“It was serendipity. I was looking for something. I did not find what I was looking for. I found something else. That’s the meaning of serendipity.”
From the first issue of High Frontiers, the magazine that became MONDO 2000, a great flashback interview with Dr. Albert Hoffman, who discovered LSD
Dr. Albert Hofmann, Swiss chemist, and discoverer of LSD, was in America last summer to celebrate and promote his book, LSD – My Problem Child. While here, he stopped by Shared Visions, where he was interviewed by Will Nofke, before an appreciative audience. As Will said in his introduction of Dr. Hofmann, he is a radiant being. Well into his seventies, he has maintained the good-natured flexibility and sense of humor of an enlightened man.
Will Nofke: Dr. Hofmann, you’ve said that it’s necessary to be well-prepared to use the substance known as LSD, and it seems that your life prepared you for the discovery of this particular substance which has been such a catalyst in so many lives. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about the process of that discovery. What lead to it ?
Albert Hoffman: It’s my belief that I was really prepared for this work. As you know, I was not searching to find a psychoactive compound. When I prepared this lysergic acid diethylamide, LSD, I had planned to get an analeptic compound with a circulatory stimulant activity, a stimulant for the heart and breathing. It turned out to be a psychic stimulant, instead. We made this kind of discovery not by chance. It was serendipity. I was looking for something. I did not find what I was looking for. I found something else. That’s the definition of serendipity.
W.N. Seems to be the definition of life itself.
A.H. Yes, maybe. Do you know who coined this word ?
W.N. No. I don’t.
A.H.- That was Horace Walpole in 1756, I believe. He had just read this fairy tale about the 3 princes of Serendip. Serendip is the ancient name for Salem. This was the story of some princes who went out on an expedition. They were searching for something they had planned to find, but then they did not find what they were looking for. But because they were open-minded and curious, they found other things which were all useful. After having read that story, he coined the word Serendipity.
W.N.- Could you tell us a little bit about how your discovery took place, because it is quite unusual ?
A.H.- Yes. I prepared this compound for the first time in 1938 with the intention to get an analeptic. I gave it, in the normal way, to our pharmacological department at Sandoz. There, compounds are tested in animals, and in isolated organs, but we did not find any extraordinary activity of this compound. And very strangely, quite unusually for me, 5 years later, I should, just once more, prepare this compound and make it available to our pharmacologists, and ask them to do broader, more extended testing, because I just had a feeling that there could be something more in this compound.
W.N. You sensed something was there.
A.H. Yes. So, I just prepared this compound. I was working the afternoon of the 18th of April, ’43, and I was just at the final stage of this synthesis, which consists of the crystalization of a dilution in methanol, and the compound comes out in a pure state. I started to feel quite strange and I had a kind of daydream. I went out of the normal world, into a kind of other reality. I went home, laid down, and had a beautiful experience. Everything which I thought about, it was immediately before my eyes, just quite vivid and alive. Then these symptoms disappeared, and I thought, “Something has happened with me that is most unusual.” And I thought maybe I had used a solvent closely related to chloroform, which was known to be an intoxicant. I thought maybe the chloroform had caused this kind of inebriation, and I had reacted in such a strange way. The next day, I sniffed some of this compound (chloroform) and nothing happened. So, I thought that maybe some of this compound I had been working on, this diethylamide of lysergic acid, could have been the cause. I decided to get to the bottom of this problem and make a self-experiment with this compound. Being a cautious man, I started out with one-fourth of a milligram, which is unusually low, with the intention to increase, gradually, the amount. I then ingested this in the laboratory. Soon, after a half-an-hour, “Oh. That was the compound I had used. It came up very, very strong. It took me, and when I came home, I asked the laboratory assistant to accompany me. That was the famous bicycle ride. I rode the bicycle 6 kilometers, 4 miles home and, finally at home, I got into a very terrifying situation. All was so strange and I had the feeling maybe I have become insane now. Because I did not know if ever I would come back off this other reality, and that was very terrifying. At the climax of the experience, about 3 or 4 hours after I had ingested it, I had the feeling of being out of my body and I thought, “You may have died and you are now in another world, and you have made a big discovery, and now you cannot even enjoy it and use it, and you can never sell it to anybody, and you’ve left your family with 3 children.” It was really a terrible situation. But then, finally, I got the feeling that I would come back and then a beautiful, a joyful, a peaceful experience came and it was like a rebirth. After death, a rebirth. Then I enjoyed the stimulated fantasy, the array of colors and stimulated feeling of life, life coming again, and I was really happy, and it was a happiness which I had not experienced before. Finally, I slept, and the next morning I was a changed human being. I had the feeling I had died and been reborn. This was the beginning of my thinking about both these realities. Because I had left our everyday reality. I’d been in another reality, and that was the beginning of an insight into our world, which I never would have had without this experience. Read more “Albert Hofmann – Everybody Has Cosmogonic Potency (1984)”