Hoffman, Albert

Hoffman, Albert (1906– ) – Swiss chemist who synthesized the hallucinogen LSD (d-lysergic acid diethylamide), a chemical derived from the ergot fungus he had been working on in order to develop new drugs for the firm Sandoz. While the drug initially offered unremarkable effects in preliminary laboratory experiments in 1938, Hoffman accidentally discovered the powerful psychedelic properties of LSD when, acting on a “peculiar presentiment,” he synthesized a fresh batch of the chemical in 1943. An “extremely stimulated imagination” resulted from brief, accidental exposure to the chemical, and so, intrigued, Hoffman ingested what he assumed to be a conservative dose of a 250-millionth of a gram—actually a massive dose—and then rode his bicycle home, where he experienced “fantastic and impressive” effects. Hoffman’s “problem child” or “medicine of the soul” (he used both terms) has had a profound effect on the lives of thousands of people, from those who have had bad “trips” to those who have appreciated their experiences as being benign, spiritual, and/or “shamanic.”

LSD ingestion prompted many psychedelic-experience seekers in the Euro-American psychedelic boom of the 1960s to explore shamanism, especially with the publication and subsequent popularity of Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan mythos, which gave accounts of entheogen-induced shamanic experiences, and the promotion by Timothy Leary (the “high priest” of acid) of LSD as a cure to social normativity. The potential of LSD in “psychedelic therapy” to treat such mental health disorders as neurosis, psychosis, schizophrenia, and depression yielded fascinating, if contradictory, results (reactions among subjects varied) for transpersonal psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists such as Stanislav Grof, before LSD was made illegal across the world in 1966 and scientific research was heavily regulated (leading to a drying up of funding and interest). While the drug remains illegal, there is renewed scientific investigation, and LSD, along with the synthesized chemicals mescaline (from peyote, described by Aldous Huxley), DMT (an active agent in ayahuasca, promoted by Terence McKenna), and ibogane (from the root of the West African plant iboga), is a major a source of inspiration to many techno-shamans, psychonauts, and other neo-shamans.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007