Albert Hofmann

Albert Hofmann and Allen Ginsberg at LSD A Generation Later – Colloquium, Santa Cruz, October 1977 – Photo by Steve Gladstone

Albert Hofmann (1906-2008), the Swiss chemist, known for being the first to synthesize, ingest, and learn of the psychedelic effects of LSD was born on this day, January 11

from Bill Morgan‘s 2007 biography  I Celebrate Myself – The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg

“He (Allen) was looking forward to participating in an LSD conference slated for October (1977) in Santa Cruz, and to “prepare” for it, he took a small dose for the first time in years. While high he pondered whether the CIA had “by  conscious plan or inadvertent Pandora’s Box, let loose the whole LSD fad on the US and the world”. At the conference he saw old drug comrades Timothy Leary, Ram Dass (Richard Alpert), and Ralph Metzner and talked for the first time with Dr Albert Hoffmann, the scientist who had accidentally discovered LSD’s psychedelic properties in 1943, Allen had many questions for Hoffmann, who remained somewhat ambivalent about his discovery. Hoffmann had always hoped that the drug would play a larger medicinal role, and he was dubious about the social significance placed on it by the hippie community,

The title of his book LSD My Problem Child, suggested those doubts. Allen asked Hoffman why he didn’t take LSD any longer, to which Hoffmann replied that since he had already had the experience, there was no need to repeat it continually. Allen could not help but agree….”

A report on the 1977 Santa Cruz LSD Colloquium can be found here
Photo-documentation can be found here
Hofmann’s speech on that occasion can be found here

In the Spring of 1966 in his interview with Tom Clark for The Paris Review, Allen expressed his ambivalence about LSD (acid).  He continued to treasure its effects on consciousness  (“you get some states of consciousness that subjectively seem to be cosmic-ecstatic, or cosmic-demonic”)  but was no longer able to physically tolerate the effects of repetitive use ( “I can’t stand them anymore,” he said, (psychedelics), “because something happened to me with them … After about thirty times, thirty-five times, I began getting monster vibrations again. So I couldn’t go any further.”)  He wasn’t giving up on them, though (“I may later on again, if I feel more reassurance.”).

The following year he wrote to The Paris Review (in a letter that only emerged some years later)

“Between occasion of interview with Thomas Clark  June ’65. and publication, May ’66 more reassurance came.I tried small doses of LSD twice in secluded tree and ocean cliff haven at Big Sur, No monster vibration, no snake universe hallucinations.Many tiny jeweled violet flowers along the path of a living brook that looked like Blake’s illustrations for a canal in grassy Eden – huge Pacific watery shore,  (Peter) Orlovsky dancing naked like Shiva  long-haired before giant green waves, titanic cliffs that Wordsworth mentioned in his own Sublime, great yellow sun veiled with mist hanging over the planet’s oceanic horizon.No harm…… Since there has been so much legislative miscomprehension of the LSD boon. I regret that my unedited ambivalence in Thomas Clark’s tape transcript interview was published wanting this footnote.”

and, of course, there’s this (from 1967), “Wales- Visitation”, Ginsberg’s extraordinary acid-trip transcription/visionary poem

Here‘s important historical footage – Allen’s 1966 Congressional Testimony”:

Allen’s involvement with LSD, it should be noted, dates from way back –   MKUltra and the early CIA-funded experiments – the Mental Research Institute, Stanford University, 1959

From his journals (writing at the time of the Santa Cruz colloquium)  –  (“bonk bonk/ L.S.D. C.I.A. empty paranoia/Vajrayana bonk bonk”):

“So the question is – how high up in CIA did acid get? How much  was acid spread through CIA? -“Early” contacts w/ Kesey or myself 1959 Stanford Inst.Mental Health Dr Joe Adams via Gregory Bateson. Was that financed  by (Secretly) army? Didn’t I at that time register some perturbation that I was being eavesdropped by Big Brother Ear?….Where is my Case in the interface?. Is there or was there ever a willing CIA-LSD agent assigned to my cast, following my mental adventures decade to decade? Was I under his Controls, or was he dazzled by what I was doing out there & reporting data back too his Computer or to Richard Helms or Someone at least interested?..Why’d Helms burn all the records? What Valuable  history destroyed? The big Secret – that was it the CIA  itself by conscious plan or inadvertent Pandora’s box, let loose the Whole LSD Fad on U.S., & the World?   Was Leary their scapegoat?…How much of this secret history did Sandoz, Dr.Albert Hofmann, etc, know?  Who keeps the political secrets of LSD?  Who remembers? Will the CIA at least have the decency to send a representative to the 1977 “LSD – A Decade Later” Conference at Santa Cruz? After all, aren’t they as much involved as anyone…”

From the Stanford ’59 experience had come his long poem/descriptive poem Lysergic Acid” (included in his 1961 collection, Kaddish and Other Poems  (“It is a multiple million eyed monster/it is hidden in all its elephants and selves…”)

Later, Ginsberg’s thinking on the subject transformed yet again –  meditation not psychedelics.

from New Age Magazine,  1976:

“I think that even those teachers who disapprove of the use of drugs by their students do credit the LSD wave with opening up people’s awareness to the possibility of alternative modes of consciousness, or at least a search for some stable place, or perhaps leaving their imaginations open to understand some of the imagery, such as the wheels of life. Trungpa‘s position is that “psychedelics” are too trippy, whereas people need to be grounded – everything is uncertain enough as it is. The world, societies, mind are uncertain.
What’s needed is some non-apocalyptic, non-ambitious, non-spiritually materialistic, grounded sanity, for which he proposes samatha meditation and discourages grass and acid, which is logically sensible. I think he may have some more ample ideas about that for
specific situations.”

Allen developed that thinking in the years ahead.

Martin A Lee & Bruce Shlain’s still-highly recommended 1985 book, Acid Dreams (originally released as Acid Dreams – The CIA, LSD, and the Sixties Rebellion, and retitled Acid Dreams – The Complete Social History of LSD: the CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond) remains an essential resource for the social  history, the social manifestations, of LSD

Interviews with Hofmann – here’s his 1976 High Times interview with Michael Horowitz

in 1983 with Don Rothenberg

in 1984 with Stanislav Grof

in 1993 with Peter Gorman

and in 1996 with Charles Grob

Here’s Albert Hofmann at 100 in 2006 celebrated by Craig S Smith in the New York Times
Here’s, two years later, (again from Smith) Hofmann’s New York Times obituary
and Frank Jordans’ obituary notice for AP

Hofmann’s Potion – The Early Years of LSD, Connie Littlefield‘s  2002 documentary, a sensitive and open-minded examination of Hofmann’s discovery and its extraordinary social significance can be viewed (courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada) here

Mention should also be made of Mark McClouds extraordinary San Francisco-based Institute of Illegal Images (see Dan Gentile’s 2021 report on this remarkable institution – a repository of LSD and LSD-related artifacts – here)

Much has taken place since the “Sixties celebration and subsequent demonizing of LSD (and LSD research).  Here’s an article from 2009 from Scientific American – (with a nod of the head to Hofmann’s autobiography, originally titled “Return of A Problem Child”)

Much of the hysteria has begun to subside (and indeed continues to subside) as the benefits of LSD (and of psychedelic drugs in general) are being recognized (as they once were before funding opportunities were thwarted) for their possible benefits in clinical treatment for a variety of conditions

Here’s Emily Witt in The New Yorker in 2018 on “The Science of the Psychedelic Renaissance

Remembering Dr, Hoffman on this day.


  1. I loved the information, I’m a huge LSD fan. If you can ever find the real deal. It’s scary with all these other research chemicals out there. I miss the good old days.

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