the easy thing to replace. Aarati: 7:41 Yeah, Some miracle returned to me my my ID and my and my phone and I'm like, I will take it. So yeah, that's my exciting, exciting news update. Arpita: 7:52 Jeez. Oh, my gosh. Uh, well, at least you got it back. I was expecting all three phones in that story to just be gone forever and not retrievable. at least you got it back. Aarati: 8:01 yeah, I was, we were doing everything. I was like, I feel like I'm living in the 90s again with like, no phone, no way to contact anybody, just like cut off from everyone except the experience that I'm having right now, which maybe we should do a little bit more, like, because without my phone, it was like, I can't stop and look things up. I can't take pictures. I just have to live in the moment and be with my friends, and I still had a good time. Arpita: 8:26 Maybe not the worst thing Aarati: 8:28 Yeah, it was still a good time, but yeah, I was like, all right. So, yeah, that, that was quite an experience. Um, today was a lot more low key, but I'm, I'm having a good Arpita: 8:40 update. Aarati: 8:41 So, Arpita: 8:42 Oh, good. That's great. I'm glad you're having fun with your friends. Aarati: 8:45 Yes. But after all of that excitement, I think I'm ready for a story, Arpita: 8:50 Perfect. Aarati: 8:51 so, who are we talking about today? Arpita: 8:54 So I'm really excited to talk to you about this story today. I think it's going to be really fun. Um, the person we're talking about today is Albert Hofmann. He is a chemist and scientist, and he is the person who brought LSD into the Western world. Aarati: 9:10 Oh my gosh, this is gonna be, this is gonna be another rollercoaster ride of a story I can already tell. Arpita: 9:18 It's going to be, I think it's going to be really good. Um, so diving right in. So Albert Hofmann was born in Baden, Switzerland on January 11th, 1906. He was the oldest of four kids. And as a young kid, he had a very active imagination and he described many quote"enchanting experiences" as a child. And so a lot of this content came from a sort of biography, but also just a description on LSD and psychedelics called the Mystic Chemist. I will, link all the sources in the, show notes, but most of the content from this episode came from that. I also want to pause and say that Hofmann wrote a biography, but also about his journey with LSD called"LSD, My Problem Child", and I did pull from that book as well. So like a mix of the two, his own story, and then a biographer's story. Aarati: 10:15 That's a great title. My Problem Arpita: 10:16 My Aarati: 10:16 Child. Arpita: 10:17 Problem Child. Um, so this next bit is actually directly from his biography. So one of his earliest memories was the image of large red strawberries as his mother carried him in her arms through the garden. Another memory that he described happened near his childhood home when he was exploring the woods, and he remembered that everything appeared in a, quote,"uncommonly clear light", and that"everything shown with the most beautiful radiance". And he said about this experience, quote,"Was this something I had failed to simply notice before? Was I suddenly discovering the spring forest as it actually looked? I found I was filled with an indescribable sensation of joy, oneness, and blissful security. And I have no idea how long I stood there spellbound." Aarati: 11:06 Wow. Do you have memories like that where it's like the very first thing that you remember? Arpita: 11:12 Not that young I think my earliest memories must be like five ish, which is pretty par for the course I mean, like most long term memories usually start around five or six. Aarati: 11:23 I have one. Arpita: 11:25 Do you what's yours? Aarati: 11:26 This is where I'm kind of like maybe drawing a parallel with him a little bit because I have one memory, which I think must've happened when I was two years old, because it was my first trip to India and I think the first time I went there was when I was two years old and the thing that I remember is I was standing or someone was holding me maybe, um, behind a gate and I was watching an elephant pass by the gate. I think there was some sort of parade happening. I'm not sure, but I vividly remember standing behind a gate and watching this ginormous elephant walk by. Arpita: 12:04 Whoa Aarati: 12:05 It's like just this very vivid memory that I have. And so I completely relate to him. Like, having a memory of strawberries or a forest, you know, and just being in wonder because that was like a very wonder filled moment for me as well. Arpita: 12:22 That's so interesting. Yeah, I don't have something like that. When I read this, I had kind of a different interpretation where I was just like, okay, like your LSD rattled brain remembers this. I was, I had a very different interpretation than you did. So that's Aarati: 12:37 Yeah, yeah. I was wondering if the, if like, I, cause I, I also was thinking about that too. I was like, okay, he's describing this as an adult and he's like, probably had a lot of LSD, probably at that point. So that could definitely also be a thing. I don't know. I wonder if there's some, like, truth in between there where he maybe does remember this one thing vividly, but now he's, like, describing this through, like, an LSD fueled lens or something, you know? Arpita: 13:04 Yeah, I don't know. Like I brought it up because well one, it shows up at almost every article and biography about him. So it does seem like something he talked about a lot as an adult, like when he describes his experience on why he started researching this. So, it's not super clear exactly what he experiences, but he describes several deeply euphoric experiences as a child. Most of them happened in nature. And from a really young age, it seems like he was aware that there was more to everyday life, and he had this idea as a really young kid that there was something that was almost like just behind a barrier. And if he was just able to unlock it, he would have access to almost like an additional level of experience. Um, and then he also said, He struggled to describe these experiences, both as a child and as an adult, and said, quote,"Knowing that I was not cut out to be a poet or artist, I assumed I would have to keep these experiences to myself, important as they were to me." End quote. And so his research eventually became the way that he translated this really profound childhood visual experience into something he could experience for the rest of his life. Aarati: 14:20 Oh, cool. So this, like, kind of shaped his work and his research. Chasing this high, almost, for lack of a better term. Arpita: 14:30 Definitely. I do. I know it kind of recapitulates a little later in the story so we can revisit it, but it did have I guess, at least a small effect on the way he saw the rest of his career. Um, I will pause there and just say that when I was researching this, I thought it was going to be kind of a self sufficient or succinct story about psychedelics. Um, it is not. I. This is, I think, a normal length episode, but there is so much more to the research of psychedelics, and we, and I think this could be like a multi part episode, which could be really cool. Aarati: 15:11 Oh I'm sure. Arpita: 15:12 So I ended up making this, I mean, per the, we, the way we structure most of our stories, like, this is about Hofmann and the way he influenced science and like his legacy, but there are a lot of really interesting players in the space, starting, you know, Very early and even going into modern day. I don't think I realized how dense and intricate the science of psychedelics was until I started researching this. And I was like, oh, shoot, this could be many episodes. So, Aarati: 15:39 This could be, like, an entire podcast. We should start a new offshoot of, like, the Science of Psychedelics podcast. Arpita: 15:46 I know I had to really pare this down. Um, I think it's still very cool, but just as a side note that there is a lot to talk about in this space. Aarati: 15:55 Yeah, I bet. Arpita: 15:56 Okay, moving on. So when Hofmann was five, the family moved to Martinburg Strasse in a small apartment in a multi family dwelling. And so his father didn't have a lot of money. He's the only one supporting the whole family. And his mom worked part time to help the family as a laundress. And during this time, World War I is going on. That being said, it didn't have a huge impact on Hofmann's life since Switzerland was neutral and was mostly spared. But they did suffer extreme food and raw material shortages, which made life challenging for their already poor family. Aarati: 16:32 That makes sense, because sure, imports and exports were affected so, yeah. Arpita: 16:37 Right. So shortly after this, he dropped out of school and started an apprenticeship at his father's manufacturing plant, the same place where his dad worked, it's called Brown and Bovary, but it is shortened to BBC, not to be confused with the British Broadcasting Corporation. But what he really wanted to do was go to university. Um, his family needed the money and they needed extra income. So he went to go work at this plant, but his teacher was also very disappointed by this. He had been such a talented student. So while he was working as an apprentice at this manufacturing plant, his teacher gave him textbooks for a bunch of different subjects, natural sciences, botany, and Latin, and these are all subjects that he would need to learn for the university qualifying certificate in order for him to be able to go to university. So even while he was working full time, he had this goal, this pie in the sky that he really wanted to go to university one day. So he completed his apprenticeship. And studied a bunch in his free time and it paid off because he also got his high school diploma, Aarati: 17:43 Oh, wow. Good for him. Doing that on your own is not easy, especially having a job on the side, like, Arpita: 17:50 Yeah, it definitely didn't sound easy because he was trying to put in all these hours to make sure, you know, his family had an additional source of income. Um, but yeah, it does seem like he worked really hard. And. This didn't really go unnoticed. So his godfather was the founder and owner of a tool factory and he lived nearby and he, it seems like had a little bit more income and disposable money. And he noticed that Hofmann had such a love of learning and he had so many ambitions. So he surprised him with the news that he was prepared to pay for the tuition to this private school called Minerva in Zurich so that he could attend university. Aarati: 18:28 Oh my gosh, amazing! What a gift. Arpita: 18:31 I Aarati: 18:31 gift That's Arpita: 18:32 huge gift. Aarati: 18:33 Yeah. Arpita: 18:34 So this was this kind of swanky private school and Hofmann was not from a swanky family. He's from a pretty poor family. So the teachers there quickly noticed that he had a lot of diligence and a love for knowledge. And it was in such contrast to the rest of the students there because they were kind of bored, entitled kids of rich people who were just going there and he really stood out amongst all these students. And so at the end of this at Minerva, this private school, he got the university qualifying certificate. So he was finally able to go to university. So in spring 1925, he enrolled at the University of Zurich and he was very inspired, um, by his experiences as a child and the interest in what lay beyond the natural world. And he decided to pursue science and chemistry, and he wanted to be able to explain the extraordinary experiences that he had because they affected him so deeply. So he began studying organic chemistry at Zurich under the renowned professor, Paul Carragher. Aarati: 19:37 Okay, but I mean, there must be some truth to that too, because like, I feel like, seeing that elephant didn't really, like, I remember it because it was awe inspiring to me, but that did not, instill this, like, need to research elephants or anything, or, you know, I wouldn't say it was, like, something that really shaped my life in any significant way. Okay. But on the other hand, I know that there are people who do feel things very deeply in, in a certain sense, which I don't really relate to sometimes. So yeah, it's really interesting that he's really feeling this kind of euphoria when he's around nature and he wants to chase after that. Arpita: 20:24 Totally agree. so at the end of 1928, he finishes his doctoral thesis on structural clarification and enzymatic decomposition of chitin and chitosan. Chitin is a long-chain polymer, which is usually found at arthropod exoskeletons and a lot of fungi. Um, and today it's used in a lot of biomedical work and it's used in tissue engineering, wound healing, and stem cell research. But his thesis was on its clarification and how the enzymes worked. So already kind of has a foray into organic chemistry. Aarati: 21:02 Yeah. Yeah. What year is this? Arpita: 21:04 1928. Aarati: 21:06 Oh ok. Arpita: 21:06 So Aarati: 21:06 they've already figured out that like chitin is this really strong material that insects and fungi, I guess. I didn't know fungi also made chitin, but, um, yeah, I knew it was part of certain insects, exoskeletons, but they're already finding uses for it. Arpita: 21:22 Yeah. Uh, so he, that last sentence was my extrapolation of bringing it to the modern day. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Aarati: 21:29 he, but they must have seen the potential at least for him to be working on it. Yeah. Arpita: 21:34 Definitely. Okay. So then around the same time that he finished his thesis, his father became really ill. And right before he passed away, Hofmann was able to share the good news with his dad that he took a position at Sandoz, which is a pharmaceutical company, and that he was hopefully on the way to creating a better life for his family and, you know, his future. So, he started working at this pharmaceutical company, and during his first three years, he investigated active substances in philameritima, or squill. Yeah, squill is a bulb based flower, and the active substance in this flower is oxamyl, which is used in treating respiratory and cardiovascular disorders. Aarati: 22:18 Oh, is that still used today? Arpita: 22:21 Actually, yes, it is still used today. Yeah. Yeah. Aarati: 22:23 That's fascinating. Arpita: 22:24 So he is working at Sandoz and in addition to his work, he had a lot of hobbies. He belonged to the academic athletic club of Basel and he regularly trained at the boxing club and he did his best to keep his life well rounded, but many reports say that he was prone to negative mood swings and most likely probably had depression. Aarati: 22:46 He's prone to depression, then I bet that makes his moments of euphoria, even more of a high for him. So I can, I can see why he would want to chase that. Arpita: 22:57 Totally. That makes a ton of sense. I know. I thought it was interesting too. I tried to find out more about his mental health struggles to see if there was, you know, any relationship exactly like what you're talking about. I didn't really find anything, but I also think this was the really early 1900s. No one actually even said depression. I am making the jump that it was probably depression based on the way they described it. They would describe these like negative mood swings. He would get withdrawn. He would get really quiet. And this all happened like right after his father's death. So I'm making the journalistic. leap that he probably had some depressive symptoms, but I couldn't find any actual accounts of how this either influenced his work or the way it influenced his life. Aarati: 23:41 Yeah. It was a different time back then. So I'm sure that, yeah, they maybe didn't know what to call it or they just thought it was like, you're in a mood today, so, and they weren't looking at it as like a clinical thing. Arpita: 23:54 Definitely agree. Um, so he loved to do a lot of fun things outside the lab and one of the things was skiing. So he went on a skiing vacation in Southern Switzerland and ran into a woman named Anita Guanella and he was immediately taken with her. He tried to impress her with his skiing, but then he quickly found out that Anita was actually also very athletic and a better skier than he was. And so I know, I love that. Aarati: 24:24 Love it. Arpita: 24:25 And so the two of them were very into each other from the first time that they met and they married less than three months later at a beautiful ceremony in Southern Switzerland. Aarati: 24:35 Oh, that's nice that it worked out. No toxic masculinity here. he he loved it. That's great. I love it. Mm Arpita: 24:44 So back at Sandoz, Hofmann was working on a new product to find plant derived respiratory stimulants. Um, so this was for people with asthma or other breathing difficulties to help them, you know, breathe better. So his job was to isolate, purify, and synthesize new products from ergot, a rye fungus. And so ergot had been around for a really long time. It's use has been documented as early as the 1500s to treat labor pains and speed up birth. It's been used for many different medical reasons. And in the early 1900s, right before Hofmann's time, scientists discovered that ergo in its pure form had toxic side effects and its medical use was stopped. So Hofmann's supervisor, a man named Arthur Stoll, had begun researching ergot right after its medical use got stopped. And he was trying to isolate the pure alkaloids of a subcompound of ergot called ergotamine. And they were trying to figure out how to use ergot without all of the negative side effects. So this, yeah, so this pure alkaloid that he was able to isolate was brought to market in 1921, and the drug name was called Gynergene. Aarati: 26:01 So they took the pure alkaloid of ergot and then tried to like chemically manipulate it so that it wouldn't have the side effects, but it still was effective for respiratory problems. Arpita: 26:15 I don't even think they manipulated it. I think they were just isolating the pure form of the actual active ingredient out of it and administering it and found that it didn't have as many toxic side effects. Aarati: 26:28 The toxic side effect was probably coming from something else in the, ergot fungus Arpita: 26:35 Exactly. And it's like raw form or whatever, like it's unprocessed form. Aarati: 26:39 Uh, I see. Okay, cool. Arpita: 26:41 Yeah. So building on Arthur Stoll's work, Hofmann was trying to get new medicines out of ergot. So Stoll had supported this, but he warned him that some of the difficulties of working with this unstable substance, ergot was actually just grown by farmers as a secondary income. Um, so it's, they're growing other stuff. And then this is just like a side crop. And so they shipped this to Sandoz, where it was milled, extracted with benzene, and then concentrated. And then the components were delivered to specific labs to be tested for purity before they could do anything else. So this was in the early 20s and safety measures from labs were... Aarati: 27:27 oh my god. Arpita: 27:28 Not where they are right now. Aarati: 27:29 Non-existent probably. Arpita: 27:30 Really non existent exactly. So anybody who was working, these aren't even scientists, these are probably, you know, other technicians who are working on processing the product before it can even get to a lab. So they didn't have any protection against poisonous chemicals or solvents, and there were tons of accidents. And ergot, because of all these different steps, was really expensive to produce and so Sandos, the company itself tried to implement safety standards and limit the use of ergot because it was getting wasted because it was so complicated to produce. It was expensive to process. People were getting hurt and they were like, this is maybe not worth it to work with it. Aarati: 28:09 Yeah. Yeah. Arpita: 28:11 So Hofmann was excited about ergot, but it was a little complicated politically because of all of this. So Arthur Stoll wanted these raw materials to be treated really sparingly and for any experiments involving ergot to be, you know, thoughtful and not just, let's just try this and see if the spaghetti sticks to the wall. And so, because it was so expensive to produce, Hofmann was like, I wonder if I can create a synthetic alternative to these alkaloids. Aarati: 28:41 Ah, I see. I see. Okay. That makes a of sense. Yeah. I mean, I, I see some parallels with today's science also because we do that too, even today in the lab. Like if there is a way to do your experiment that's cheaper or doesn't hurt as many animals, like, you know, you don't have to do as many, tests or something. We always take that route, you know? so it sounds like this is kind of the start of that, like, how can we continue this research? Arpita: 29:12 Exactly. Exactly. And it was expensive. It was time consuming and you know, there were safety repercussions. So they were like, better not. And so he's like, okay, let's find an alternative. And so in 1934, a few years later, Hofmann achieved the first synthesis of a natural ergo alkaloid by combining lysergic acid with propanolamine. Aarati: 29:36 Okay. Arpita: 29:36 So Hofmann hoped that this derivative that he isolated, lysergic acid diethylamide, would be a new and improved cardiovascular stimulant. And he started calling this derivative LSD-25. So it was 70 percent as effective as the alkaloid of the ergotamine that had already been processed. So when he tested it in animals, it resulted in restlessness, but didn't have any clear cardiovascular effects like he was hoping. Aarati: 30:07 Mm hmm. Arpita: 30:08 So scientists and his group and researchers quickly lost interest and they didn't do anything with LSD-25 for the next five years. Aarati: 30:17 Oh, wow. Arpita: 30:17 That being said, Hofmann couldn't stop thinking about it and he said, quote,"I had a strange premonition that this drug might have additional effects to those exhibited during the first trial," end quote. Aarati: 30:29 Oh, my God. That's so crazy that it almost, died there, Like, people weren't interested in it, and it died for, like, five years. Arpita: 30:38 It basically died. And yeah, Aarati: 30:39 and and so many, like, so many projects go that way, like, in, I think that's something that a lot of people don't actually understand about the biotech industry is how many projects die because, Arpita: 30:52 Definitely. Aarati: 30:53 like, the results aren't interesting enough or the results aren't strong enough to actually warrant moving forward and spending time and money on it so it's crazy that this almost went that same way. Arpita: 31:07 Yeah, I totally agree. And he, he says that he had this idea that there could be something more there, but pretty much everyone had dropped it. No one was interested in this. Aarati: 31:15 Wow. Arpita: 31:16 So now we're in 1943, we've moved many years. And so they scheduled the second synthesis of this compound. And even though Sandoz by this point had been like over 15 years since those original safety protocols had been put in place, Hofmann probably unintentionally came into contact with the raw substance. And so he started to feel in the lab, strange and dizzy, and he didn't have anyone to drive him home because this was right around World War Two. So there was extreme fuel shortages. So basically, no one had a car and no one could drive. And so he had to bike home, and he had his lab assistant, a woman named Susie Ramstein, and she accompanied him home as he rode his bike. And he described his bike ride later, and he thought he was barely moving, but Susie later told him that he was riding very fast. As he was riding, the rows of houses he passed started to look scary and threatening. The street seemed wavy and the people he saw looked distorted. And once he got home, he laid down and sort of felt intoxicated and alternated between dizziness and faintness. So they had a doctor come to the house and the doctor found his heart rate and blood pressure and all of his vitals to be normal. And he didn't want to prescribe him any medication because he couldn't really find anything to treat. It was like, I know you don't feel good, but I don't know what medicine I would give you because Aarati: 32:40 Yeah. Arpita: 32:40 You seem fine. And then Hofmannman started hallucinating and experienced symptoms of synesthesia, which is where your senses cross. So you, in this case, he was seeing sounds as colors Aarati: 32:53 Have you seen that? Arpita: 32:55 No. Aarati: 32:56 Not seen it for yourself, but like yeah, but like, have you seen like people on Tik Tok or, um, on Instagram and stuff and they'll play music, and they'll paint what they're hearing? It's really... Arpita: 33:11 That's so cool. Aarati: 33:12 it's really interesting. Yeah, there'll be like the drums sound like a circle because of some reason and it's pink because of some reason and then they're like the flute sounds kind of like green and high up here and it's like what and so they create this like whole painting that at the end looks very abstract like it just looks like a bunch of lines and circles colors um but they're like yeah that's taylor swift's latest song and you're like what really? Arpita: 33:41 Oh my gosh. and they're No I've never heard of that. Aarati: 33:44 Yeah it's really interesting you should look it up. They're they kind of like Arpita: 33:47 I do want to look it up. Aarati: 33:48 Yeah, describe everything. But anyway, sorry. Arpita: 33:50 Yeah. No, that's okay. Yeah. So, right. So he's experiencing synesthesia, um, and so then a neighbor comes over to check on him and he thought that she was a quote,"malevolent witch". And the next morning he felt refreshed and had a feeling that he had sort of received a new life and perspective. And he said that the most frightening thing out of this whole experience was that he didn't know if he was going to regain a normal state of mind, which is understandable. Aarati: 34:20 Yeah. That's the other point I wanted to bring up was it's so interesting that the doctor didn't find anything unusual about his vitals. Because I feel like if I was hallucinating and feeling scared and threatened and I felt like my neighbor was a malevolent witch I would heart would be beating. I would be like going crazy. Like, I would just be, you know, panicking and sweating and like, you know, so it's so interesting that none of that registered according to the doctor who checked him out. Arpita: 34:53 I guess not. I know. I guess not. They were because I guess like what was happening to him was like happening in his like happening in his brain. So like no one could see what he was seeing. No one could experience what he was experiencing. So from the outside, he seemed fine. Maybe a little incoherent. No, very weird. Aarati: 35:12 Yeah. Yeah. Arpita: 35:14 So, he goes to the lab the next day, and he presents this detailed report to Arthur Stoll, and then also the director of the pharmacological department. And they both responded in surprise, and they asked if he had made an error in the dosage. They were like, there's no way you experience that if you only came in contact with this tiny, tiny amount. And up until this moment, there was no other documented psychotropic substance that resulted in such intense effects with such a small dose. So they were familiar with psychotropic substances. The biggest one was mescaline, which is a plant derived substance, but it isn't nearly as potent. So the biggest question here wasn't that you had come in contact with a psychotropic substance. It was how could you possibly have had these effects with such a tiny dose? So Stoll and the director both tried third of the dosage of what Hofmann took, and they also had astounding results. And this is what it took to believe. So they were like, Aarati: 36:11 Oh my I gosh. Arpita: 36:12 we'll send it too. So Aarati: 36:14 Also, can, yeah, can we just comment on the fact that they just completely skipped going back to animal trials or anything else and like, yeah, we're going to do it. Us. Not even like finding test subject, like, volunteer patients or anything. Arpita: 36:28 Like two two directors. Like, Aarati: 36:32 That would never ever happen today. Arpita: 36:34 No, Aarati: 36:35 What a time. Oh Arpita: 36:37 I know. So interesting. This is how they verified his account. They were like, we'll do it too and see what happens. Aarati: 36:41 Yeah, and see what we're going to take this unknown substance and we have no idea how it's going to affect our individual bodies. We have, like, you had this experience, we may have a completely different experience. Um, yeah, and we're just going to ingest it and see how it goes. Sounds great. Arpita: 36:56 Yeah. I don't even know what to tell you. That was the same thought that I had. So then after they were like, okay, this drug is crazy. The psychiatrist, Paul Hawk coined the term psychoto mimetics, which means imitating psychosis. So, psychotropic substances act on the central nervous system and the psyche, but they don't cloud consciousness and they induce a condition similar to psychotic or a schizophrenic state, and they're called psychotomimics. So these states can result in feelings of alienation, hallucinations, and depending on the dose, something like, raving about something and dreamlike ecstasies. And today we know this class of drug as hallucinogens. Aarati: 37:38 Yes. Arpita: 37:40 Psychedelics can also cause profound psychological changes, and this can be combined with an altered experience of space and time, so it can result in changes in perceptions of personality or corporeality, which is the understanding of your body in space. And it really doesn't take much for LSD. LSD is really effective at microgram dosages, and it's the strongest known hallucinogenic drug to date. Aarati: 38:09 Wow. Do we know why it affects our bodies at such small dosages compared to other hallucinogenics? Arpita: 38:17 Um, yeah, I mentioned it a little bit later, but basically we don't really understand the mechanism Aarati: 38:23 Okay. Arpita: 38:23 short answer to that. Aarati: 38:24 So people are still kind of working on it, I would assume? That's like probably and entire Arpita: 38:29 Yeah. Aarati: 38:29 field of study. Arpita: 38:31 Yeah, yeah, we don't The short answer to your question is we don't know. Aarati: 38:34 Okay. Arpita: 38:35 Um, this is intuitive sense and the intensity and length of an LSD trip depend on the dosage. Those are directly correlated. And so when taken, yeah, when taken orally, its effects are felt within 30 minutes and normally last 8 to 12 hours. So our body breaks down and assimilates LSD within an hour, so then it's like equally distributed throughout your body. And the level of LSD in the blood reaches its maximum after about two hours. And the strongest effects based on anecdotal report are usually felt from the third to the fourth hour. Aarati: 39:11 Oh, wow. And do people kind of have the same general experiences? Like, do they, Arpita: 39:17 That's my next section. Aarati: 39:19 Oh, perfect. Arpita: 39:20 Perfect. Yeah, you're right on it. So for most people, LSD sharpens the sense of everyday reality. People see more clearly, colors are more intense, noises are more distinct, and the senses of touch, taste, and smell are subtler and more differentiated. At higher doses, people report everything becoming more meaningful. So objects that you might barely notice like a telephone, a curtain, a spoon, uh, take on symbolic and specific significance. And a lot of people experience synesthesia and mostly people see sounds as colors. And time awareness can change a lot. So a minute can feel like an eternity. And even though people are continuing to experience everyday reality, like they're looking around and seeing things that are actually there, Aarati: 40:07 yeah. Arpita: 40:08 a sense of transcendence. So to your earlier point, we still don't completely understand LSD's mechanism of action. It has a very similar structural similarity with the body's neurotransmitter serotonin, and LSD does bind to serotonin receptors. And we think that it transmits signals similarly to strong concentration of serotonin in synaptic gaps. That being said, that's like really all we know about LSD and how it works, and it's not really clear exactly how this is working on all the sensory perceptions and its effects. Aarati: 40:43 Okay, so we, we have the first stage. Where colors are brighter and like sounds are clearer and things we have the second stage where you get really into certain objects that are there. So then is there like a next stage then that you start hallucinating things that aren't there? Arpita: 41:01 Maybe it's possible. All of this is based on like crowdsourcing data, basically. It's all anecdotal of what people say they've experienced on LSD trips. So yeah, like if there's that, the medium dose with like a crazy high dose? Probably a more intense effect of all of that. Aarati: 41:17 Yeah, it sounds like Albert Hofmann, like, kind of got into the scary range. Yeah, and where things started to get scary and he started to hallucinate things that maybe weren't true or weren't there. Yeah, I don't know enough about LSD, but I would imagine that that's probably the effect of overdosing or one of the effects of overdosing. Arpita: 41:38 So we can't actually overdose LSD. So I think it will mess you up, but Aarati: 41:43 Oh, yeah. Arpita: 41:43 Once you metabolize it, you're going to be fine. Aarati: 41:46 So as long as you can stay safe, oh, interesting. Arpita: 41:50 Um, so it's different from like opioids because that is toxic. But yes, most modern researchers agree that the bike ride that he had was a particularly high dosage that he came into contact with, which makes a lot of sense because we know that LSD is really potent at micrograms, which is crazy tiny amount. If you're thinking about like a powder substance, it's so tiny. And so if he had even had just like a little bit that he had ingested accidentally, that would have been probably in the gram region, which is much higher. Aarati: 42:23 Okay. And that actually raises another question. And so. He probably accidentally ate it, is what you're saying? Like, are there other ways that people take LSD? Can you inject it or, Arpita: 42:36 it's mostly taken orally, um, that is my understanding. They're usually in an oral tab form. Aarati: 42:43 Okay. Arpita: 42:44 All of my research is oral ingestion, and that seems to be like around 30 minute activation. Uh, I do know that some people will, you know, dissolve it in water or liquids until they take it. Again, still oral ingestion. But there isn't really, an injectable format as far as I was aware. Um, how Hofmann took it, the story about that is, a little bit unclear. So some sources say that he took it on purpose, and he was interested to see what it would do because it didn't have any effect on animals, and then his own account says that he accidentally ingested it. Aarati: 43:20 Uh huh. Arpita: 43:21 I'm not sure. Um, pretty much everything that I read showed that it was, yeah, it's possible he inhaled it. I think that would be reasonable to guess, but, um, it's not a common method of administering LSD. Yeah. Um, So now that he's discovered LSD, this spurs a lot of new research on hallucinogens. So researchers around the world start to investigate the psychological effects of LSD and any associated neurological changes in the brain. So they didn't really understand the range of effects of LSD, but they quickly realized that its effects corresponded very closely to mescaline, which was a hallucinogen that they were familiar with, but then they found out that LSD was about 5, 000 times more potent. Aarati: 44:04 Holy crap! Arpita: 44:05 I know huge and then LSD quickly exceeded beyond the chemistry space. And it became interdisciplinary influence, medicine, psychology, psychiatry, neurology, anthropology, and then also the study of culture and religion. So around 10, 000 articles on LSD have been published to date, which makes it the most widely studied hallucinogen. Aarati: 44:27 Wow. That is amazing. Oh my gosh. Yeah. Cause. Once people realized, what effect it could have on your mind, I'm sure it opened up all sorts of like, possible explanations for things or, possibilities for art, possibilities for culture. Yeah, that's so interesting that people were just like, Oh my gosh, this could have affected so much in our history if somebody happened to get on LSD by accident. Arpita: 44:57 No, exactly. And that's exactly what happened. So now we enter this heyday of LSD. So in 1947, Sandoz produces LSD commercially under the brand name Delysid, and it was available to physicians and psychologists for research. And the package insert that they had for it had two indications. One was for analytic psychotherapy, particularly for anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders. And second, for experimental investigation to better understand psychosis. And so they keep saying psychosis, and I think this is a very 40s umbrella term for many mental health conditions, which include, you know. Anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, PTSD, and I'm sure it includes many things, but they sort of umbrella it as psychosis. And so throughout the 50s and 60s, LSD was thought of as kind of a wonder drug to treat all of these different psychological symptoms. Aarati: 45:55 Oh, wow. So people are just being prescribed LSD left and right basically for anything. Oh, wow. Arpita: 46:02 for yeah, anything like mental health related, and it was basically this one size fits all for everybody. Aarati: 46:08 So they're basically like, we think there's something wrong with your brain. Here's a drug that affects your brain. Maybe it'll fix it with no Arpita: 46:15 yes. Aarati: 46:17 Wow. Okay. sounds Arpita: 46:19 yeah, Aarati: 46:19 like a really bad idea, but okay. Arpita: 46:23 It actually didn't go as badly as you would think. So it's use in psychoanalysis was based on the idea that patients were bogged down in problematic patterns. Like they were in these patterns of thinking that weren't serving them well, and they could be sort of shaken up and shaken out of those problematic patterns by taking LSD, which based on all anecdotal accounts, it sort of gets you out of your head a little bit. And people were like, well, this is exactly what we need for folks who are struggling with anxiety and other similar conditions. And then also it puts you in this more relaxed state, which would make a patient more receptive to therapist suggestions. And then it also helped them bring up forgotten or repressed memories, which made psychotherapy a lot easier. So they were like, okay, we can like deal with some of these deeper feelings in order to get you in a better place in your life. And so the conditions that it worked the best for were alcoholism and other addictions, depression, and also alleviating mental suffering in terminally ill cancer patients. People were who are afraid of death and what's coming next. It helped in a lot of these conditions. You're spot on. They just gave it to people without really understanding it, but it didn't actually go that badly. Aarati: 47:38 That does actually make sense now that I think about it, because if LSD has kind of this like serotonin like effect and you have a patient who seems depressed and, unwilling to take suggestions, unwilling to cooperate with certain types of therapy, then maybe giving them LSD would help make them a Arpita: 48:02 Yeah. Aarati: 48:03 for even a moment, even for Yeah, even for an hour or something where you could suggest and they would comply, you know, a little bit easier. So I can see that. I was kind of imagining like, you know, people getting LSD for all types of mental and maybe, okay, like if there was some, there was some method to it Arpita: 48:27 I think that's right. Um, I think some of the research did agree with you though. So a lot of researchers had similar skepticism. So even though this was kind of promising and people were doing well on LSD some researchers argued that LSD didn't perform well in randomized control trials, and it was difficult to tell its effects in comparison to placebo because it was extremely evident which patients were hallucinating and which weren't. So there wasn't a true control. And so they argued that it was also dangerous to give people the substance, given that some people had really terrifying hallucinations and that we don't really know how it's going to affect them. So that's maybe also dangerous. Aarati: 49:09 Yeah. Fair. And it's the same, like why we run clinical trials today also is because like, drugs affect people differently. And you need to know where's the threshold for overdosing? And what's the dose we can give to people for it to be effective, but not to have any toxic side effects. Arpita: 49:27 So meanwhile, in America, the CIA was experimenting with LSD as a psychological weapon in a project codenamed MKUltra. Um, I googled this, and it is nuts have you heard of MKUltra? I had not. Aarati: 49:42 I have not, I feel like I vaguely heard of the CIA experimenting with LSD, but I've not heard of MKUltra. Arpita: 49:49 Yeah, MKUltra is crazy. It was super illegal. They made a movie about it and I'm very curious to learn a little bit more about it, but it seems insane. So this was a highly illegal experiment that involved the anthrax virus and other biological and chemical warfare agents. So the CIA was conducting experimental interrogation methods on double agents, soldiers. So they were using LSD in combination with heroin, hypnosis, and physical torture. And so the CIA was funding studies at universities like Columbia and Stanford to try to understand this better, to see if there was a way to use LSD as chemical warfare. Super messed up. This is like a super messed up experiment. Aarati: 50:31 Oh no. Yeah. it's Arpita: 50:32 Yeah. Yeah. Aarati: 50:32 messed up. Arpita: 50:33 Um, around the same time that the CIA was doing this, LSD famously entered mainstream society in the 60s. So artists like the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Bob Dylan experimented with LSD, and the Animals 1967 song, um, was actually called A Girl Called Sandoz, and they openly sang about how great LSD was, and there's a line called, quote,"Well, I met a girl called Sandoz, and she taught me many, many things", end quote. So this was everywhere, and even the Beatles music video of Yellow Submarine features LSD. So this actually didn't last very long, because very quickly afterwards, LSD became associated with young people who were protesting the Vietnam War, and the draft, and this was associated with very un American counterculture. And so there was political and moral panic over the influence that these drugs had over young people. Which led government officials to limit the use of drug recreationally. So then this dovetailed with the CIA finding out that psychedelics actually didn't help them at all. And so as soon as they discovered this, they stopped funding all the research, they stopped MKUltra, and then they jumped on the bandwagon to then get actively involved in anti LSD propaganda. So they fanned fears in society and they spread false reports, such as, you know, LSD damages human genetic material, it scrambles your brain. They supported scientists who represented the view that LSD caused long term psychosis. And then they defunded research exploring some of the therapeutic applications of LSD. And as a result of all of this, including the counterculture movement, the media, society, all of this stuff, they basically banned LSD. And by the sixties research basically stopped. It had become synonymous with counterculture activities, drug abuse. And by the end of the 60s, it became prohibited and it became a schedule 1 drug, which is the most tightly regulated class of drugs. And it was no longer being researched. It was no longer being clinically used and it was no longer being used for the medicine. So it had like a big wave and then it got shut down real fast. Aarati: 52:51 Yeah. Arpita: 52:52 a span of like 10 years. Like all this happened. Aarati: 52:54 But that's so interesting that it's like, it was largely all political, the whole shutdown. It wasn't because people were dying from it. It wasn't because, you know, there were toxic effects at all or anything like that. It was the government saying, you young people are too anti American. We can't have that. Um, and like politics shut it down. Arpita: 53:19 Exactly. That's exactly what happened. I know there was no real, and again, like this, I'm not sure if this had actually been discovered yet, but there is no overdose for LSD. So again, yes, you will have a bad time, but you're not going to die. That, like, even though people were tripping, like, they weren't dying, um, it's very different than, you know, the heroin or fentanyl and, like, thinking about, you Aarati: 53:43 Yes. Arpita: 53:44 opioid drugs, where people are... Aarati: 53:46 Yeah. actually overdosing and dying. Yeah. Arpita: 53:49 There also is no evidence to show that LSD has any addictive qualities. So I think there's maybe a, like a sense of, you know, I want to have that feeling again, but in terms of it being addictive, the way we would think about something pharmacologically, it does not have that. So I'm not sure if they knew those things at this point. Um, cause I did read that in my research, but I'm not sure if at this point in time they knew that, Aarati: 54:11 Yeah. Arpita: 54:13 It Aarati: 54:13 It was just associated with that, like, yeah, that, hippie peace love kind of culture. Arpita: 54:20 Hmm. Aarati: 54:21 Oh, wow. That's so, that's so crazy. Arpita: 54:24 Yeah. So it got shut down really fast. So it went from being everywhere to suddenly nowhere. So no research, no recreational use and no clinical use. So as a result, LSD research was also banned at Sandoz. So Hofmann can't do any more research on this. So he decided to move on. And in the early sixties he began extraction and isolation experiments with a hundred grams of dried mushrooms of the species Psilocybe mexicana heim. And so he was very fascinated by indigenous populations in Mexico and South America that had been using hallucinogens as part of religious ceremonies for centuries. And In his experiments, he found very similar to LSD that the chemical contents were completely unknown and any tests that he did on mice and other animals didn't show any clear pharmacological effect. So the animals kind of seemed restless, they kind of seemed weird, but there was no clear respiratory cardiovascular effect that could be measured and then used pharmacologically. Aarati: 55:31 Yeah. Arpita: 55:32 So even though he had a crazy time on LSD, he once again, to just eat it and see what happened. Aarati: 55:39 LSD 2. 0. Let's go. Arpita: 55:41 Let's go. So here another experiment just that he's done earlier. And according to reports, he took an amount that was comparable to a dose taken during a ritual shamanic ceremony. And as one might guess, the mushrooms had a strong psychological impact on Hofmann, as he described it in his experimental protocol. After one half hour, the external world became unfamiliar. Everything took on a Mexican flavor."Since I was fully aware that my knowledge of the Mexican origin of the mushrooms might lead me to imagine scenes from Mexico, I consciously tried to see my surroundings as I normally did. These efforts to see things in their familiar shapes and colors were in vain. Whether my eyes were open or closed, I only saw Indian motifs and colors." So, pause, back up. This interesting, I don't know what else to call it, description of the effects that he felt, and this is from his lab journal, Aarati: 56:39 Yeah. Arpita: 56:40 is probably due to what experts now call set and setting. So set is shortened from mindset and it refers to the thoughts, the mood, and any expectations you have for the experience. And setting is the physical and social environment where the experience takes place. So things like safety, comfort, and the people around you can all influence your trip. So In the world of people who are LSD or psilocybin enthusiasts and people who do this recreationally, they talk a lot about set and setting, um, because it's really important to how you experience the drug and how you, whether or not you have a good or bad trip. So in order to avoid the like scary hallucinations, you need to be one in like a good mindset and be thinking about things that you want to, I guess. Quote unquote happen during your trip and also where you physically are. So not just like in a place where you feel safe, but also around people who you feel comfortable with socially, who will influence your trip. So he was probably thinking a lot about Mexico and had a weird Mexican trip and his account is weird as hell, but that's probably why. Aarati: 57:49 That makes so much sense that you want to be like in a safe, comfortable place, and then you'll have good, happy hallucinations, whereas, whereas if you feel a little bit scared or a little bit uncomfortable with the people that you're with you might start to think that those people are threatening you or that, you know, you're in a bad environment you need to get out and it'll lead to a bad trip. Arpita: 58:15 Exactly. Right. You're totally right. Aarati: 58:18 Yeah. Arpita: 58:19 So this then just continued. He started doing a bunch of other self experiments. They tested various doses, different parts of the plant, different extractions, and his lab started being called the psychedelic lab. He convinced a bunch of them to participate in experiments with him. So by the sixties he had succeeded in isolating and transferring the active agent in a pure chemical state. And he conducted his first experiment with two milligrams of this, this isolated bit. And he named this colorless crystalline substance that he isolated psilocybin after it's genus psilocybe, and the second psychoactive substance discovered shortly after psilocin. Aarati: 59:02 So this is where the term magic mushrooms comes from, right? These are the mushrooms that people are always like, Arpita: 59:07 the shrooms. When people talk about shrooms, this is what they're talking about. Aarati: 59:11 what they're talking about. Arpita: 59:13 We're going to do a big jump forward into modern day and the 21st century. So after the ban, the 60s, like I mentioned, psychedelics were relegated to Schedule 1 drugs, and these are very tightly regulated. Not only can you not get them for recreational use, obviously, they're illegal, they are also very difficult to get for research purposes. So you have to have a really solid research protocol in order to be able to do research on these substances. So other Schedule 1 drugs include heroin and marijuana. So all this being said, now in 2024, we're moving into a new era of psychedelic medicine. So labs in the US and in Europe have already really been conducting trials for several years on the use of psychedelics in treating lots of different conditions, especially PTSD. And like I mentioned before, palliative care is another area where psychedelics are useful, not just as, you know, treatment, but also to help people face death. Aarati: 1:00:18 Yeah. Arpita: 1:00:18 Um, and so the Beckley Foundation in London just started the first ever trial to do brain imaging with LSD. And this was published in 2016. And they found evidence that LSD can help reset the brain to overcome maladaptive pathways. So this is kind of what they had hypothesized way back in the 50s and 60s, but now they have imaging evidence to support it. And Aarati: 1:00:47 Wait. So what, what does that mean that helps reform maladaptive pathways? Because it almost sounds like they're maybe imaging like synaptic pathways in the brain changing. Like that's what I'm imagining. Yeah, Yeah, that's what I'm imagining in my mind, like flashes of synapses or brain activity changing on LSD. Arpita: 1:01:12 Yeah. Which kind of makes sense even logically. It's like the way your brain activity looks sober versus the way your brain activity look on LSD. And then maybe afterwards is possibly slightly altered, which is interesting and like really interesting. Like the plasticity that's involved is interesting. Yeah. It does make sense. Um, so that's in London. And then in the U. S. there is an organization called MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, that has found that LSD and other psychedelics can really help different problems like depression, cluster headaches, and the fear of dying among terminally ill patients. And so there is a lot more evidence that's coming out every year about how psychedelics can actually really be helpful in treating a lot of these conditions. So going back to Hofmann, and his legacy, so it wasn't until 1985 that a professor in Illinois suggested that people who are inspired by LSD, either scientifically or creatively, celebrate his historic ride home in 1943 every April. So that first bicycle ride home where all the crazy stuff happens, they now celebrate every year in Basel and it's called bicycle day. And it usually combines trippy music, art events, science conferences, which showcase the latest research on psychedelic compounds. And there are organized bike tours, so people bike his exact same route, and then there are people who will be like a tour guide who will add cultural history, chemistry information, current research. Aarati: 1:02:54 So, it's like a gigantic bike parade, basically, of creative people, like, intellectual people, just like all sorts of, that must be the most interesting bike ride in the entire world. Arpita: 1:03:08 I know, and it's, yeah, I didn't even know, but yeah, Bicycle Day is something that's celebrated all over the world, but in particular, the celebrations in Basel are crazy. Aarati: 1:03:17 Yeah, I bet. I would love to go see that. Like, I don't know if I'd actually want to participate in it, but I would like to watch. Arpita: 1:03:24 It does seem really cool. It also does I don't know. I kind of associate Swiss people with being a little more buttoned up. Like, you think about these big pharmaceutical companies like Roche that are all in Switzerland and I think of them as very like hoity toity and very buttoned up. Aarati: 1:03:39 Or even like The swiss bank. It's like Arpita: 1:03:42 Yeah, exactly. Aarati: 1:03:43 like the safest place Arpita: 1:03:44 Yes. Aarati: 1:03:44 keep anything, you know? Arpita: 1:03:46 It seems very like tight, like it feels very regulated and very tight, but also the way they're describing this is like Basel is this very creative home and so this is almost like the, the hippies in Basel, which is very interesting to think about because that's not what I think about when I think about Switzerland. Aarati: 1:04:00 It's like all the hippies in Switzerland have been unleashed on this day. Yeah. I would, go to watch that. Yes, definitely. That would be so Arpita: 1:04:09 Yeah. Aarati: 1:04:09 Mm Arpita: 1:04:10 It seems really fun. Um, okay. We're almost done. So, the debate around Hofmann and the legacy that he's left with LSD is very complex and controversial. So some people argue that he was one of the first and few researchers who were bold enough to test what we could achieve through psychedelics, even though they were. Sort of taboo, and other people have a lot of criticism about his role in creating a drug that kind of got abused. And also people had bad time and it led to this whole situation politically. So people sort of blame him. So they're like critics as well. Other people have called Hofmann the father of psychedelics, but something that a lot of sources note is that psychedelics have been used for centuries by ancient civilizations all over the world, and there's a lot of documentation to support this, and they're used in villages, ceremonies, a lots of shamans, um, the power of psychedelics has been known for a long time, so we can credit him with isolating the active substance and bringing it into the Western world, but it's really important to say that he did not actually discover them. Aarati: 1:05:25 Yeah. That's something we barely touched on. Like you mentioned it, that people started studying how psychedelics had been used in religion and culture. And yeah, that's like a whole other area of study that we basically didn't touch on, on like, these shamans and these religious figures that take psychedelics and then have a message from God or whatever, deity they believe in, you know, and people believe that, and how does that shape a society, and how does that shape a culture, and how does that give that one person power and influence, like, that's so fascinating. Arpita: 1:06:00 I I totally agree. It is really interesting. I know this is exactly how I felt when I was researching this. I thought it was just gonna be a story about this guy. And then I realized this is so dense. There is, there are so many stories to be told here, so, I might have to revisit this one. Aarati: 1:06:18 Yeah, it's such a huge impact, like, yeah, I mean, I, I understand what you're saying, like, he didn't discover this, but, like, essentially he helped us pinpoint what it was in these plants that were causing these effects, and that's huge for research. That's huge for science. Arpita: 1:06:36 Yeah. And he, you know, isolated this compound. But yeah, some people say that, you know, he is the one who discovered them and I think that's the thing we should make sure that we distinguish. Regardless of all of his controversies, though, he contributed to our understanding of hallucinogens in a really profound way that we can't really deny and his legacy really leaves a lot of scientific exploration and inquiry into how we can use these to treat a lot of different conditions and bring a lot of people relief. And so he stayed with Sandoz for a really long time. He moved to the head of research and he stayed there until his retirement in 1971. He wrote over a hundred scientific articles where he was author or co author, and he wrote several books, including LSD, My Problem Child, and he did say that LSD didn't affect his understanding of death. And he said in death, quote,"I go back to where I came from, to where I was before I was born. That is all." End quote. And on April 30th, 2008, he died at his home near Basel, Switzerland, after a heart attack at a hundred and two. Aarati: 1:07:48 Oh my God. Has Arpita: 1:07:50 I know. Aarati: 1:07:51 that? The effects of LSD on life Arpita: 1:07:54 longevity? Yeah. Aarati: 1:07:56 Oh my God. Wow. 102. I was, yeah. When you said 2008, I was like, wait, didn't this story start in like the 1900s. like Arpita: 1:08:07 Yes. Aarati: 1:08:08 Oh my God. Arpita: 1:08:10 Yes. He was born in 1906. Yeah, we died at 102 and yeah, that's the story of Albert Hofmann and his journey with LSD. It was crazy, and if I may, was a trip, but... Aarati: 1:08:26 Ha ha. Arpita: 1:08:27 I I know, ha ha, ha ha, ha ha. No one likes my jokes, ha. yeah. Yeah. Um. Yeah, I don't know. I thought it was, like, such an interesting story. I really also was so surprised. I know I said this, like, four times, but I had to really focus when I was writing this and not get distracted by all the side stories and side characters here. So there are so many other players that we didn't even touch on. Aarati: 1:08:52 There's so much. Arpita: 1:08:54 interesting. There's so much Aarati: 1:08:55 Yeah. Oh my gosh. I mean, it's, it's such a part of our culture. So Arpita: 1:09:00 Yeah. Aarati: 1:09:00 Yeah, that was, that was, It's an amazing story. I mean, I feel like I kind of knew some of the stuff, like I knew about the Beatles and like the sixties hippie kind of culture. Like people know about that. I kind of vaguely knew about like artists going on trips purposefully to kind of heighten their colors and stuff like that. But yeah, I'd never heard of Albert Hofmann, the guy himself, you know, who. I'd, I'd never heard of his bicycle ride home, like I'd, yeah, that's so, that's so great. What a great story. Arpita: 1:09:34 Thank you. I'm glad you liked it. Aarati: 1:09:36 Thanks for listening. If you have a suggestion for a story we should cover or thoughts you want to share about an episode, reach out to us at smarttpodcast. com. You can follow us on Instagram and Twitter at smarttpodcast and listen to us on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. And leave us a rating or comment. It really helps us grow. New episodes are released every other Wednesday. See you next time.

Sources for this Epsiode

1. Hagenbach, Dieter and Lucius Werthmüller. Mystic Chemist: The Life of Albert Hofmann and His Discovery of LSD (Synergetic Press, 2013). ISBN 978-0-907791-46-1

2. Dyck E. LSD: a new treatment emerging from the past. CMAJ. 2015 Aug 4;187(14):1079–80. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.141358. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 26243813; PMCID: PMC4592308.

3. Smith, Craig S. Albert Hofmann, the Father of LSD dies at 102. The New York Times. April 30, 2008.

4. Markey, Ed. The Life and Legacy of Albert Hofmann: The Father of LSD. PsyTech. November 11, 2023. 

5. Miller, Norman. Basel: The Birthplace of Hallucinogenic Science. BBC. July 13, 2020. 

 

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