Albert Hofmann in America by Bruce Eisner and Peter Stafford
Way back inn October of 1988, Omni Magazine editor-at-large Dick Teresi commissioned Peter Stafford and I to write an article about the visit of Dr. Albert Hofmann to Los Angeles for inaugural ceremonies for a foundation established in his name. Peter and I wrote and submitted the following article which we got paid well for. However, Terasi left the magazine shortly after we submitted the piece and it was never published. Here it is, freshly edited.
- A gold plaque with the words “Albert Hofmann Foundation” glistening in the afternoon sun on the patio of the St. James’s Club, in West Hollywood, held by its name bearer. An upscale crowd of psychedelists paid $100 each to launch an ambitious consciousness library project.
- A press conference with Robert Zanger, PhD. President of the foundation, Oscar Janiger, M.D., who gave LSD to artists and Hollywood stars at the end of the ’50s, and Albert Hofmann, discover of LSD and psilocybin, where it was announced that Switzerland had legalized LSD for use in therapy
- An afternoon luncheon in the Malibu Hills at the rustic home of John Lilly, M.D. consciousness explorer extraordinaire, with Timothy Leary as well as Hofmann and his wife Anita.
- An evening party at Santa Monica home of Oscar Janiger, where Marline Dobkin de Rios (“Visionary Vine) John Marx (“The Search for the Manchurian Candidate), Andrew Weil (“The Natural Mind), Ronald Seigal (“Hallucinations), artists and psychotherapists watched as Dr. Grant Venerable unveiled a painting for Hofmann, depicting the natural neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain and its resemblance to LSD and psilocybin. (Hofmann leaped to his feet after the presentation and excitedly told the group that this relationship was important because it demonstrated that his discoveries had a direct connection to chemicals of the nervous system and therefore human consciousness. He went on to suggest that the psychedelics would be progenitors of conscious evolution. Many were struck, as was evident through all the events of his visit, by his liveliness and vigor, which made him appear much younger than his 82 years.)
- Twenty-four hundred people filling the Scottish Rite Temple, a huge masonic temple in LA’s Wilshire district, to hear Albert Hofmann’s first public address in a over a decade, where he described his “Transmitter/Receiver” model of consciousness. He was preceded to the podium by Stanley Krippner who described Hofmann’s famous bicycle ride; Andrew Weil who lamented that those present were really only a very tiny minority; John Lilly who recounted his adventures on LSD and ketamine in the isolation tank and the evening’s MC, Terence McKenna, who introduced Hofmann as “a man astride both the synthetic and natural products chemistry of the 20th century like no one else.”
- Another evening at Janiger’s with psychedelic artists, watching slides of works of art fashioned under LSD’s influence, three decades earlier.
- The International Transpersonal Conference in Santa Rosa where 1200 people gathered to watch Hofmann gave two lectures among 100 presentations by other important figures in the consciousness community.
The following is a video of Hofmann’s lecture from YouTube. Its caption begins: “An event that was held at The Scottish Rite Temple in Los Angeles on October 2, 1988 to honor Dr. Albert Hofmann on the 50th anniversary of his discovery of LSD. The MC that night was none other than Terence McKenna, and besides a few words from Terence, we also hear from Stanley Krippner and Andrew Weil, who not only have many kind words for Dr. Hofmann but also add some interesting insights about their own work with LSD”
These were some of the highlights of the visit by the 82 year old Hofmann to inaugurate a foundation and library which will bring together the world’s most extensive repository of books, papers and artifacts relating to consciousness and its alteration. We were fortunate to be present during these events and here are some of a few more of our observations at the events.
- The greatest understatement from the “L.A. Herald Examiner, about Hofmann: “The Man Who Launched a Thousand Trips.”
- The longest sentence in praise of Dr. Hofmann and his discoveries from the silver tongued Terence McKenna, whom Timothy Leary described at “Another Irishman who kissed the ‘Blarney Stone’”: “LSD is, I think, the greatest medical discovery of the 20th century ameliorating pain, creating caring, promoting unity, healing not so much of the individual psyche although, certainly, its impact in that dimension is tremendous but ultimately as a deconditioning agent allowing us to move beyond the confines of historical society, to see what we could be, what we have been, and what in fact we have the energy to be in the future.”
- Robert Zanger, President of the newly formed Albert Hofmann Foundation, projected requirements of about $1 million to achieve the library’s initial goal; to locate a building for the housing of collections from consciousness enhancement pioneers such as Hofmann, who offered his entire correspondence and library. Laura Huxley is to contribute the Aldous Huxley’s correspondence and papers, and both John Marx and Marty Lee thousands of pages on the CIA/LSD connection. Paintings from Janiger’s LSD art project will be the first exhibit at the foundation’s gallery.
- At the news conference, Janiger had been asked why LA had been selected as the site for the library. Janiger answered that, among other reasons, Huxley had described LA as the “Venice of the Psychedelic Renaissance.”
We found ourselves driving through the sun drenched hills of this mind expanding city, on our way to the Lilly luncheon. Peter had created a “Official Drug Awareness Kit” which asked questions from his forthcoming “Encyclopedia of Psychedelic Substances and asked Bruce the $64 question (he had answered everything correctly up to this point): “As a result of oral ingestion of about 100 mcg. LSD, roughly how many “psyche-changing molecules pass the blood brain barrier?” Bruce tried to do some quick figuring and ventured a wild guess. Two days later, we posed the same question to Hofmann during our interview. He muttered to himself in German and gave us the answer: 10 to the 19th power of molecules. That’s ten times a billion ! Should be enough.
Here is the rest of the interview with Albert Hofmann.
Peter & Bruce: Could you tell us a little about the background of the legalization for medical purposes of LSD in Switzerland?
Albert Hofmann: There has been founded an association of young psychiatrists last year — the Association of Swiss Psychiatrists for Psycholytic Therapy meaning the use of LSD and similar compounds as an adjunct to psychoanalysis & psychotherapy. This association has now got the license to use LSD & similarcompounds in their medical practice.
But only members, & only doctors or psychiatrists. In any
case, members can now use officially, legally, LSD. Since Sandoz stopped distributing LSD, this compound will be prepared in the
chemical department at the University of Berne.
P.& B.: What do you feel is the significance of the setting up of the Albert Hofmann Library?
A.H.: They asked me to give them the name. And I did not know what I could contribute. The name, of course, and my library — I have a collection of publications and correspondences with many people in this field. I shall, of course, will this legacy to them when I die. But then I got this invitation to be present at the inaugaration, and they asked me also to give a lecture which you heard yesterday evening.
I think it is very important that somewhere the whole material is concentrated and available for future research. Documentation for the future is very important. Dr. Janiger, who had the idea for this foundation, has an enormous wealth of documents from this field — from his own research and literature collected from all over the world. He showed me what he has in his files — all the documents from the chemical laboratories of the United States, the Army laboratories. Thousands of volunteers participated in his project of the Army.
So all this material should be concentrated there and made available to students in this field, and maybe also to present to health authorities to show about the use of these substances–and about the dangers, or the impact on the public.
P.& B.: What do you feel is the best use or uses for LSD and the psychedelics? How should they be used if they were to be used in the best possible way?
A.H.: In the medical field, one important use is to help as a pharmacological aid to psychoanalysis, because you can get forgotten, repressed material from the subconscious to make it conscious quicker than normal.
In the normal manner, you may work with a person for years to get out this material, and it has been shown in many studies that under its influence it is possible to bring this to consciousness in one or two sessions. That means that with the help of LSD, psychoanaysis can be shortened to a really important extent.
And also, as a kind of pain-killer in dying persons. Kast and Stan Grof and others have published books about this. People who suffered terrible pain, cancer patients, and they are given opiates to kill pain that did not work; LSD worked. It is not just an anesthetic medicament. It is different.
It seems that under the influence the mind and the body become separated. The body with its pain is left and the consciousness remains out free of pain. It’s a very strange and very important experience also for the normal person that they have the feeling to be out of their body.
I had this same feeling in my first experiment — I had the feeling that my body had died, and had the feeling of being out of the body and looking from outside. That could be one effect which I think could be a very important use for people in their last stage of life, where they have suffered pain — to use as a kind of pain-killer. When people are suffering pain, they are no more able to think, to have contact with their family. They are able again to think about their past life, to communicate, and they have lost the fear of death.
P.& B.: What do you think about Dr. Janiger’s use of psychedelics for creativity enhancement with artists and others?
I have heard, I shall see just this evening his documents. I have seen some of these works. I think it is important to make a difference.
A.H.: There has just been a study in Germany by Hartmann, and he asked I think about 40 or 50 famous painters to do their work just under the influence of LSD. Just then. And there were no good results, because under the influence of LSD you have such an enormous input of impressions and ideas and visions that you have no time to put it down.
A.H.: What Janiger did — they had LSD, and then after they painted what they had seen. There’s quite a big difference. The results of Hartmann in Munchen were negative, and I know from my own experience just under the influence you take in things and you have so deep impressions and deep experiences you are not prepared to formulate them with words, nor to give expression by painting and so on. You are just full of experience.
P. & B.: So you have to pay a lot of attention to timing?
A.H.: For the artist it is important to have seen some new dimensions — that is the first phase. And the second thing is he may be able to give expression in his work with his usual techniques. Janiger’s findings are that what they do after having this experience goes in new and other dimensions then before. They have experienced other dimensions of reality.
What do you think about the possibility of developing new psychedelics that may have more usefulness than LSD?
A.H.: I don’t think that very important new compounds will be found because LSD, mescaline, peyote, all these things, have been discovered — the effects (and LSD is just, as I have explained, a chemical variation of ololiuqui) — these psychedelics have been discovered thousands and thousands of years before.
Man has tested I think the whole range of the plant kingdom. These are natural products, are products of the plants. Although LSD is just a modification, lysergic acid is a plant product. And I don’t think that we as scientists, ethnologists or chemists, we base our work on these earlier discoverers.
I don’t think what has not been discovered in the last 2,000 years that very many new things will come. It would have been discovered in this time, and therefore I don’t think that very new special compounds, natural compounds will come out, and I think it is important to rely on natural compounds.
That means compounds which you find in the plant kingdom. And everything that you find in the plant kingdom has some relation to the chemistry of natural production which is our chemistry. It is the same kind of basic compounds. It is known that these psychedelics have a special relationship to natural hormones in the brain.
Other compounds have relationships with other types of compounds — steroids, etc. It is a close relationship that had already been selected during the evolution of the plant kingdom and animal kingdom together. From the innumerable possibility of compounds which could exist, it is a very, very small selection which we use now in the plant and animal kingdom.
Every year now in the pharmaceutical industry they produce, I think about a thousand new compounds are prepared and tested and tested. But this is artificial, and I am not convinced that for the long term they will be useful. We should remain within the normal chemistry of our body and of the plants.
Inorganic compounds in living organisms may have dangerous effects in the long term. DDT is an example, which cannot be metabolized by the organism. So after ten years of use, then you had the trouble. Because from the plant kingdom they went ino the nurture of human beings, and finally now you find them deposited in our nerve system.
I don’t know how much, but you now find traces of DDT in every human being. It remains somewhere because the organism doesn’t know how to handle it. That’s the danger of the artificial medicaments.
P. & B.: You’ve come to this country several times, and every time you’ve been here you’ve received a tremendous welcome. How do you fee l about your reception in the United States?
I am deeply impressed by the warm reception I have received here, and I feel happy and grateful to my friends and to my colleagues.
P.& B.: We asked you earlier about this “peculiar presentiment” you had in 1943 that the LSD-25 molecule was worth reexamining again. Yo u said something about you liked the structure –
A.H.: Yes. I had the feeling that the substance should be tested in a more extended program than before. I liked the structure. If you are not a chemist, you may not know what that means.
It has some beauty in its chemical structure. I liked it — just the structure. And I thought it would be important to do work on this. That isn’t something that you can prove scientifically — what that means, but it is just a feeling that you have. You have some attraction to a painting, to a sculpture, to a human being. Just if you like it, then you work with it.
P.& B.: It was originally tested on what animals?
A.H.: All kinds of animals. In cats, mice, rats and guinea pigs. But without any impression from them. That is very, very important, because it shows that the domain where these psychedelics work is in some domain which doesn’t exist — or exists only to a very low level — in animals. It specifically works on the consciousness, and if you don’t have any or low consciousness, you don’t see any effect. You may see it in higher animals with higher doses than with humans.
In cats — we have films even — we gave large doses. I don’t know how much, but many, many hundred times or a thousand times as you use for humans. You see that the cats have a changed behavior. We have a film where you have a cat in a cage with a mouse, and the cat is frightened by the mouse.
But the really important effects which may be used for many fields that we have spoken about, it happens in the change of the consciousness. And it is the very core of our being human beings that we have consciousness. Üh ÜŒ There has been a lot of European work done with psycholytic therapy.
P.& B.: How safe do you think this is?
There is no danger at all. Thousands of papers have appeared, and it is never spoken of as a danger. Never. The danger is unwise use, in paramedical use. But under the supervision of the medical, I don’t know of any publication.
P.& B.: Do you think other places in Europe will legalize it for use again?
A.H.: We hope in Germany, where we also have an association there who hope to get it in the same way as in Switzerland. I am also a member of this group. About environmental concerns, what are your thoughts and activities in that regard
Oh, I am working in this field. I write articles and have given lectures and am taking part in discussions in this group and with the Green Party. We work to make people conscious. And then we must make conscious the irresponsible person in industry and research. And they do try now to find procedures which produce as small a quantity of by-products that are toxic as possible.
To reduce it and invent procedures which are safe and have no toxic by-products to be eliminated, through recycling and all these things. These things are published, and on the political scene we have our representatives in the political scene. The Green Party is becoming more and more influential in Germany and in Switzerland.
P.& B.: What about your personal use of LSD and psychedelics? Do you still use them?
A.H.: No, no more use them. If I got the message of LSD — I know I opened my eyes and my eyes are opened and I don’t need more. They are open more and more. I can’t really understand what it means to take LSD every week — must be a pleasure, but I think it is not the sort of thing. You must work on — I have a beautiful letter from Aldous Huxley, where he says “What we have taken in by visionary experience, we must give out with love and intelligence.”