Numerous accounts of the
discovery of LSD have been published in English; none, unfortunately, have been
completely accurate. Here, at last, the father of LSD details the history of his
“problem child” and his long and fruitful career as a research chemist. In a
real sense, this book is the inside story of the birth of the Psychedelic Age,
and it cannot be denied that we have here a highly candid and personal insight
into one of the most important scientific discoveries of our time, the
significance of which has yet to dawn on mankind.
Surpassing its historical value
is the immense philosophical import of this work. Never before has a chemist, an
expert in the most materialistic of the sciences, advanced a Weltanschauung of
such a mystical and transcendental nature. LSD, psilocybin, and the other
hallucinogens do indeed, as Albert Hofmann asserts, constitute “cracks” in
the edifice of materialistic rationality, cracks we would do well to explore and
As a writer, it gives me great
satisfaction to know that by this book the American reader interested in
hallucinogens will be introduced to the work of Rudolf Gelpke, Ernst Junger, and
Walter Vogt, writers who are all but unknown here. With the notable exceptions
of Huxley and Wasson, English and American writers on the hallucinogenic
experience have been far less distinguished and eloquent than they.
This translation has been
carefully overseen by Albert Hofmann, which made my task both simpler and more
enjoyable. I am beholden to R. Gordon Wasson for checking the chapters on
LSD’s “Mexican relatives” and on “Ska Maria Pastora” for accuracy and
Two chapters of this book —
“How LSD Originated” and “LSD Experience and Reality” — were presented
by Albert Hofmann as a paper before the international conference
“Hallucinogens, Shamanism and Modern Life” in San Francisco on the afternoon
of Saturday, September 30, 1978. As a part of the conference proceedings, the
first chapter has been published in the Journal of Psychedetic
Drugs, Vol. 11 (1-2), 1979.
There are experiences that
most of us are hesitant to speak about, because they do not conform to everyday
reality and defy rational explanation. These are not particular external
occurrences, but rather events of our inner lives, which are generally dismissed
as figments of the imagination and barred from our memory. Suddenly, the
familiar view of our surroundings is transformed in a strange, delightful, or
alarming way: it appears to us in a new light, takes on a special meaning. Such
an experience can be as light and fleeting as a breath of air, or it can imprint
itself deeply upon our minds.
One enchantment of that kind,
which I experienced in childhood, has remained remarkably vivid in my memory
ever since. It happened on a May morning – I have forgotten the year — but I
can still point to the exact spot where it occurred, on a forest path on
Martinsberg above Baden, Switzerland. As I strolled through the freshly greened
woods filled with bird song and lit up by the morning sun, all at once
everything appeared in an uncommonly clear light. Was this something I had
simply failed to notice before? Was I suddenly discovering the spring forest as
it actually looked? It shone with the most beautiful radiance, speaking to the
heart, as though it wanted to encompass me in its majesty. I was filled with an
indescribable sensation of joy, oneness, and blissful security.
I have no idea how long I stood
there spellbound. But I recall the anxious concern I felt as the radiance slowly
dissolved and I hiked on: how could a vision that was so real and convincing, so
directly and deeply felt – how could it end so soon? And how could I tell
anyone about it, as my overflowing joy compelled me to do, since I knew there
were no words to describe what I had seen? It seemed strange that I, as a child,
had seen something so marvelous, something that adults obviously did not
perceive — for I had never heard them mention it.
While still a child, I
experienced several more of these deeply euphoric moments on my rambles through
forest and meadow. It was these experiences that shaped the main outlines of my
world view and convinced me of the existence of a miraculous, powerful,
unfathomable reality that was hidden from everyday sight.
I was often troubled in those
days, wondering if I would ever, as an adult, be able to communicate these
experiences; whether I would have the chance to depict my visions in poetry or
paintings. But 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.
Unexpectedly — though scarcely
by chance — much later, in middle age, a link was established between my
profession and these visionary experiences from childhood.
Because I wanted to gain insight
into the structure and essence of matter, I became a research chemist. Intrigued
by the plant world since early childhood, I chose to specialize in research on
the constituents of medicinal plants. In the course of this career I was led to
the psychoactive, hallucination-causing substances, which under certain
conditions can evoke visionary states similar to the spontaneous experiences
just described. The most important of these hallucinogenic substances has come
to be known as LSD. Hallucinogens, as active compounds of considerable
scientific interest, have gained entry into medicinal research, biology, and
psychiatry, and later — especially LSD also obtained wide diffusion in the
In studying the literature
connected with my work, I became aware of the great universal significance of
visionary experience. It plays a dominant role, not only in mysticism and the
history of religion, but also in the creative process in art, literature, and
science. More recent investigations have shown that many persons also have
visionary experiences in daily life, though most of us fail to recognize their
meaning and value. Mystical experiences, like those that marked my childhood,
are apparently far from rare.
There is today a widespread
striving for mystical experience, for visionary breakthroughs to a deeper, more
comprehensive reality than that perceived by our rational, everyday
consciousness. Efforts to transcend our materialistic world view are being made
in various ways, not only by the adherents to Eastern religious movements, but
also by professional psychiatrists, who are adopting such profound spiritual
experiences as a basic therapeutic principle.
I share the belief of many of my
contemporaries that the spiritual crisis pervading all spheres of Western
industrial society can be remedied only by a change in our worldview. We shall
have to shift from the materialistic, dualistic belief that people and their
environment are separate, toward a new consciousness of an all-encompassing
reality, which embraces the experiencing ego, a reality in which people feel
their oneness with animate nature and all of creation.
Everything that can contribute to
such a fundamental alteration in our perception of reality must therefore
command earnest attention. Foremost among such approaches are the various
methods of meditation, either in a religious or a secular context, which aim to
deepen the consciousness of reality by way of a total mystical experience.
Another important, but still controversial, path to the same goal is the use of
the consciousness-altering properties of hallucinogenic psychopharmaceuticals.
LSD finds such an application in medicine, by helping patients in psychoanalysis
and psychotherapy to perceive their problems in their true significance.
Deliberate provocation of
mystical experience, particularly by LSD and related hallucinogens, in contrast
to spontaneous visionary experiences, entails dangers that must not be
underestimated. Practitioners must take into account the peculiar effects of
these substances, namely their ability to influence our consciousness, the
innermost essence of our being. The history of LSD to date amply demonstrates
the catastrophic consequences that can ensue when its profound effect is
misjudged and the substance is mistaken for a pleasure drug. Special internal
and external advance preparations are required; with them, an LSD experiment can
become a meaningful experience. Wrong and inappropriate use has caused LSD to
become my problem child.
It is my desire in this book to give a comprehensive picture of LSD, its origin, its effects, and its dangers, in order to guard against increasing abuse of this extraordinary drug. I hope thereby to emphasize possible uses of LSD that are compatible with its characteristic action. I believe that if people would learn to use LSD’s vision-inducing capability more wisely, under suitable conditions, in medical practice and in conjunction with meditation, then in the future this problem child could become a wonder child.
1. How LSD
In the realm of scientific
Time and again I hear or
read that LSD was discovered by accident. This is only partly true. LSD came
into being within a systematic research program, and the “accident” did not
occur until much later: when LSD was already five years old, I happened to
experience its unforeseeable effects in my own body — or rather, in my own
Looking back over my professional
career to trace the influential events and decisions that eventually steered my
work toward the synthesis of LSD, I realize that the most decisive step was my
choice of employment upon completion of my chemistry studies. If that decision
had been different, then this substance, which has become known the world over,
might never have been created. In order to tell the story of the origin of LSD,
then, I must also touch briefly on my career as a chemist, since the two
developments are inextricably interreleted.
In the spring of 1929, on
concluding my chemistry studies at the University of Zurich, I joined the Sandoz
Company’s pharmaceutical-chemical research laboratory in Basel, as a co-worker
with Professor Arthur Stoll, founder and director of the pharmaceutical
department. I chose this position because it afforded me the opportunity to work
on natural products, whereas two other job offers from chemical firms in Basel
had involved work in the field of synthetic chemistry.
My doctoral work at Zurich under
Professor Paul Karrer had already given me one chance to pursue my intrest in
plant and animal chemistry. Making use of the gastrointestinal juice of the
vineyard snail, I accomplished the enzymatic degradation of chitin, the
structural material of which the shells, wings, and claws of insects,
crustaceans, and other lower animals are composed. I was able to derive the
chemical structure of chitin from the cleavage product, a nitrogen-containing
sugar, obtained by this degradation. Chitin turned out to be an analogue of
cellulose, the structural material of plants. This important result, obtained
after only three months of research, led to a doctoral thesis rated “with
When I joined the Sandoz firm,
the staff of the pharmaceutical-chemical department was still rather modest in
number. Four chemists with doctoral degrees worked in research, three in
In Stoll’s laboratory I found
employment that completely agreed with me as a research chemist. The objective
that Professor Stoll had set for his pharmaceutical-chemical research
laboratories was to isolate the active principles (i.e., the effective
constituents) of known medicinal plants to produce pure speciments of these
substances. This is particularly important in the case of medicinal plants whose
active principles are unstable, or whose potency is subject to great variation,
which makes an exact dosage difficult. But if the active principle is available
in pure form, it becomes possible to manufacture a stable pharmaceutical
preparation, exactly quantifiable by weight. With this in mind, Professor Stoll
had elected to study plant substances of recognized value such as the substances
from foxglove (Digitalis), Mediterranean squill (Scilla maritima), and ergot of
rye (Claviceps purpurea or Secale cornutum), which, owning to their instability
and uncertain dosage, nevertheless, had been little used in medicine.
My first years in the Sandoz
laboratories were devoted almost exclusively to studying the active principles
of Mediterranean squill. Dr. Walter Kreis, one of Professor Stoll’s earliest
associates, lounched me in this field of research. The most important
constituents of Mediterranean squill already existed in pure form. Their active
agents, as well as those of woolly foxglove (Digitalis lanata), had been
isolated and purified, chiefly by Dr. Kreis, with extraordinary skill.
The active principles of
Mediterranean squill belong to the group of cardioactive glycosides (glycoside =
sugar-containing substance) and serve, as do those of foxglove, in the treatment
of cardiac insufficiency. The cardiac glycosides are extremely active
substances. Because the therapeutic and the toxic doses differ so little, it
becomes especially important here to have an exact dosage, based on pure
At the beginning of my
investigations, a pharmaceutical preparation with Scilla glycosides had already
been introduced into therapeutics by Sandoz; however, the chemical structure of
these active compounds, with the exception of the sugar portion, remained
My main contribution to the
Scilla research, in which I participated with enthusiasm, was to elucidate the
chemical structure of the common nucleus of Scilla glycosides, showing on the
one hand their differences from the Digitalis glycosides, and on the other hand
their close structural relationship with the toxic principles isolated from skin
glands of toads. In 1935, these studies were temporarily concluded.
Looking for a new field of
research, I asked Professor Stoll to let me continue the investigations on the
alkaloids of ergot, which he had begun in 1917 and which had led directly to the
isolation of ergotamine in 1918. Ergotamine, discovered by Stoll, was the first
ergot alkaloid obtained in pure chemical form. Although ergotamine quickly took
a significant place in therapeutics (under the trade name Gynergen) as a
hemostatic remedy in obstetrics and as a medicament in the treatment of
migraine, chemical research on ergot in the Sandoz laboratories was abandoned
after the isolation of ergotamine and the determination of its empirical
formula. Meanwhile, at the beginning of the thirties, English and American
laboratories had begun to determine the chemical structure of ergot alkaloids.
They had also discovered a new, watersoluble ergot alkaloid, which could
likewise be isolated from the mother liquor of ergotamine production. So I
thought it was high time that Sandoz resumed chemical research on ergot
alkaloids, unless we wanted to risk losing our leading role in a field of
medicinal research, which was already becoming so important.
Professor Stoll granted my
request, with some misgivings: “I must warn you of the difficulties you face
in working with ergot alkaloids. These are-exceedingly sensitive, easily
decomposed substances, less stable than any of the compounds you have
investigated in the cardiac glycoside field. But you are welcome to try.”
And so the switches were thrown, and I found myself engaged in a field of study that would become the main theme of my professional career. I have never forgotten the creative joy, the eager anticipation I felt in embarking on the study of ergot alkaloids, at that time a relatively uncharted field of research.
It may be helpful here to give
some background information about ergot itself.[For further information on
ergot, readers should refer to the monographs of G. Barger, Ergot and Ergotism
(Gurney and Jackson, London, 1931) and A. Hofmann, Die Mutterkornalkaloide (F.
Enke Verlag, Stuttgart, 1964). The former is a classical presentation of the
history of the drug, while the latter emphasizes the chemical aspects.] It is
produced by a lower fungus (Claviceps purpurea) that grows parasitically on rye
and, to a lesser extent, on other species of grain and on wild grasses. Kernels
infested with this fungus develop into light-brown to violet-brown curved pegs (sclerotia)
that push forth from the husk in place of normal grains. Ergot is described
botanically as a sclerotium, the form that the ergot fungus takes in winter.
Ergot of rye (Secale cornutum) is
the variety used medicinally.
Ergot, more than any other drug,
has a fascinating history, in the course of which its role and meaning have been
reversed: once dreaded as a poison, in the course of time it has changed to a
rich storehouse of valuable remedies. Ergot first appeared on the stage of
history in the early Middle Ages, as the cause of outbreaks of mass poisonings
affecting thousands of persons at a time. The illness, whose connection with
ergot was for a long time obscure, appeared in two characteristic forms, one
gangrenous (ergotismus gangraenosus) and the other convulsive (ergotismus
convulsivus). Popular names for ergotism — such as “mal des ardents,”
“ignis sacer,” “heiliges Feuer,” or “St. Anthony’s fire” — refer
to the gangrenous form of the disease. The patron saint of ergotism victims was
St. Anthony, and it was primarily the Order of St. Anthony that treated these
Until recent times, epidemic-like
outbreaks of ergot poisoning have been recorded in most European countries
including certain areas of Russia. With progress in agriculture, and since the
realization, in the seventeenth century, that ergot-containing bread was the
cause, the frequency and extent of ergotism epidemics diminished considerably.
The last great epidemic occurred in certain areas of southern Russia in the
years 1926-27. [The mass poisoning in the southern French city of Pont-St.
Esprit in the year 1951, which many writers have attributed to ergot-containing
bread, actually had nothing to do with ergotism. It rather involved poisoning by
an organic mercury compound that was utilized for disinfecting seed.]
The first mention of a medicinal
use of ergot, namely as an ecbolic (a medicament to precipitate childbirth), is
found in the herbal of the Frankfurt city physician Adam Lonitzer (Lonicerus) in
the year 1582. Although ergot, as Lonitzer stated, had been used since olden
times by midwives, it was not until 1808 that this drug gained entry into
academic medicine, on the strength of a work by the American physician John
Stearns entitled Account of the Putvis Parturiens, a Remedy for Quickening
Childbirth. The use of ergot as an ecbolic did not, however, endure.
Practitioners became aware quite early of the great danger to the child, owing
primarily to the uncertainty of dosage, which when too high led to uterine
spasms. From then on, the use of ergot in obstetrics was confined to stopping
postpartum hemorrhage (bleeding after childbirth).
It was not until ergot’s
recognition in various pharmacopoeias during the first half of the nineteenth
century that the first steps were taken toward isolating the active principles
of the drug. However, of all the researchers who assayed this problem during the
first hundred years, not one succeeded in identifying the actual substances
responsible for the therapeutic activity. In 1907, the Englishmen G. Barger and
F. H. Carr were the first to isolate an active alkaloidal preparation, which
they named ergotoxine because it produced more of the toxic than therapeutic
properties of ergot. (This preparation was not homogeneous, but rather a mixture
of several alkaloids, as I was able to show thirty-five years later.)
Nevertheless, the pharmacologist H. H. Dale discovered that ergotoxine, besides
the uterotonic effect, also had an antagonistic activity on adrenaline in the
autonomic nervous system that could lead to the therapeutic use of ergot
alkaloids. Only with the isolation of ergotamine by A. Stoll (as mentioned
previously) did an ergot alkaloid find entry and widespread use in therapeutics.
The early 1930s brought a new era
in ergot research, beginning with the determination of the chemical structure of
ergot alkaloids, as mentioned, in English and American laboratories. By chemical
cleavage, W. A. Jacobs and L. C. Craig of the Rockefeller Institute of New York
succeeded in isolating and characterizing the nucleus common to all ergot
alkaloids. They named it lysergic acid. Then came a major development, both for
chemistry and for medicine: the isolation of the specifically uterotonic,
hemostatic principle of ergot, which was published simultaneously and quite
independently by four institutions, including the Sandoz laboratories. The
substance, an alkaloid of comparatively simple structure, was named ergobasine (syn.
ergometrine, ergonovine) by A. Stoll and E. Burckhardt. By the chemical
degradation of ergobasine, W. A. Jacobs and L. C. Craig obtained lysergic acid
and the amino alcohol propanolamine as cleavage products.
I set as my first goal the
problem of preparing this alkaloid synthetically, through chemical linking of
the two components of ergobasine, lysergic acid and propanolamine (see
structural formulas in the appendix).
The lysergic acid necessary for
these studies had to be obtained by chemical cleavage of some other ergot
alkaloid. Since only ergotamine was available as a pure alkaloid, and was
already being produced in kilogram quantities in the pharmaceutical production
department, I chose this alkaloid as the starting material for my work. I set
about obtaining 0.5 gm of ergotamine from the ergot production people. When I
sent the internal requisition form to Professor Stoll for his countersignature,
he appeared in my laboratory and reproved me: “If you want to work with ergot
alkaloids, you will have to familiarize yourself with the techniques of
microchemistry. I can’t have you consuming such a large amount of my expensive
ergotamine for your experiments.”
The ergot production department,
besides using ergot of Swiss origin to obtain ergotamine, also dealt with
Portuguese ergot, which yielded an amorphous alkaloidal preparation that
corresponded to the aforementioned ergotoxine first produced by Barger and Carr.
I decided to use this less expensive material for the preparation of lysergic
acid. The alkaloid obtained from the production department had to be purified
further, before it would be suitable for cleavage to lysergic acid. Observations
made during the purification process led me to think that ergotoxine could be a
mixture of several alkaloids, rather than one homogeneous alkaloid. I will speak
later of the far-reaching sequelae of these observations.
Here I must digress briefly to
describe the working conditions and techniques that prevailed in those days.
These remarks may be of interest to the present generation of research chemists
in industry, who are accustomed to far better conditions.
We were very frugal. Individual
laboratories were considered a rare extravagance. During the first six years of
my employment with Sandoz, I shared a laboratory with two colleagues. We three
chemists, plus an assistant each, worked in the same room on three different
fields: Dr. Kreiss on cardiac glycosides; Dr. Wiedemann, who joined Sandoz
around the same time as I, on the leaf pigment chlorophyll; and I ultimately on
ergot alkaloids. The laboratory was equipped with two fume hoods (compartments
supplied with outlets), providing less than effective ventilation by gas flames.
When we requested that these hoods be equipped with ventilators, our chief
refused on the ground that ventilation by gas flame had sufficed in
During the last years of World
War I, Professor Stoll had been an assistant in Berlin and Munich to the
world-famous chemist and Nobel laureate Professor Richard Willstatter, and with
him had conducted the fundamental investigations on chlorophyll and the
assimilation of carbon dioxide. There was scarcely a scientific discussion with
Professor Stoll in which he did not mention his revered teacher Professor
Willstatter and his work in Willstatter’s laboratory.
The working techniques available
to chemists in the field of organic chemistry at that time (the beginning of the
thirties) were essentially the same as those employed by Justus von Liebig a
hundred years earlier. The most important development achieved since then was
the introduction of microanalysis by B. Pregl, which made it possible to
ascertain the elemental composition of a compound with only a few milligrams of
specimen, whereas earlier a few centigrams were needed. Of the other
physical-chemical techniques at the disposal of the chemist today — techniques
which have changed his way of working, making it faster and more effective, and
created entirely new possibilities, above all for the elucidation of structure
— none yet existed in those days.
For the investigations of Scilla
glycosides and the first studies in the ergot field, I still used the old
separation and purification techniques from Liebig’s day: fractional
extraction, fractional precipitation, fractional crystallization, and the like.
The introduction of column chromatography, the first important step in modern
laboratory technique, was of great value to me only in later investigations. For
structure determination, which today can be conducted rapidly and elegantly with
the help of spectroscopic methods (UV, IR, NMR) and X-ray crystallography, we
had to rely, in the first fundamental ergot studies, entirely on the old
laborious methods of chemical degradation and derivatization.
Lysergic acid proved to be a
rather unstable substance, and its rebonding with basic radicals posed
difficulties. In the technique knon as Curtius’ Synthesis, I ultimately found
a process that proved useful for combining lysergic acid with amines. With this
method I produced a great number of lysergic acid compounds. By combining
lysergic acid with the amino alcohol propanolamine, I obtained a compound that
was identical to the natural ergot alkaloid ergobasine. With that, the first
synthesis — that is, artificial production — of an ergot alkaloid was
accomplished. This was not only of scientific interest, as confirmation of the
chemical structure of ergobasine, but also of practical significance, because
ergobasine, the specifically uterotonic, hemostatic principle, is present in
ergot only in very trifling quantities. With this synthesis, the other alkaloids
existing abundantly in ergot could now be converted to ergobasine, which was
valuable in obstetrics.
After this first success in the
ergot field, my investigations went forward on two fronts. First, I attempted to
improve the pharmacological properties of ergobasine by variations of its amino
alcohol radical. My colleague Dr. J. Peyer and I developed a process for the
economical production of propanolamine and other amino alcohols. Indeed, by
substitution of the propanolamine contained in ergobasine with the amino alcohol
butanolamine, an active principle was obtained that even surpassed the natural
alkaloid in its therapeutic properties. This improved ergobasine has found
worldwide application as a dependable uterotonic, hemostatic remedy under the
trade name Methergine, and is today the leading medicament for this indication
I further employed my synthetic
procedure to produce new lysergic acid compounds for which uterotonic activity
was not prominent, but from which, on the basis of their chemical structure,
other types of interesting pharmacological properties could be expected. In
1938, I produced the twenty-fifth substance in this series of lysergic acid
derivatives: lysergic acid diethylamide, abbreviated LSD-25 (Lyserg-saure-diathylamid)
for laboratory usage.
I had planned the synthesis of
this compound with the intention of obtaining a circulatory and respiratory
stimulant (an analeptic). Such stimulating properties could be expected for
lysergic acid diethylamide, because it shows similarity in chemical structure to
the analeptic already known at that time, namely nicotinic acid diethylamide (Coramine).
During the testing of LSD-25 in the pharmacological department of Sandoz, whose
director at the time was Professor Ernst Rothlin, a strong effect on the uterus
was established. It amounted to some 70 percent of the activity of ergobasine.
The research report also noted, in passing, that the experimental animals became
restless during the narcosis. The new substance, however, aroused no special
interest in our pharmacologists and physicians; testing was therefore
For the next five years, nothing
more was heard of the substance LSD-25. Meanwhile, my work in the ergot field
advanced further in other areas. Through the purification of ergotoxine, the
starting material for lysergic acid, I obtained, as already mentioned, the
impression that this alkaloidal preparation was not homogeneous, but was rather
a mixture of different substances. This doubt as to the homogeneity of
ergotoxine was reinforced when in its hydrogenation two distinctly different
hydrogenation products were obtained, whereas the homogeneous alkaloid
ergotamine under the same condition yielded only a single hydrogenation product
(hydrogenation = introduction of hydrogen). Extended, systematic analytical
investigations of the supposed ergotoxine mixture led ultimately to the
separation of this alkaloidal preparation into three homogeneous components. One
of the three chemically homogeneous ergotoxine alkaloids proved to be identical
with an alkaloid isolated shortly before in the production department, which A.
Stoll and E. Burckhardt had named ergocristine. The other two alkaloids were
both new. The first I named ergocornine; and for the second, the last to be
isolated, which had long remained hidden in the mother liquor, I chose the name
ergokryptine (kryptos = hidden). Later it was found that ergokryptine occurs in
two isomeric forms, which were differentiated as alfa- and beta-ergokryptine.
The solution of the ergotoxine
problem was not merely scientifically interesting, but also had great practical
significance. A valuable remedy arose from it. The three hydrogenated ergotoxine
alkaloids that I produced in the course of these investigations,
dihydroergocristine, dihydroergokryptine, and dihydroergocornine, displayed
medicinally useful properties during testing by Professor Rothlin in the
pharmacological department. From these three substances, the pharmaceutical
preparation Hydergine was developed, a medicament for improvement of peripheral
circulation and cerebral function in the control of geriatric disorders.
Hydergine has proven to be an effective remedy in geriatrics for these
indications. Today it is Sandoz’s most important pharmaceutical product.
Dihydroergotamine, which I
likewise produced in the course of these investigations, has also found
application in therapeutics as a circulation- and bloodpressure-stabilizing
medicament, under the trade name Dihydergot.
While today research on important
projects is almost exclusively carried out as teamwork, the investigations on
ergot alkaloids described above were conducted by myself alone. Even the further
chemical steps in the evolution of commercial preparations remained in my hands
— that is, the preparation of larger specimens for the clinical trials, and
finally the perfection of the first procedures for mass production of Methergine,
Hydergine, and Dihydergot. This even included the analytical controls for the
development of the first galenical forms of these three preparations: the
ampules, liquid solutions, and tablets. My aides at that time included a
laboratory assistant, a laboratory helper, and later in addition a second
laboratory assistant and a chemical technician.
The solution of the ergotoxine
problem had led to fruitful results, described here only briefly, and had opened
up further avenues of research. And yet I could not forget the relatively
uninteresting LSD-25. A peculiar presentiment — the feeling that this
substance could possess properties other than those established in the first
investigations — induced me, five years after the first synthesis, to produce
LSD-25 once again so that a sample could be given to the pharmacological
department for further tests. This was quite unusual; experimental substances,
as a rule, were definitely stricken from the research program if once found to
be lacking in pharmacological interest.
Nevertheless, in the spring of
1943, I repeated the synthesis of LSD-25. As in the first synthesis, this
involved the production of only a few centigrams of the compound.
In the final step of the
synthesis, during the purification and crystallization of lysergic acid
diethylamide in the form of a tartrate (tartaric acid salt), I was interrupted
in my work by unusual sensations. The following description of this incident
comes from the report that I sent at the time to Professor Stoll:
Last Friday, April 16,1943, I was
forced to interrupt my work in the laboratory in the middle of the afternoon and
proceed home, being affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a
slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant
intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated
imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be
unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic
pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After
some two hours this condition faded away.
This was, altogether, a
remarkable experience — both in its sudden onset and its extraordinary course.
It seemed to have resulted from some external toxic influence; I surmised a
connection with the substance I had been working with at the time, lysergic acid
diethylamide tartrate. But this led to another question: how had I managed to
absorb this material? Because of the known toxicity of ergot substances, I
always maintained meticulously neat work habits. Possibly a bit of the LSD
solution had contacted my fingertips during crystallization, and a trace of the
substance was absorbed through the skin. If LSD-25 had indeed been the cause of
this bizarre experience, then it must be a substance of extraordinary potency.
There seemed to be only one way of getting to the bottom of this. I decided on a
Exercising extreme caution, I
began the planned series of experiments with the smallest quantity that could be
expected to produce some effect, considering the activity of the ergot alkaloids
known at the time: namely, 0.25 mg (mg = milligram = one thousandth of a gram)
of lysergic acid diethylamide tartrate. Quoted below is the entry for this
experiment in my laboratory journal of April 19, 1943.
Here the notes in my
laboratory journal cease. I was able to write the last words only with great
effort. By now it was already clear to me that LSD had been the cause of the
remarkable experience of the previous Friday, for the altered perceptions were
of the same type as before, only much more intense. I had to struggle to speak
intelligibly. I asked my laboratory assistant, who was informed of the
self-experiment, to escort me home. We went by bicycle, no automobile being
available because of wartime restrictions on their use. On the way home, my
condition began to assume threatening forms. Everything in my field of vision
wavered and was distorted as if seen in a curved mirror. I also had the
sensation of being unable to move from the spot. Nevertheless, my assistant
later told me that we had traveled very rapidly. Finally, we arrived at home
safe and sound, and I was just barely capable of asking my companion to summon
our family doctor and request milk from the neighbors.
In spite of my delirious,
bewildered condition, I had brief periods of clear and effective thinking —
and chose milk as a nonspecific antidote for poisoning.
The dizziness and sensation of
fainting became so strong at times that I could no longer hold myself erect, and
had to lie down on a sofa. My surroundings had now transformed themselves in
more terrifying ways. Everything in the room spun around, and the familiar
objects and pieces of furniture assumed grotesque, threatening forrns. They were
in continuous motion, animated, as if driven by an inner restlessness. The lady
next door, whom I scarcely recognized, brought me milk — in the course of the
evening I drank more than two liters. She was no longer Mrs. R., but rather a
malevolent, insidious witch with a colored mask.
Even worse than these demonic
transformations of the outer world, were the alterations that I perceived in
myself, in my inner being. Every exertion of my will, every attempt to put an
end to the disintegration of the outer world and the dissolution of my ego,
seemed to be wasted effort. A demon had invaded me, had taken possession of my
body, mind, and soul. I jumped up and screamed, trying to free myself from him,
but then sank down again and lay helpless on the sofa. The substance, with which
I had wanted to experiment, had vanquished me. It was the demon that scornfully
triumphed over my will. I was seized by the dreadful fear of going insane. I was
taken to another world, another place, another time. My body seemed to be
without sensation, lifeless, strange. Was I dying? Was this the transition? At
times I believed myself to be outside my body, and then perceived clearly, as an
outside observer, the complete tragedy of my situation. I had not even taken
leave of my family (my wife, with our three children had traveled that day to
visit her parents, in Lucerne). Would they ever understand that I had not
experimented thoughtlessly, irresponsibly, but rather with the utmost caution,
and that such a result was in no way foreseeable? My fear and despair
intensified, not only because a young family should lose its father, but also
because I dreaded leaving my chemical research work, which meant so much to me,
unfinished in the midst of fruitful, promising development. Another reflection
took shape, an idea full of bitter irony: if I was now forced to leave this
world prematurely, it was because of this Iysergic acid diethylamide that I
myself had brought forth into the world.
By the time the doctor arrived,
the climax of my despondent condition had already passed. My laboratory
assistant informed him about my selfexperiment, as I myself was not yet able to
formulate a coherent sentence. He shook his head in perplexity, after my
attempts to describe the mortal danger that threatened my body. He could detect
no abnormal symptoms other than extremely dilated pupils. Pulse, blood pressure,
breathing were all normal. He saw no reason to prescribe any medication. Instead
he conveyed me to my bed and stood watch over me. Slowly I came back from a
weird, unfamiliar world to reassuring everyday reality. The horror softened and
gave way to a feeling of good fortune and gratitude, the more normal perceptions
and thoughts returned, and I became more confident that the danger of insanity
was conclusively past.
Now, little by little I could
begin to enjoy the unprecedented colors and plays of shapes that persisted
behind my closed eyes. Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me,
alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and
spirals, exploding in colored fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves
in constant flux. It was particularly remarkable how every acoustic perception,
such as the sound of a door handle or a passing automobile, became transformed
into optical perceptions. Every sound generated a vividly changing image, with
its own consistent form and color.
Late in the evening my wife
returned from Lucerne. Someone had informed her by telephone that I was
suffering a mysterious breakdown. She had returned home at once, leaving the
children behind with her parents. By now, I had recovered myself sufficiently to
tell her what had happened.
Exhausted, I then slept, to awake
next morning refreshed, with a clear head, though still somewhat tired
physically. A sensation of well-being and renewed life flowed through me.
Breakfast tasted delicious and gave me extraordinary pleasure. When I later
walked out into the garden, in which the sun shone now after a spring rain,
everything glistened and sparkled in a fresh light. The world was as if newly
created. All my senses vibrated in a condition of highest sensitivity, which
persisted for the entire day.
This self-experiment showed that
LSD-25 behaved as a psychoactive substance with extraordinary properties and
potency. There was to my knowledge no other known substance that evoked such
profound psychic effects in such extremely low doses, that caused such dramatic
changes in human consciousness and our experience of the inner and outer world.
What seemed even more significant
was that I could remember the experience of LSD inebriation in every detail.
This could only mean that the conscious recording function was not interrupted,
even in the climax of the LSD experience, despite the profound breakdown of the
normal world view. For the entire duration of the experiment, I had even been
aware of participating in an experiment, but despite this recognition of my
condition, I could not, with every exertion of my will, shake off the LSD world.
Everything was experienced as completely real, as alarming reality; alarming,
because the picture of the other, familiar everyday reality was still fully
preserved in the memory for comparison.
Another surprising aspect of LSD
was its ability to produce such a far-reaching, powerful state of inebriation
without leaving a hangover. Quite the contrary, on the day after the LSD
experiment I felt myself to be, as already described, in excellent physical and
I was aware that LSD, a new
active compound with such properties, would have to be of use in pharmacology,
in neurology, and especially in psychiatry, and that it would attract the
interest of concerned specialists. But at that time I had no inkling that the
new substance would also come to be used beyond medical science, as an inebriant
in the drug scene. Since my self-experiment had revealed LSD in its terrifying,
demonic aspect, the last thing I could have expected was that this substance
could ever find application as anything approaching a pleasure drug. I failed,
moreover, to recognize the meaningful connection between LSD inebriation and
spontaneous visionary experience until much later, after further experiments,
which were carried out with far lower doses and under different conditions.
The next day I wrote to Professor
Stoll the abovementioned report about my extraordinary experience with LSD-25
and sent a copy to the director of the pharmacological department, Professor
As expected, the first reaction
was incredulous astonishment. Instantly a telephone call came from the
management; Professor Stoll asked: “Are you certain you made no mistake in the
weighing? Is the stated dose really correct?” Professor Rothlin also called,
asking the same question. I was certain of this point, for I had executed the
weighing and dosage with my own hands. Yet their doubts were justified to some
extent, for until then no known substance had displayed even the slightest
psychic effect in fraction-of-a-milligram doses. An active compound of such
potency seemed almost unbelievable.
Professor Rothlin himself and two
of his colleagues were the first to repeat my experiment, with only one third of
the dose I had utilized. But even at that level, the effects were still
extremely impressive, and quite fantastic. All doubts about the statements in my
report were eliminated.
2. LSD in
Animal Experiments and Biological Research
After the discovery of its
extraordinary psychic effects, the substance LSD-25, which five years earlier
had been excluded from further investigation after the first trials on animals,
was again admitted into the series of experimental preparations. Most of the
fundamental studies on animals were carried out by Dr. Aurelio Cerletti in the
Sandoz pharmacological department, headed by Professor Rothlin.
Before a new active substance can
be investigated in systematic clinical trials with human subjects, extensive
data on its effects and side effects must be determined in pharmacological tests
on animals. These experiments must assay the assimilation and elimination of the
particular substance in organisms, and above all its tolerance and relative
toxicity. Only the most important reports on animal experiments with LSD, and
those intelligible to the layperson, will be reviewed here. It would greatly
exceed the scope of this book if I attempted to mention all the results of
several hundred pharmacological investigations, which have been conducted all
over the world in connection with the fundamental work on LSD in the Sandoz
Animal experiments reveal little
about the mental alterations caused by LSD because psychic effects are scarcely
determinable in lower animals, and even in the more highly developed, they can
be established only to a limited extent. LSD produces its effects above all in
the sphere of the higher and highest psychic and intellectual functions. It is
therefore understandable that speciflc reactions to LSD can be expected only in
higher animals. Subtle psychic changes cannot be established in animals because,
even if they should be occurring, the animal could not give them expression.
Thus, only relatively heavy psychic disturbances, expressing themselves in the
altered behavior of research animals, become discernible. Quantities that are
substantially higher than the effective dose of LSD in human beings are
therefore necessary, even in higher animals like cats, dogs, and apes.
While the mouse under LSD shows
only motor disturbances and alterations in licking behavior, in the cat we see,
besides vegetative symptoms like bristling of the hair (piloerection) and
salivation, indications that point to the existence of hallucinations. The
animals stare anxiously in the air, and instead of attacking the mouse, the cat
leaves it alone or will even stand in fear before the mouse. One could also
conclude that the behavior of dogs that are under the influence of LSD involves
hallucinations. A caged community of chimpanzees reacts very sensitively if a
member of the tribe has received LSD. Even though no changes appear in this
single animal, the whole cage gets in an uproar because the LSD chimpanzee no
longer observes the laws of its finely coordinated hierarchic tribal order.
Of the remaining animal species
on which LSD was tested, only aquarium fish and spiders need be mentioned here.
In the fish, unusual swimming postures were observed, and in the spiders,
alterations in web building were apparently produced by kSD. At very low optimum
doses the webs were even better proportioned and more exactly built than
normally: however, with higher doses, the webs were badly and rudimentarily
The toxicity of LSD has
been determined in various animal species. A standard for the toxicity of a
substance is the LD50, or the median lethal dose, that is, the dose with which
50 percent of the treated animals die. In general it fluctuates broadly,
according to the animal species, and so it is with LSD. The LD50 for the mouse
amounts to 50-60 mgtkg i.v. (that is, 50 to 60 thousandths of a gram of LSD per
kilogram of animal weight upon injection of an LSD solution into the veins). In
the rat the LDso drops to 16.5 mg/kg, and in rabbits to 0.3 mg/kg. One elephant
given 0.297 g of LSD died after a few minutes. The weight of this animal was
determined to be 5,000 kg, which corresponds to a lethal dose of 0.06 mg/kg
(0.06 thousandths of a gram per kilogram of body weight). Because this involves
only a single case, this value cannot be generalized, but we can at least deduce
from it that the largest land animal reacts proportionally very sensitively to
LSD, since the lethal dose in elephants must be some 1,000 times lower than in
the mouse. Most animals die from a lethal dose of LSD by respiratory arrest.
The minute doses that cause death
in animal experiments may give the impression that LSD is a very toxic
substance. However, if one compares the lethal dose in animals with the
effective dose in human beings, which is 0.0003-0.001 mg/kg (0.0003 to 0.001
thousandths of a gram per kilogram of body weight), this shows an
extraordinarily low toxicity for LSD. Only a 300- to 600-fold overdose of LSD,
compared to the lethal dose in rabbits, or fully a 50,000- to 100,000fold
overdose, in comparison to the toxicity in the mouse, would have fatal results
in human beings. These comparisons of relative toxicity are, to be sure, only
understandable as estimates of orders of magnitude, for the determination of the
therapeutic index (that is, the ratio between the effective and the lethal dose)
is only meaningful within a given species. Such a procedure is not possible in
this case because the lethal doge of LSD for humans is not known. To my
knowledge, there have not as yet occurred any casualties that are a direct
consequence of LSD poisoning.
Numerous episodes of fatal
consequences attributed to LSD ingestion have indeed been recorded, but these
were accidents, even suicides, that may be attributed to the mentally
disoriented condition of LSD intoxication. The danger of LSD lies not in its
toxicity, but rather in the unpredictability of its psychic effects.
Some years ago reports appeared
in the scientific literature and also in the lay press, alleging that damage to
chromosomes or the genetic material had been caused by LSD. These effects,
however, have been observed in only a few individual cases. Subsequent
comprehensive investigations of a large, statistically significant number of
cases, however, showed that there was no connection between chromosome anomalies
and LSD medication. The same applies to reports about fetal deformities that had
allegedly been produced by LSD. In animal experiments, it is indeed possible to
induce fetal deformities through extremely high doses of LSD, which lie well
above the doses used in human beings. But under these conditions, even harmless
substances produce such damage. Examination of reported individual cases of
human fetal deformities reveals, again, no connection between LSD use and such
injury. If there had been any such connection, it would long since have
attracted attention, for several million people by now have taken LSD.
LSD is absorbed easily and
completely through the gastrointestinal tract. It is therefore unnecessary to
inject LSD, except for special purposes. Experiments on mice with radioactively
labeled LSD have established that intravenously injected LSD disappeared down to
a small vestige, very rapidly from the bloodstream and was distributed
throughout the organism.
Unexpectedly, the lowest
concentration is found in the brain. It is concentrated here in certain centers
of the midbrain that play a role in the regulation of emotion. Such findings
give indications as to the localization of certain psychic functions in the
The concentration of LSD in the
various organs attains maximum values 10 to 15 minutes after injection, then
falls off again swiftly. The small intestine, in which the concentration attains
the maximum within two hours, constitutes an exception. The elimination of LSD
is conducted for the most part (up to some 80 percent) through the intestine via
liver and bile. Only 1 to 10 percent of the elimination product exists as
unaltered LSD; the remainder is made up of various transformation products.
As the psychic effects of LSD
persist even after it can no longer be detected in the organism, we must assume
that LSD is not active as such, but that it rather triggers certain biochemical,
neurophysiological, and psychic mechanisms that provoke the inebriated condition
and continue in the absence of the active principle.
LSD stimulates centers of the
sympathetic nervous system in the midbrain, which leads to pupillary dilatation,
increase in body temperature, and rise in the blood-sugar level. The
uterine-constricting activity of LSD has already been mentioned.
An especially interesting
pharmacological property of LSD, discovered by J. H. Gaddum in England, is its
serotonin-blocking effect. Serotonin is a hormone-like substance, occurring
naturally in various organs of warm-blooded animals. Concentrated in the
midbrain, it plays an important role in the propagation of impulses in certain
nerves and therefore in the biochemistry of psychic functions. The disruption of
natural functioning of serotonin by LSD was for some time regarded as an
explanation of its psychic effects. However, it was soon shown that even certain
derivatives of LSD (compounds in which the chemical structure of LSD is slightly
modified) that exhibit no hallucinogenic properties, inhibit the effects of
serotonin just as strongly, or yet more strongly, than unaltered LSD. The
serotonin-blocking effect of LSD thus does not suffice to explain its
hallucinogenic properties. LSD also influences neurophysiological functions that
are connected with dopamine, which is, like serotonin, a naturally occurring
hormone-like substance. Most of the brain centers receptive to dopamine become
activated by LSD, while the others are depressed.
As yet we do not know the
biochemical mechanisms through which LSD exerts its psychic effects.
Investigations of the interactions of LSD with brain factors like serotonin and
dopamine, however, are examples of how LSD can serve as a tool in brain
research, in the study of the biochemical processes that underlie the psychic
Chemical Modifications of LSD
When a new type of active
compound is discovered in pharmaceutical-chemical research, whether by isolation
from a plant drug or from animal organs, or through synthetic production as in
the case of LSD, then the chemist attempts, through alterations in its molecular
structure, to produce new compounds with similar, perhaps improved activity, or
with other valuable active properties. We call this process achemical
modification of this type of active substance. Of the approximately 20,000 new
substances that are produced annually in the pharmaceutical-chemical research
laboratories of the world, the overwhelming majority are modification products
of proportionally few types of active compounds. The discovery of a really new
type of active substance — new with regard to chemical structure and
pharmacological effect — is a rare stroke of luck.
Soon after the discovery of the
psychic effects of LSD, two coworkers were assigned to join me in carrying out
the chemical modification of LSD on a broader basis and in further
investigations in the field of ergot alkaloids. The work on the chemical
structure of ergot alkaloids of the peptide type, to which ergotamine and the
alkaloids of the ergotoxine group belong, continued with Dr. Theodor Petrzilka.
Working with Dr. Franz Troxler, I produced a great number of chemical
modifications of LSD, and we attempted to gain further insights into the
structure of lysergic acid, for which the American researchers had already
proposed a structural formula. In 1949 we succeeded in correcting this formula
and specifying the valid structure of this common nucleus of all ergot
alkaloids, including of course LSD.
The investigations of the peptide
alkaloids of ergot led to the complete structural formulas of these substances,
which we published in 1951. Their correctness was confirmed through the total
synthesis of ergotamine, which was realized ten years later in collaboration
with two younger coworkers, Dr. Albert J. Frey and Dr. Hans Ott. Another
coworker, Dr. Paul A. Stadler, was largely responsible for the development of
this synthesis into a process practicable on an industrial scale. The synthetic
production of peptide ergot alkaloids using lysergic acid obtained from special
cultures of the ergot fungus in tanks has great economic importance. This
procedure is used to produce the starting material for the medicaments Hydergine
Now we return to the chemical
modifications of LSD. Many LSD derivatives were produced, since 1945, in
collaboration with’ Dr. Troxler, but none proved hallucinogenically more
active than LSD. Indeed, the very closest relatives proved themselves
essentially less active in this respect.
There are four different
possibilities of spatial arrangement of atoms in the LSD molecule. They are
differentiated in technical language by the prefix isoand the letters D and L.
Besides LSD, which is more precisely designated as D-lysergic acid diethylamide,
I have also produced and likewise tested in selfexperiments the three other
spatially different forms, namely D-isolysergic acid diethylamide (iso-LSD),
L-lysergic acid diethylamide (L-LSD), and L-isolysergic acid diethylamide (L-iso-LSD).
The last three forms of LSD showed no psychic effects up to a dose of 0.5 mg,
which corresponds to a 20-fold quantity of a still distinctly active LSD dose.
A substance very closely related
to LSD, the monoethylamide of lysergic acid (LAE-23), in which an ethyl group is
replaced by a hydrogen atom on the diethylamide residue of LSD, proved to be
some ten times less psychoactive than LSD. The hallucinogenic effect of this
substance is also qualitatively different: it is characterized by a narcotic
component. This narcotic effect is yet more pronounced in lysergic acid amide
(LA-111), in which both ethyl groups of LSD are displaced by hydrogen atoms.
These effects, which I established in comparative self-experiments with LA-111
and LAE-32, were corroborated by subsequent clinical investigations.
Fifteen years later we
encountered lysergic acid amide, which had been produced synthetically for these
investigations, as a naturally occurring active principle of the Mexican magic
drug olotiuhqui. In a later chapter I shall deal more fully with this unexpected
Certain results of the chemical
modification of LSD proved valuable to medicinal research; LSD derivatives were
found that were only weakly or not at all hallucinogenic, but instead exhibited
other effects of LSD to an increased extent. Such an effect of LSD is its
blocking effect on the neurotransmitter serotonin (referred to previously in the
discussion of the pharmacological properties of LSD). As serotonin plays a role
in allergic-inflammatory processes and also in the generation of migraine, a
specific serotonin-blocking substance was of great significance to medicinal
We therefore searched
systematically for LSD derivatives without hallucinogenic effects, but with the
highest possible activity as serotonin blockers. The first such active substance
was found in bromo-LSD, which has become known in medicinal-biological research
under the designation BOL-148. In the course of our investigations on serotonin
antagonists, Dr. Troxler produced in the sequel yet stronger and more
specifically active compounds. The most active entered the medicinal market as a
medicament for the treatment of migraine, under the trademark “Deseril” or,
in English-speaking countries, “Sansert.”
4. Use of LSD
Soon after LSD was tried on
animals, the first systematic investigation of the substance was carried out on
human beings, at the psychiatric clinic of the University of Zurich. Werner A.
Stoll, M.D. (a son of Professor Arthur Stoll), who led this research, published
his results in 1947 in the Schweizer Archiv fur Neurologie und Psychiatrie,
under the title “Lysergsaure-diathylamid, ein Phantastikum aus der
Mutterkorngruppe” [Lysergic acid diethylamide, a phantasticum from the ergot
The tests involved healthy
research subjects as well as schizophrenic patients. The dosages —
substantially lower than in my first self-experiment with 0.25 mg LSD tartrate
— amounted to only 0.02 to 0.13 mg. The emotional state during the LSD
inebriation was here predominantly euphoric, whereas in my experiment the mood
was marked by grave side effects resulting from overdosage and, of course, fear
of the uncertain outcome.
This fundamental publication,
which gave a scientific description of all the basic features of LSD
inebriation, classified the new active principle as a phantas a phantasticum.
However, the question of therapeutic application of LSD remained unanswered. On
the other hand, the report emphasized the extraordinarily high activity of LSD,
which corresponds to the activity of trace substances occurring in the organism
that are considered to be responsible for certain mental disorders. Another
subject discussed in this first publication was the possible application of LSD
as a research tool in psychiatry, which follows from its tremendous psychic
In his paper, W. A. Stoll
also gave a detailed description of his own personal experiment with LSD. Since
this was the first self-experiment published by a psychiatrist, and since it
describes many characteristic features of LSD inebriation, it is interesting to
quote extensively from the report. I warmly thank the author for kind permission
to republish this extract.
At 8 o’clock I took 60 mcg (0.06 milligrams) of LSD. Some 20 minutes later, the first symptoms appeared: heaviness in the limbs, slight atactic (i.e., confused, uncoordinated) symptoms. A subjectively very unpleasant phase of general malaise followed, in parallel with the drop in blood pressure registered by the examiners.
A certain euphoria then set in, though it seemed weaker to me than experiences in an earlier experiment. The ataxia increased, and I went “sailing” around the room with large strides. I felt somewhat better, but was glad to lie down.
Afterward the room was darkened
(dark experiment); there followed an unprecedented experience of unimaginable
intensity that kept increasing in strength. It w as characterized by an
unbelievable profusion of optical hallucinations that appeared and vanished with
great speed, to make way for countless new images. I saw a profusion of circles,
vortices, sparks, showers, crosses, and spirals in constant, racing flux. The
images appeared to stream in on me predominantly from the center of the visual
field, or out of the lower left edge. When a picture appeared in the middle, the
remaining field of vision was simultaneously filled up with a vast number of
similar visions. All were colored: bright, luminous red, yellow, and green
I never managed to linger on any picture. When the supervisor of the experiment emphasized my great fantasies, the richness of my statements, I could only react with a sympathetic smile. I knew, in fact, that I could not retain, much less describe, more than a fraction of the pictures. I had to force myself to give a description. Terms such as “fireworks” or “kaleidoscopic” were poor and inadequate. I felt that I had to immerse myself more and more deeply into this strange and fascinating world, in order to allow the exuberance, the unimaginable wealth, to work on me.
At first, the hallucinations were
elementary: rays, bundles of rays, rain, rings, vortices, loops, sprays, clouds,
etc. Then more highly organized visions also appeared: arches, rows of arches, a
sea of roofs, desert landscapes, terraces, flickering fire, starry skies of
unbelievable splendor. The original, more simple images continued in the midst
of these more highly organized hallucinations. I remember the following images
A succession of towering, Gothic
vaults, an endless choir, of which I could not see the lower portions.
A landscape of skyscrapers,
reminiscent of pictures of the entrance to New York harbor: house towers
staggered behind and beside one another with innumerable rows of windows. Again
the foundation was missing.
A system of masts and ropes,
which reminded me of a reproduction of a painting seen the previous day (the
inside of a circus tent).
An evening sky of an unimaginable
pale blue over the dark roofs of a Spanish city. I had a peculiar feeling of
anticipation, was full of joy and decidedly ready for adventure. All at once the
stars flared up, amassed, and turned to a dense rain of stars and sparks that
streamed toward me. City and sky had disappeared.
I was in a garden, saw brilliant
red, yellow, and green lights falling through a dark trelliswork, an
indescribably joyous experience.
It was significant that all the
images consisted of countless repetitions of the same elements: many sparks,
many circles, many arches, many windows, many fires, etc. I never saw isolated
images, but always duplications of the same image, endlessly repeated.
I felt myself one with all
romanticists and dreamers, thought of E. T. A. Hoffmann, saw the maelstrom of
Poe (even though, at the time I had read Poe, his description seemed
exaggerated). Often I seemed to stand at the pinnacle of artistic experience; I
luxuriated in the colors of the altar of Isenheim, and knew the euphoria and
exultation of an artistic vision. I must also have spoken again and again of
modern art; I thought of abstract pictures, which all at once I seemed to
understand. Then again, there were impressions of an extreme trashiness, both in
their shapes and their color combinations. The most garish, cheap modern lamp
ornaments and sofa pillows came into my mind. The train of thought was
quickened. But I had the feeling the supervisor of the experiment could still
keep up with me. Of course I knew, intellectually, that I was rushing him. At
first I had descriptions rapidly at hand. With the increasingly frenzied pace,
it became impossible to think a thought through to the end. I must have only
started many sentences.
When I tried to restrict myself
to specific subjects, the experiment proved most unsuccessful. My mind would
even focus, in a certain sense, on contrary images: skyscrapers instead of a
church, a broad desert instead of a mountain. I assumed that I had accurately
estimated the elapsed time, but did not take the matter very seriously. Such
questions did not interest me in the slightest.
My state of mind was consciously
euphoric. I enjoyed the condition, was serene, and took a most active interest
in the experience. From time to time I opened my eyes. The weak red light seemed
mysterious, much more than before. The busily writing research supervisor
appeared to me to be very far away. Often I had peculiar bodily sensations: I
believed my hands to be attached to some distant body, but was not certain
whether it was my own.
After termination of the first
dark experiment, I strolled about in the room a bit, was unsure on my legs, and
again felt less well. I became cold and was thankful that the research
supervisor covered me with a blanket. I felt unkempt, unshaven, and unwashed.
The room seemed strange and broad. Later I squatted on a high stool, thinking
all the while that I sat there like a bird on the roost.
The supervisor emphasized my own
wretched appearance. He seemed remarkably graceful. I myself had small, finely
formed hands. As I washed them, it was happening a long way from me, somewhere
down below on the right. It was questionable, but utterly unimportant, whether
they were my own hands.
In the landscape outside, well
known to me, many things appeared to have changed. Besides the hallucinations, I
could now see the real as well. Later this was no longer possible, although I
remained aware that reality was otherwise.
A barracks, and the garage
standing before it to the left, suddenly changed to a landscape of ruins,
shattered to pieces. I saw wall wreckage and projecting beams, inspired
undoubtedly by the memory of the war events in this region.
In a uniform, extensive field, I
kept seeing figures, which I tried to draw, but could get no farther than the
crudest beginnings. I saw an extremely opulent sculptural ornamentation in
constant metamorphosis, in continuous flux. I was reminded of every possible
foreign culture, saw Mexican, Indian motifs. Between a grating of small beams
and tendrils appeared little caricatures, idols, masks, strangely mixed all of a
sudden with childish drawings of people. The tempo was slackened compared to the
The euphoria had now vanished. I
became depressed, especially during the second dark experiment, which followed.
Whereas during the first dark experiment, the hallucinations had alternated with
great rapidity in bright and luminous colors, now blue, violet, and dark green
The movement of larger images was
slower milder, quieter, although even these were composed of finely raining
“elemental dots,” which streamed and whirled about quickly. During the first
dark experiment, the commotion had frequently intruded upon me; now it often led
distinctly away from me into the center of the picture, where a sucking mouth
appeared. I saw grottoes with fantastic erosions and stalactites, reminding me
of the child’s book Im Wunderreiche des Bergkonigs [In the wondrous realm of
the mountain king]. Serene systems of arches rose up. On the right-hand side, a
row of shed roofs suddenly appeared; I thought of an evening ride homeward
during military service. Significantly it involved a homeward ride: there was no
longer anything like departure or love of adventure. I felt protected, enveloped
by motherliness, was in peace. The hallucinations were no longer exciting, but
instead mild and attenuated. Somewhat later I had the feeling of possessing the
same motherly strength. I perceived an inclination, a desire to help, and
behaved then in an exaggeratedly sentimental and trashy manner, where medical
ethics are concerned. I realized this and was able to stop.
But the depressed state of mind
remained. I tried again and again to see bright and joyful images. But to no
avail; only dark blue and green patterns emerged. I longed to imagine bright
fire as in the first dark experiment. And I did see fires; however, they were
sacrificial fires on the gloomy battlement of a citadel on a remote, autumnal
heath. Once I managed to behold a bright ascending multitude of sparks, but at
half-altitude it transformed itself into a group of silently moving spots from a
peacock’s tail. During the experiment I was very impressed that my state of
mind and the type of hallucinations harmonized so consistently and
During the second dark experiment
I observed that random noises, and also noises intentionally produced by the
supervisor of the experiment, provoked simultaneous changes in the optical
impressions (synesthesia). In the same manner, pressure on the eyeball produced
alterations of visual perceptions.
Toward the end of the second dark
experiment, I began to watch for sexual fantasies, which were, however, totally
absent. In no way could I experience sexual desire. I wanted to imagine a
picture of a woman; only a crude modern-primitive sculpture appeared. It seemed
completely unerotic, and its forms were immediately replaced by agitated circles
After the second dark experiment
I felt benumbed and physically unwell. I perspired, was exhausted. I was
thankful not to have to go to the cafeteria for lunch. The laboratory assistant
who brought us the food appeared to me small and distant, of the same remarkable
daintiness as the supervisor of the experiment.
Sometime around 3:00 P.M. I felt
better, so that the supervisor could pursue his work. With some effort I managed
to take notes myself. I sat at the table, wanted to read, but could not
concentrate. Once I seemed to myself like a shape from a surrealistic picture,
whose limbs were not connected with the body, but were rather painted somewhere
close by.... I was depressed and thought with interest of the possibility of
suicide. With some terror I apprehended that such thoughts were remarkably
familiar to me. It seemed singularly self-evident that a depressed person
On the way home and in the
evening I was again euphoric, brimming with the experiences of the morning. I
had experienced unexpected, impressive things. It seemed to me that a great
epoch of my life had been crowded into a few hours. I was tempted to repeat the
The next day I was careless in my
thinking and conduct, had great trouble concentrating, was apathetic…. The
casual, slightly dream-like condition persisted into the afternoon. I had great
trouble reporting in any organized way on a simple problem. I felt a growing
general weariness, an increasing awareness that I had now returned to everyday
The second day after the
experiment brought an irresolute state.... Mild, but distinct depression was
experienced during the following week, a feeling which of course could be
related only indirectly to LSD.
The picture of the activity
of LSD obtained from these first investigations was not new to science. It
largely matched the commonly held view of mescaline, an alkaloid that had been
investigated as early as the turn of the century. Mescaline is the psychoactive
constituent of a Mexican cactus Lophophora williamsii (syn. Anhalonium lewinii).
This cactus has been eaten by American Indians ever since pre-Columbian times,
and is still used today as a sacred drug in religious ceremonies. In his
monograph Phantastica (Verlag Georg Stilke, Berlin, 1924), L. Lewin has amply
described the history of this drug, called peyotl by the Aztecs. The alkaloid
mescaline was isolated from the cactus by A. Heffter in 1896, and in 1919 its
chemical structure was elucidated and it was produced synthetically by E. Spath.
It was the first hallucinogen or phantasticum (as this type of active compound
was described by Lewin) to become available as a pure substance, permitting the
study of chemically induced changes of sensory perceptions, mental illusions
(hallucinations), and alterations of consciousness. In the 1920s extended
experiments with mescaline were carried out on animal and human subjects and
described comprehensively by K. Beringer in his book Der Meskalinrausch (Verlag
Julius Springer, Berlin, 1927). Because these investigations failed to indicate
any applications of mescaline in medicine, interest in this active substance
With the discovery of LSD,
hallucinogen research received a new impetus. The novelty of LSD as opposed to
mescaline was its high activity, lying in a different order of magnitude. The
active dose of mescaline, 0.2 to 0.5 g, is comparable to 0.00002 to 0.0001 g of
LSD; in other words, LSD is some 5,000 to 10,000 times more active than
LSD’s unique position among the
psychopharmaceuticals is not only due to its high activity, in a quantitative
sense. The substance also has qualitative significance: it manifests a high
specificity, that is, an activity aimed specifically at the human psyche. It can
be assumed, therefore, that LSD affects the highest control centers of the
psychic and intellectual functions.
The psychic effects of LSD, which
are produced by such minimal quantities of material, are too meaningful and too
multiform to be explained by toxic alterations of brain function. If LSD acted
only through a toxic effect on the brain, then LSD experiences would be entirely
psychopathological in meaning, without any psychological or psychiatric
interest. On the contrary, it is likely that alterations of nerve conductivity
and influence on the activity of nerve connections (synapses), which have been
experimentally demonstrated, play an important role. This could mean that an
influence is being exerted on the extremely complex system of cross-connections
and synapses between the many billions of brain cells, the system on which the
higher psychic and intellectual functions depend. This would be a promising area
to explore in the search for an explanation of LSD’s radical efficacy.
The nature of LSD’s activity
could lead to numerous possibilities of medicinal-psychiatric uses, as W. A.
Stoll’s ground-breaking studies had already shown. Sandoz therefore made the
new active substance available to research institutes and physicians as an
experimental drug, giving it the trade name Delysid (D-Lysergsaure-diathylamid)
which I had proposed. The printed prospectus below describes possible
applications of this kind and voices the necessary precautions.
Delysid (LSD 25)
D-lysergic acid diethylamide
Sugar-coated tablets containing
0.025 mg. (25 mircog.)
Ampoules of 1 ml. containing 0.1
mg. (100 microg.) for oral administration.
The solution may also be injected
s.c. or i.v. The effect is identical with that of oral administration but sets
in more rapidly.
The administration of very small
doses of Delysid (1/2-2 microg./kg. body weight) results in transitory
disturbances of affect, hallucinations, depersonalization, reliving of repressed
memories, and mild neurovegetative symptoms. The effect sets in after 30 to 90
minutes and generally lasts 5 to 12 hours. However, intermittent disturbances of
affect may occasionally persist for several days.
METHOD OF ADMINISTRATION
For oral administration the
contents of 1 ampoule of Delysid are diluted with distilled water, a 1% solution
of tartaric acid or halogen-free tap water.
The absorption of the solution is
somewhat more rapid and more constant than that of the tablets.
Ampoules which have not been
opened, which have been protected against light and stored in a cool place are
stable for an unlimited period. Ampoules which have been opened or diluted
solutions retain their effectiveness for 1 to 2 days, if stored in a
INDICATIONS AND DOSAGE
a) Analytical psychotherapy, to
elicit release of repressed material and provide mental relaxation, particularly
in anxiety states and obsessional neuroses.
The initial dose is 25 microg.
(1/4 of an ampoule or 1 tablet). This dose is increased at each treatment by 25
microg. until the optimum dose (usually between 50 and 200 microg.) is found.
The individual treatments are best given at intervals of one week.
b) Experimental studies on the
nature of psychoses: By taking Delysid himself, the psychiatrist is able to gain
an insight into the world of ideas and sensations of mental patients. Delysid
can also be used to induce model psychoses of short duration in normal subjects,
thus facilitating studies on the pathogenesis of mental disease.
In normal subjects, doses of 25
to 75 microg. are generally sufficient
to produce a hallucinatory psychosis (on an average
1 microg./kg. body weight). In
certain forms of psychosis and in chronic alcoholism, higher doses are necessary
(2 to 4 microg./kg. body weight).
Pathological mental conditions
may be intensified by Delysid. Particular caution is necessary in subjects with
a suicidal tendency and in those cases where a psychotic development appears
imminent. The psycho-affective liability and the tendency to commit impulsive
acts may occasionally last for some days.
Delysid should only be
administered under strict medical supervision. The supervision should not be
discontinued until the effects of the drug have completely worn off.
The mental effects of Delysid can
be rapidly reversed by the i.m. administration of 50 mg. chlorpromazine.
Literature available on request.
SANDOZ LTD., BASLE, SWITZERLAND
The use of LSD in analytical
psychotherapy is based mainly on the following psychic effects.
In LSD inebriation the accustomed
worldview undergoes a deep-seated transformation and disintegration. Connected
with this is a loosening or even suspension of the I-you barrier. Patients who
are bogged down in an egocentric problem cycle can thereby be helped to release
themselves from their fixation and isolation. The result can be an improved
rapport with the doctor and a greater susceptibility to psychotherapeutic
influence. The enhanced suggestibility under the influence of LSD works toward
the same goal.
psychotherapeutically valuable characteristic of LSD inebriation is the tendency
of long forgotten or suppressed contents of experience to appear again in
consciousness. Traumatic events, which are sought in psychoanalysis, may then
become accessible to psychotherapeutic treatment. Numerous case histories tell
of experiences from even the earliest childhood that were vividly recalled
during psychoanalysis under the influence of LSD. This does not involve an
ordinary recollection, but rather a true reliving; not a reminiscence, but
rather a reviviscence, as the French psychiatrist Jean Delay has formulated it.
LSD does not act as a true
medicament; rather it plays the role of a drug aid in the context of
psychoanalytic and psychotherapeutic treatment and serves to channel the
treatment more effectively and to shorten its duration. It can fulfill this
function in two particular ways.
In one procedure, which was
developed in European clinics and given the name psychotytic therapy, moderately
strong doses of LSD are administered in several successive sessions at regular
intervals. Subsequently the LSD experiences are worked out in group discussions,
and in expression therapy by drawing and painting. The term psycholytic therapy
was coined by Ronald A. Sandison, an English therapist of Jungian orientation
and a pioneerof clinical LSD research. The root -lysis or -lytic signifies the
dissolution of tension or conflicts in the human psyche.
In a second procedure, which is
the favored treatment in the United States, a single, very high LSD dose (0.3 to
0.6 mg) is administered after correspondingly intensive psychological
preparation of the patients. This method, described as psychedelic therapy,
attempts to induce a mystical-religious experience through the shock effects of
LSD. This experience can then serve as a starting point for a restructuring and
curing of the patient’s personality in the accompanying psychotherapeutic
treatment. The term psychedelic, which can be translated as
“mind-manifesting” or “mind-expanding,” was introduced by Humphry Osmond,
a pioneer of LSD research in the United States.
LSD’s apparent benefits as a
drug auxiliary in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy are derived from properties
diametrically opposed to the effects of tranquilizer-type psychopharmaceuticals.
Whereas tranquilizers tend to cover up the patient’s problems and conflicts,
reducing their apparent gravity and importance: LSD, on the contrary, makes them
more exposed and more intensely experienced. This clearer recognition of
problems and conflicts makes them, in turn, more susceptible to
The suitability and success of
LSD in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy are still a subject of controversy in
professional circles. The same could be said, however, of other procedures
employed in psychiatry such as electroshock, insulin therapy, or psychosurgery,
procedures that entail, moreover, a far greater risk than the use of LSD, which
under suitable conditions can be considered practically safe.
Because forgotten or repressed
experiences, under the influence of LSD, may become conscious with considerable
speed, the treatment can be correspondingly shortened. To some psychiatrists,
however, this reduction of the therapy’s duration is a disadvantage. They are
of the opinion that this precipitation leaves the patient insufficient time for
psychotherapeutic working-through. The therapeutic effect they believe, persists
for a shorter time than when there is a gradual treatment, including a slow
process of becoming conscious of the traumatic experiences.
Psycholytic and especially
psychedelic therapy require thorough preparation of the patient for the LSD
experience, to avoid his or her being frightened by the unusual and the
unfamiliar. Only then is a positive interpretation of the experience possible.
The selection of patients is also important, since not all types of psychic
disturbance respond equally well to these msthods of treatment. Successful use
of LSD-assisted psychoanalysis and psychotherapy presupposes speclflc knowledge
In this respect self-examination
by psychiatrists, as W. A. Stoll has pointed out, can be most useful. They
provide the doctors with direct insight, based on firsthand experience into the
strange world of LSD inebriation, and make it possible for them truly to
understand these phenomena in their patients, to interpret them properly, and to
take full advantage of them. The following pioneers in use of LSD as a drug aid
in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy deserve to be named in the front rank: A. K.
Busch and W. C. Johnson, S. Cohen and B. Eisner, H. A. Abramson, H. Osmond, and
A. Hoffer in the United States; R. A. Sandison in England; W. Frederking and H.
Leuner in Germany; and G. Roubicek and S. Grof in Czechoslovakia.
The second indication for LSD
cited in the Sandoz prospectus on Delysid concerns its use in experimental
investigations on the nature of psychoses. This arises from the fact that
extraordinary psychic states experimentally produced by LSD in healthy research
subjects are similar to many manifestations of certain mental disturbances. In
the early days of LSD research, it was often claimed that LSD inebriation has
something to do with a type of “model psychosis.” This idea was dismissed,
however, because extended comparative investigations showed that there were
essential differences between the manifestations of psychosis and the LSD
experience. With the LSD model, nevertheless, it is possible to study deviations
from the normal psychic and mental condition, and to observe the biochemical and
electrophysiological alterations associated with them. Perhaps we shall thereby
gain new insights into the nature of psychoses. According to certain theories,
various mental disturbances could be produced by psychotoxic metabolic products
that have the power, even in minimal quantities, to alter the functions of brain
cells. LSD represents a substance that certainly does not occur in the human
organism, but whose existence and activity let it seem possible that abnormal
metabolic products could exist, that even in trace quantities could produce
mental disturbances. As a result, the conception of a biochemical origin of
certain mental disturbances has received broader support, and research in this
direction has been stimulated.
One medicinal use of LSD that
touches on fundamental ethical questions is its administration to the dying.
This practice arose from observations in American clinics that especially severe
painful conditions of cancer patients, which no longer respond to conventional
pain-relieving medication, could be alleviated or completely abolished by LSD.
Of course, this does not involve an analgesic effect in the true sense. The
diminution of pain sensitivity may rather occur because patients under the
influence of LSD are psychologically so dissociated from their bodies that
physical pain no longer penetrates their consciousness. In order for LSD to be
effective in such cases, it is especially crucial that patients be prepared and
instructed about the kind of experiences and transformations that await them. In
many cases it has proved beneficial for either a member of the clergy or a
psychotherapist to guide the patient’s thoughts in a religious direction.
Numerous case histories tell of patients who gained meaningful insights about
life and death on their deathbeds as, freed from pain in LSD ecstasy and
reconciled to their fate, they faced their earthly demise fearlessly and in
The hitherto existing knowledge
about the administration of LSD to the terminally ill has been summarized and
published by S. Grof and J. Halifax in their book The Human Encounter with Death
(E. P. Dutton, New York, 1977). The authors, together with E. Kast, S. Cohen,
and W. A. Pahnke, are among the pioneers of this application of LSD.
The most recent comprehensive
publication on the use of LSD in psychiatry, Realms of the Human Unconscious:
Observations from LSD Research (The Viking Press, New York, 1975), likewise
comes from S. Grof, the Czech psychiatrist who has emigrated to the United
States. This book offers a critical evaluation of the LSD experience from the
viewpoint of Freud and Jung, as well as of existential analysis.
Remedy to Inebriant
During the first years
after its discovery, LSD brought me the same happiness and gratification that
any pharmaceutical chemist would feel on learning that a substance he or she
produced might possibly develop into a valuable medicament. For the creation of
new remedies is the goal of a pharmaceutical chemist’s research activity;
therein lies the meaning of his or her work.
This joy at having fathered
LSD was tarnished after more than ten years of uninterrupted scientific research
and medicinal use when LSD was swept up in the huge wave of an inebriant mania
that began to spread over the Western world, above all the United States, at the
end of the 1950s. It was strange how rapidly LSD adopted its new role as
inebriant and, for a time, became the number-one inebriating drug, at least as
far as publicity was concerned. The more its use as an inebriant was
disseminated, bringing an upsurge in the number of untoward incidents caused by
careless, medically unsupervised use, the more LSD became a problem child for me
and for the Sandoz firm.
It was obvious that a substance
with such fantastic effects on mental perception and on the experience of the
outer and inner world would also arouse interest outside medical science, but I
had not expected that LSD, with its unfathomably uncanny, profound effects, so
unlike the character of a recreational drug, would ever find worldwide use as an
inebriant. I had expected curiosity and interest on the part of artists outside
of medicine — performers, painters, and writers — but not among people in
general. After the scientific publications around the turn of the century on
mescaline — which, as already mentioned, evokes psychic effects quite like
those of LSD — the use of this compound remained confined to medicine and to
experiments within artistic and literary circles. I had expected the same fate
for LSD. And indeed, the first non-medicinal self-experiments with LSD were
carried out by writers, painters, musicians, and other intellectuals.
LSD sessions had reportedly
provoked extraordinary aesthetic experiences and granted new insights into the
essence of the creative process. Artists were influenced in their creative work
in unconventional ways. A particular type of art developed that has become known
as psychedelic art. It comprises creations produced under the influenced of LSD
and other psychedelic drugs, whereby the drugs acted as stimulus and source of
inspiration. The standard publication in this field is the book by Robert E. L.
Masters and Jean Houston, Psychedelic Art (Balance House, 1968). Works of
psychedelic art are not created while the drug is in effect, but only afterward,
the artist being inspired by these experiences. As long as the inebriated
condition lasts, creative activity is impeded, if not completely halted. The
influx of images is too great and is increasing too rapidly to be portrayed and
fashioned. An overwhelming vision paralyzes activity. Artistic productions
arising directly from LSD inebriation, therefore, are mostly rudimentary in
character and deserve consideration not because of their artistic merit, but
because they are a type of psychoprogram, which offers insight into the deepest
mental structures of the artist, activated and made conscious by LSD. This was
demonstrated later in a large-scale experiment by the Munich psychiatrist
Richard P. Hartmann, in which thirty famous painters took part. He published the
results in his book Mlerei aus Bereichen des Unbewussten: Kunstler
Experimentieren unter LSD [Painting from spheres of the unconscious: artists
experiment with LSD], Verlag M. Du Mont Schauberg, Cologne, 1974).
LSD experiments also gave new
impetus to exploration into the essence of religious and mystical experience.
Religious scholars and philosophers discussed the question whether the religious
and mystical experiences often discovered in LSD sessions were genuine, that is,
comparable to spontaneous mysticoreligious enlightenment.
This non-medicinal yet earnest
phase of LSD research, at times in parallel with medicinal research, at times
following it, was increasingly overshadowed at the beginning of the 1960s, as
LSD use spread with epidemic-like speed through all social classes, as a
sensational inebriating drug, in the course of the inebriant mania in the United
States. The rapid rise of drug use, which had its beginning in this country
about twenty years ago, was not, however, a consequence of the discovery of LSD,
as superficial observers often declared. Eather it had deep-seated sociological
causes: materialism, alienation from nature through industrialization and
increasing urbanization, lack of satisfaction in professional employment in a
mechanized, lifeless working world, ennui and purposelessness in a wealthy,
saturated society, and lack of a religious, nurturing, and meaningful
philosophical foundation of life.
The existence of LSD was even
regarded by the drug enthusiasts as a predestined coincidence — it had to be
discovered precisely at this time in order to bring help to people suffering
under the modern conditions. It is not surprising that LSD first came into
circulation as an inebriating drug in the United States, the country in which
industrialization, urbanization, and mechanization, even of agriculture, are
most broadly advanced. These are the same factors that have led to the origin
and growth of the hippie movement that developed simultaneously with the LSD
wave. The two cannot be dissociated. It would be worth investigating to what
extent the consumption of psychedelic drugs furthered the hippie movement and
The spread of LSD from medicine
and psychiatry into the drug scene was introduced and expedited by publications
on sensational LSD experiments that, although they were carried out in
psychiatric clinics and universities, were not then reported in scientific
journals, but rather in magazines and daily papers, greatly elaborated.
Reporters made themselves available as guinea pigs. Sidney Katz, for example,
participated in an LSD experiment in the Saskatchewan Hospital in Canada under
the supervision of noted psychiatrists; his experiences, however, were not
published in a medical journal. Instead, he described them in an article
entitled “My Twelve Hours as a Madman” in his magazine MacLean’s Canada
National Magazine, colorfully illustrated in fanciful fullness of detail. The
widely distributed German magazine Quick, in its issue number 12 of 21 March
1954, reported a sensational eyewitness account on “Ein kuhnes
wissenschaftliches Experiment” [a daring scientific experiment] by the painter
Wilfried Zeller, who took “a few drops of lysergic acid” in the Viennese
University Psychiatric Clinic. Of the numerous publications of this type that
have made effective lay propaganda for LSD, it is sufficient to cite just one
more example: a large-scale, illustrated article in Look magazine of September
1959. Entitled “The Curious Story Behind the New Cary Grant,” it must have
contributed enormously to the diffusion of LSD consumption. The famous movie
star had received LSD in a respected clinic in California, in the course of a
psychotherapeutic treatment. He informed the Look reporter that he had sought
inner peace his whole life long, but yoga, hypnosis, and mysticism had not
helped him. Only the treatment with LSD had made a new, selfstrengthened man out
of him, so that after three frustrating marriages he now believed himself really
able to love and make a woman happy.
The evolution of LSD from remedy
to inebriating drug was, however, primarily promoted by the activities of Dr.
Timothy Leary and Dr. Richard Alpert of Harvard University. In a later section I
will come to speak in more detail about Dr. Leary and my meetings with this
personage who has become known worldwide as an apostle of LSD.
Books also appeared on the U.S.
market in which the fantastic effects of LSD were reported more fully. Here only
two of the most important will be mentioned: Exploring I nner Space by Jane
Dunlap (Harcourt Brace and World,
New York, 1961) and My Self and I
by Constance A. Newland (N A.L. Signet
Books, New York, 1963). Although
in both cases LSD was used within the scope of a psychiatric treatment, the
authors addressed their books, which became bestsellers, to the broad public. In
her book, subtitled “The Intimate and Completely Frank Record of One Woman’s
Courageous Experiment with Psychiatry’s Newest Drug, LSD 25,” Constance A.
Newland described in intimate detail how she had been cured of frigidity. After
such avowals, one can easily imagine that many people would want to try the
wondrous medicine for themselves. The mistaken opinion created by such reports
— that it would be sufficient simply to take LSD in order to accomplish such
miraculous effects and transformations in oneself — soon led to broad
diffusion of self-experimentation with the new drug.
Objective, informative books
about LSD and its problems also appeared, such as the excellent work by the
psychiatrist Dr. Sidney Cohen, The Beyond Within (Atheneum, New York, 1967), in
which the dangers of careless use are clearly exposed. This had, however, no
power to put a stop to the LSD epidemic.
As LSD experiments were often
carried out in ignorance of the uncanny, unforeseeable, profound effects, and
without medical supervision, they frequently came to a bad end. With increasing
LSD consumption in the drug scene, there came an increase in “horror trips”
— LSD experiments that led to disoriented conditions and panic, often
resulting in accidents and even crime.
The rapid rise of nonmedicinal
LSD consumption at the beginning of the 1960s was also partly attributable to
the fact that the drug laws then current in most countries did not include LSD.
For this reason, drug habitues changed from the legally proscribed narcotics to
the still-legal substance LSD. Moreover, the last of the Sandoz patents for the
production of LSD expired in 1963, removing a further hindrance to illegal
manufacture of the drug.
The rise of LSD in the drug scene
caused our firm a nonproductive, laborious
burden. National control
laboratories and health authorities requested statements from us about chemical
and pharmacological properties, stability and toxicity of LSD, and analytical
methods for its detection in confiscated drug samples, as well as in the human
body, in blood and urine. This brought a voluminous correspondence, which
expanded in connection with inquiries from all over the world about accidents,
poisonings, criminal acts, and so forth, resulting from misuse of LSD. All this
meant enormous, unprofitable difficulties, which the business management of
Sandoz regarded with disapproval. Thus it happened one day that Professor Stoll,
managing director of the firm at the time, said to me reproachfully: “I would
rather you had not discovered LSD.”
At that time, I was now and again
assailed by doubts whether the valuable pharmacological and psychic effects of
LSD might be outweighed by its dangers and by possible injuries due to misuse.
Would LSD become a blessing for humanity, or a curse? This I often asked myself
when I thought about my problem child. My other preparations, Methergine,
Dihydroergotamine, and Hydergine, caused me no such problems and difficulties.
They were not problem children; lacking extravagant properties leading to
misuse, they have developed in a satisfying manner into therapeutically valuable
The publicity about LSD attained
its high point in the years 1964 to 1966, not
only with regard to enthusiastic
claims about the wondrous effects of LSD by drug fanatics and hippies, but also
to reports of accidents, mental breakdowns, criminal acts, murders, and suicide
under the influence of LSD. A veritable LSD hysteria reigned.
In view of this situation,
the management of Sandoz was forced to make a public statement on the LSD
problem and to publish accounts of the corresponding measures that had been
taken. The pertinent letter, dated 23 August 1965, by Dr. A. Cerletti, at the
time director of the Pharmaceutical Department of Sandoz, is reproduced below:
Decision Regarding LSD 25
and Other Hallucinogenic Substances
More than twenty years have
elapsed since the discovery by Albert Hofmann of LSD 25 in the SANDOZ
Laboratories. Whereas the fundamental importance of this discovery may be
assessed by its impact on the development of modern psychiatric research, it
must be recognized that it placed a heavy burden of responsibility on SANDOZ,
the owner of this product.
The finding of a new chemical
with outstanding biological properties, apart from the scientific success
implied by its synthesis, is usually the first
decisive step toward profitable development of a new drug. In the case of LSD,
however, it soon became clear that, despite the outstanding properties of this
compound, or rather because of the very nature of these qualities, even though
LSD was fully protected by SANDOZ-owned patents since the time of its first
synthesis in 1938, the usual means of practical exploitation could not be
envisaged. On the other hand, all the evidence obtained following the initial
studies in animals and humans carried out in the SANDOZ research laboratories
pointed to the important role that this substance could play as an
investigational tool in neurological research and in psychiatry.
It was therefore decided to make
LSD available free of charge to qualified experimental and clinical
investigators all over the world. This broad research approach was assisted by
the provision of any necessary technical aid and in many instances also by
An enormous amount of scientific
documents, published mainly in the international biochemical and medical
literature and systematically listed in the “SANDOZ Bibliography on LSD” as
well as in the “Catalogue of Literature on Delysid” periodically edited by
SANDOZ, gives vivid proof of what has been achieved by following this line of
policy over nearly two decades. By exercising this kind of “nobile offlcium”
in accordance with the highest standards of medical ethics with all kinds of
self-imposed precautions and restrictions, it was possible for many years to
avoid the danger of abuse (i.e., use by people neither competent nor qualifled),
which is always inherent in a compound with exceptional CNS activity.
In spite of all our precautions,
cases of LSD abuse have occurred from time to time in varying circumstances
completely beyond the control of SANDOZ. Very recently this danger has increased
considerably and in some parts of the world has reached the scale of a serious
threat to public health. This state of affairs has now reached a critical point
for the following reasons: (1) A worldwide spread of misconceptions of LSD has
been caused by an increasing amount of publicity aimed at provoking an active
interest in laypeople by means of sensational stories and statements; (2) In
most countries no adequate legislation exists to control and regulate the
production and distribution of substances like LSD; (3) The problem of
availability of LSD, once limited on technical grounds, has fundamentally
changed with the advent of mass production of lysergic acid by fermentation
procedures. Since the last patent on LSD expired in 1963, it is not surprising
to find that an increasing number of dealers in fine chemicals are offering LSD
from unknown sources at the high price known to be paid by LSD fanatics.
Taking into consideration all the
above-mentioned circumstances and the flood of requests for LSD which has now
become uncontrollable, the pharmaceutical management of SANDOZ has decided to
stop immediately all further production and distribution of LSD. The same policy
will apply to all derivatives or analogues of LSD with hallucinogenic properties
as well as to Psilocybin, Psilocin, and their hallucinogenic congeners.
For a while the
distribution of LSD and psilocybin was stopped completely by Sandoz. Most
countries had subsequently proclaimed strict regulations concerning possession,
distribution, and use of hallucinogens, so that physicians, psychiatric clinics,
and research institutes, if they could produce a special permit to work with
these substances from the respective national health authorities, could again be
supplied with LSD and psilocybin. In the United States the National Institute of
Mental Health (NIMH) undertook the distribution of these agents to licensed
All these legislative and
official precautions, however, had little influence on LSD consumption in the
drug scene, yet on the other hand hindered and continue to hinder
medicinal-psychiatric use and LSD research in biology and neurology, because
many researchers dread the red tape that is connected with the procurement of a
license for the use of LSD. The bad reputation of LSD — its depiction as an
“insanity drug” and a “satanic invention” — constitutes a further
reason why many doctors shunned use of LSD in their psychiatric practice.
In the course of recent years the
uproar of publicity about LSD has quieted, and the consumption of LSD as an
inebriant has also diminished, as far as that can be concluded from the rare
reports about accidents and other regrettable occurrences following LSD
ingestion. It may be that the decrease of LSD accidents, however, is not simply
due to a decline in LSD consumption. Possibly the recreational users, with time,
have become more aware of the particular effects and dangers of LSD and more
cautious in their use of this drug. Certainly LSD, which was for a time
considered in the Western world, above all in the United States, to be the
number-one inebriant, has relinquished this leading role to other inebriants
such as hashish and the habituating, even physically destructive drugs like
heroin and amphetamine. The last-mentioned drugs represent an alarrning
sociological and public health problem today.
While professional use of
LSD in psychiatry entails hardly any risk, the ingestion of this substance
outside of medical practice, without medical supervision, is subject to
multifarious dangers. These dangers reside, on the one hand, in external
circumstances connected with illegal drug use and, on the other hand, in the
peculiarity of LSD’s psychic effects.
The advocates of uncontrolled,
free use of LSD and other hallucinogens base their attitude on two claims: (l)
this type of drug produces no addiction, and (2) until now no danger to health
from moderate use of hallucinogens has been demonstrated. Both are true. Genuine
addiction, characterized by the fact that psychic and often severe physical
disturbances appear on withdrawal of the drug, has not been observed, even in
cases in which LSD was taken often and over a long period of time. No organic
injury or death as a direct consequence of an LSD intoxication has yet been
reported. As discussed in greater detail in the chapter “LSD in Animal
Experiments and Biological Research,” LSD is actually a relatively nontoxic
substance in proportion to its extraordinarily high psychic activity.
Like the other
hallucinogens, however, LSD is dangerous in an entirely different sense. While
the psychic and physical dangers of the addicting narcotics, the opiates,
amphetamines, and so forth, appear only with chronic use, the possible danger of
LSD exists in every single experiment. This is because severe disoriented states
can appear during any LSD inebriation. It is true that through careful
preparation of the experiment and the experimenter such episodes can largely be
avoided, but they cannot be excluded with certainty. LSD crises resemble
psychotic attacks with a manic or depressive character.
In the manic, hyperactive
condition, the feeling of omnipotence or invulnerability can lead to serious
casualties. Such accidents have occurred when inebriated persons confused in
this way — believing themselves to be invulnerable — walked in front of a
moving automobile or jumped out a window in the belief that they were able to
fly. This type of LSD casualty, however, is not so common as one might be led to
think on the basis of reports that were sensationally exaggerated by the mass
media. Nevertheless, such reports must serve as serious warnings.
On the other hand, a report that
made the rounds worldwide, in 1966, about an alleged murder committed under the
influence on LSD, cannot be true. The suspect, a young man in New York accused
of having killed his mother-in-law, explained at his arrest, immediately after
the fact, that he knew nothing of the crime and that he had been on an LSD trip
for three days. But an LSD inebriation, even with the highest doses, lasts no
longer than twelve hours, and repeated ingestion leads to tolerance, which means
that extra doses are ineffective. Besides, LSD inebriation is characterized by
the fact that the person remembers exactly what he or she has experienced.
Presumably the defendant in this case expected leniency for extenuating
circumstances, owing to unsoundness of mind.
The danger of a psychotic
reaction is especially great if LSD is given to someone without his or her
knowledge. This was demonstrated in an episode that took place soon after the
discovery of LSD, during the first investigations with the new substance in the
Zurich University Psychiatric Clinic, when people were not yet aware of the
danger of such jokes. A young doctor, whose colleagues had slipped LSD into his
coffee as a lark, wanted to swim across Lake Zurich during the winter at
–20ºC (-4ºF) and had to be prevented by force.
There is a different danger when
the LSD-induced disorientation exhibits a depressive rather than manic
character. In the course of such an LSD experiment, frightening visions, death
agony, or the fear of becoming insane can lead to a threatening psychic
breakdown or even to suicide. Here the LSD trip becomes a “horror trip.”
The demise of a Dr. Olson, who
had been given LSD without his knowledge in the course of U.S. Army drug
experiments, and who then committed suicide by jumping from a window, caused a
particular sensation. His family could not understand how this quiet,
well-adjusted man could have been driven to this deed. Not until fifteen years
later, when the secret documents about the experiments were published, did they
learn the true circumstances, whereupon the president of the United States
publicly apologized to the dependents.
The conditions for the positive
outcome of an LSD experiment, with little possibility of a psychotic derailment,
reside on the one hand in the individual and on the other hand in the external
milieu of the experiment. The internal, personal factors are called set, the
external conditions setting.
The beauty of a living room or of
an outdoor location is perceived with particular force because of the highly
stimulated sense organs during LSD inebriation, and such an amenity has a
substantial influence on the course of the experiment. The persons present,
their appearance, their traits, are also part of the setting that determines the
experience. The acoustic milieu isequally significant. Even harmless noises can
turn to torment, and conversely lovely music can develop into a euphoric
experience. With LSD experiments in ugly or noisy surroundings, however, there
is greater danger of a negative outcome, including psychotic crises. The
machine- and appliance-world of today offers much scenery and all types of noise
that could very well trigger panic during enhanced sensibility.
Just as meaningful as the
external milieu of the LSD experience, if not even more important, is the mental
condition of the experimenters, their current state of mind, their attitude to
the drug experience, and their expectations associated with it. Even unconscious
feelings of happiness or fear can have an effect. LSD tends to intensify the
actual psychic state. A feeling of happiness can be heightened to bliss, a
depression can deepen to despair. LSD is thus the most inappropriate means
imaginable for curing a depressive state. It is dangerous to take LSD in a
disturbed, unhappy frame of mind, or in a state of fear. The probability that
the experiment will end in a psychic breakdown is then quite high.
Among persons with unstable
personality structures, tending to psychotic reactions, LSD experimentation
ought to be completely avoided. Here an LSD shock, by releasing a latent
psychosis, can produce a lasting mental injury.
The psyche of very young persons
should also be considered as unstable, in the sense of not yet having matured.
In any case, the shock of such a powerful stream of new and strange perceptions
and feelings, such as is engendered by LSD, endangers the sensitive,
still-developing psycho-organism. Even the medicinal use of LSD in youths under
eighteen years of age, in the scope of psychoanalytic or psychotherapeutic
treatment, is discouraged in professional circles, correctly so in my opinion.
Juveniles for the most part still lack a secure, solid relationship to reality.
Such a relationship is needed before the dramatic experience of new dimensions
of reality can be meaningfully integrated into the world view. Instead of
leading to a broadening and deepening of reality consciousness, such an
experience in adolescents will lead to insecurity and a feeling of being lost.
Because of the freshness of sensory perception in youth and the still-unlimited
capacity for experience, spontaneous visionary experiences occur much more
frequently than in later life. For this reason as well, psychostimulating agents
should not be used by juveniles.
Even in healthy, adult persons,
even with adherence to all of the preparatory and protective measures discussed,
an LSD experiment can fail, causing psychotic reactions. Medical supervision is
therefore earnestly to be recommended, even for non-medicinal LSD experiments.
This should include an examination of the state of health before the experiment.
The doctor need not be present at the session; however, medical help should at
all times be readily available.
Acute LSD psychoses can be cut
short and brought under control quickly and reliably by injection of
chlorpromazine or another sedative of this type. The presence of a familiar
person, who can request medical help in the event of an emergency, is also an
indispensable psychological assurance. Although the LSD inebriation is
characterized mostly by an immersion in the individual inner world, a deep need
for human contact sometimes arises, especially in depressive phases.
consumption can bring dangers of an entirely different type than hitherto
discussed: for most of the LSD offered in the drug scene is of unknown origin.
LSD preparations from the black market are unreliable when it comes to both
quality and dosage. They rarely contain the declared quantity, but mostly have
less LSD, often none at all, and sometimes even too much. In many cases other
drugs or even poisonous substances are sold as LSD. These observations were made
in our laboratory upon analysis of a great number of LSD samples from the black
market. They coincide with the experiences of national drug control departments.
The unreliability in the strength of LSD preparations on the illicit drug market
can lead to dangerous overdosage. Overdoses have often proved to be the cause of
failed LSD experiments that led to severe psychic and physical breakdowns.
Reports of alleged fatal LSD poisoning, however, have yet to be confirmed. Close
scrutiny of such cases invariably established other causative factors.
The following case, which took
place in 1970, is cited as an example of the possible dangers of black market
LSD. We received for investigation from the police a drug powder distributed as
LSD. It came from a young man who was admitted to the hospital in critical
condition and whose friend had also ingested this preparation and died as a
result. Analysis showed that the powder contained no LSD, but rather the very
poisonous alkaloid strychnine.
If most black market LSD
preparations contained less than the stated quantity and often no LSD at all,
the reason is either deliberate falsification or the great instability of this
substance. LSD is very sensitive to air and light. It is oxidatively destroyed
by the oxygen in the air and is transformed into an
inactive substance under the influence of light. This must be taken into
account during the synthesis and especially during the production of stable,
storable forms of LSD. Claims that LSD may easily be prepared, or that every
chemistry student in a half-decent laboratory is capable of producing it, are
untrue. Procedures for synthesis of LSD have indeed been published and are
accessible to everyone. With these detailed procedures in hand, chemists would
be able to carry out the synthesis, provided they had pure lysergic acid at
their disposal; its possession today, however, is subject to the same strict
regulations as LSD. In order to isolate LSD in pure crystalline form from the
reaction solution and in order to produce stable preparations, however, special
equipment and not easily acquired specific experience are required, owing (as
stated previously) to the great instability of this substance.
Only in completely oxygen-free
ampules protected from light is LSD absolutely stable. Such ampules, containing
100, Lg (= 0.1 mg) LSD-tartrate (tartaric acid salt of LSD) in 1 cc of aqueous
solution, were produced for biological research and medicinal use by the Sandoz
firm. LSD in tablets prepared with additives that inhibit oxidation, while not
absolutely stable, at least keeps for a longer time. But LSD preparations often
found on the black market — LSD that has been applied in solution onto sugar
cubes or blotting paper — decompose in the course of weeks or a few months.
With such a highly potent
substance as LSD, the correct dosage is of paramount importance. Here the tenet
of Paracelsus holds good: the dose determines whether a substance acts as a
remedy or as a poison. A controlled dosage, however, is not possible with
preparations from the black market, whose active strength is in no way
guaranteed. One of the greatest dangers of non-medicinal LSD experiments lies,
therefore, in the use of such preparations of unknown provenience.
Dr. Timothy Leary, who has
become known worldwide in his role of drug apostle, had an extraordinarily
strong influence on the diffusion of illegal LSD consumption in the United
States. On the occasion of a vacation in Mexico in the year 1960, Leary had
eaten the legendary “sacred mushrooms,” which he had purchased from a
shaman. During the mushroom inebriation he entered into a state of mystico-religious
ecstasy, which he described as the deepest religious experience of his life.
From then on, Dr. Leary, who at the time was a lecturer in psychology at Harvard
University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, dedicated himself totally to research on
the effects and possibilities of the use of psychedelic drugs. Together with his
colleague Dr. Richard Alpert, he started various research projects at the
university, in which LSD and psilocybin, isolated by us in the meantime, were
The reintegration of convicts
into society, the production of mystico-religious experiences in theologians and
members of the clergy, and the furtherance of creativity in artists and writers
with the help of LSD and psilocybin were tested with scientific methodology.
Even persons like Aldous Huxley, Arthur Koestler, and Allen Ginsberg
participated in these investigations. Particular consideration was given to the
question, to what degree mental preparation and expectation of the subjects,
along with the external milieu of the experiment, are able to influence the
course and character of states of psychedelic inebriation.
In January 1963, Dr. Leary sent
me a detailed report of these studies, in which he enthusiastically imparted the
positive results obtained and gave expression to his beliefs in the advantages
and very promising possibilities of such use of these active compounds. At the
same time, the Sandoz firm received an inquiry about the supply of lOOg LSD and
25 kg psilocybin, signed by Dr. Timothy Leary, from the Harvard University
Department of Social Relations. The requirement for such an enormous quantity
(the stated amounts correspond to 1 million doses of LSD and 2.5 million doses
of psilocybin) was based on the planned extension of investigations to tissue,
organ, and animal studies. We made the supply of these substances contingent
upon the production of an import license on behalf of the U.S. health
authorities. Immediately we received the order for the stated quantities of LSD
and psilocybin, along with a check for $10,000 as deposit but without the
required import license. Dr. Leary signed for this order, but no longer as
lecturer at Harvard University, rather as president of an organization he had
recently founded, the International Federation for Internal Freedom (IFIF).
Because, in addition, our inquiry to the appropriate dean of Harvard University
had shown that the university authorities did not approve of the continuation of
the research project by Leary and Alpert, we canceled our offer upon return of
Shortly thereafter, Leary and
Alpert were discharged from the teaching staff of Harvard- University because
the investigations, at first conducted in an academic milieu, had lost their
scientific character. The experiments had turned into LSD parties.
The LSD trip — LSD as a ticket
to an adventurous journey into new worlds of mental and physical experience —
became the latest exciting fashion among academic youth, spreading rapidly from
Harvard to other universities. Leary’s doctrine — that LSD not only served
to find the divine and to discover the self, but indeed was the most potent
aphrodisiac yet discovered — surely contributed quite decisively to the rapid
propagation of LSD consumption among the younger generation. Later, in an
interview with the monthly magazine Playboy, Leary said that the intensification
of sexual experience and the potentiation of sexual ecstasy by LSD was one of
the chief reasons for the LSD boom.
After his expulsion from Harvard
University, Leary was completely transformed from a psychology lecturer pursuing
research, into the messiah of the psychedelic movement. He and his friends of
the IFIF founded a psychedelic research center in lovely, scenic surroundings in
Zihuatanejo, Mexico. I received a personal invitation from Dr. Leary to
participate in a top-level planning session on psychedelic drugs, scheduled to
take place there in August 1963. I would gladly have accepted this grand
invitation, in which I was offered reimbursement for travel expenses and free
lodging, in order to learn from personal observation the methods, operation, and
the entire atmosphere of such a psychedelic research center, about which
contradictory, to some extent very remarkable, reports were then circulating.
Unfortunately, professional obligations kept me at that moment from flying to
Mexico to get a picture at first hand of the controversial enterprise. The
Zihuatanejo Research Center did not last long. Leary and his adherents were
expelled from the country by the Mexican government. Leary, however, who had now
become not only the messiah but also the martyr of the psychedelic movement,
soon received help from the young New York millionaire William Hitchcock, who
made a manorial house on his large estate in Millbrook, New York, available to
Leary as new home and headquarters. Millbrook was also the home of another
foundation for the psychedelic, transcendental way of life, the Castalia
On a trip to India in 1965 Leary
was converted to Hinduism. In the following year he founded a religious
community, the League for Spiritual Discovery, whose initials give the
Leary’s proclamation to youth,
condensed in his famous slogan “Turn on, tune in, drop out!”, became a
central dogma of the hippie movement. Leary is one of the founding fathers of
the hippie cult. The last of these three precepts, “drop out,” was the
challenge to escape from bourgeois life, to turn one’s back on society, to
give up school, studies, and employment, and to dedicate oneself wholly to the
true inner universe, the study of one’s own nervous system, after one has
turned on with LSD. This challenge above all went beyond the psychological and
religious domain to assume social and political significance. It is therefore
understandable that Leary not only became the enfant terrible of the university
and among his academic colleagues in psychology and psychiatry, but also earned
the wrath of the political authorities. He was, therefore, placed under
surveillance, followed, and ultimately locked in prison. The high sentences —
ten years’ imprisonment each for convictions in Texas and California
concerning possession of LSD and marijuana, and conviction (later overturned)
with a sentence of thirty years’ imprisonment for marijuana smuggling — show
that the punishment of these offenses was only a pretext: the real aim was to
put under lock and key the seducer and instigator of youth, who could not
otherwise be prosecuted. On the night of 13-14 September 1970, Leary managed to
escape from the California prison in San Luis Obispo. On a detour from Algeria,
where he made contact with Eldridge Cleaver, a leader of the Black Panther
movement living there in exile, Leary came to Switzerland and there petitioned
for political asylum.
Dr. Leary lived with his
wife, Rosemary, in the resort town Villars-sur-Ollon in western Switzerland.
Through the intercession of Dr. Mastronardi, Dr. Leary’s lawyer, contact was
established between us. On 3 September 1971, I met Dr. Leary in the railway
station snack bar in Lausanne. The greeting was cordial, a symbol of our fateful
relationship through LSD. Leary was medium-sized, slender, resiliently active,
his brown face surrounded with slightly curly hair mixed with gray, youthful,
with bright, laughing eyes. This gave Leary somewhat the mark of a tennis
champion rather than that of a former Harvard lecturer. We traveled by
automobile to Buchillons, where in the arbor of the restaurant A la Grande Foret,
over a meal of fish and a glass of white wine, the dialogue between the father
and the apostle of LSD finally began.
I voiced my regret that the
investigations with LSD and psilocybin at Harvard University, which had begun
promisingly, had degenerated to such an extent that their continuance in an
academic milieu became impossible.
My most serious remonstrance to
Leary, however, concerned the propagation of LSD use among juveniles. Leary did
not attempt to refute my opinions about the particular dangers of LSD for youth.
He maintained, however, that I was unjustified in reproaching him for the
seduction of immature persons to drug consumption, because teenagers in the
United States, with regard to information and life experience, were comparable
to adult Europeans. Maturity, with satiation and intellectual stagnation, would
be reached very early in the United States. For that reason, he deemed the LSD
experience significant, useful, and enriching, even for people still very young
In this conversation, I further
objected to the great publicity that Leary sought for his LSD and psilocybin
investigations, since he had invited reporters from daily papers and magazines
to his experiments and had mobilized radio and television. Emphasis was thereby
placed on publicity rather than on objective information. Leary defended this
publicity program because he felt it had been his fateful historic role to make
LSD known worldwide. The overwhelmingly positive effects of such dissemination,
above all among America’s younger generation, would make any trifling
injuries, any regrettable accidents as a result of improper use of LSD,
unimportant in comparison, a small price to pay.
During this conversation, I
ascertained that one did Leary an injustice by indiscriminately describing him
as a drug apostle. He made a sharp distinction between psychedelic drugs —
LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, hashish — of whose salutary effects he was
persuaded, and the addicting narcotics morphine, heroin, etc., against whose use
he repeatedly cautioned.
My impression of Dr. Leary in
this personal meeting was that of a charming personage, convinced of his
mission, who defended his opinions with humor yet uncompromisingly; a man who
truly soared high in the clouds pervaded by beliefs in the wondrous effects of
psychedelic drugs and the optimism resulting therefrom, and thus a man who
tended to underrate or completely overlook practical difficulties, unpleasant
facts, and dangers. Leary also showed carelessness regarding charges and dangers
that concerned his own person, as his further path in life emphatically showed.
During his Swiss sojourn, I met
Leary by chance once more, in February 1972, in Basel, on the occasion of a
visit by Michael Horowitz, curator of the Fitz Hugh Ludlow Memorial Library in
San Francisco, a library specializing in drug literature. We traveled together
to my house in the country near Burg, where we resumed our conversation of the
previous September. Leary appeared fidgety and detached, probably owing to a
momentary indisposition, so that our discussions were less productive this time.
That was my last meeting with Dr. Leary.
He left Switzerland at the end of
the year, having separated from his wife, Rosemary, now accompanied by his new
friend Joanna Harcourt-Smith. After a short stay in Austria, where he assisted
in a documentary film about heroin, Leary and friend traveled to Afghanistan. At
the airport in Kabul he was apprehended by agents of the American secret service
and brought back to the San Luis Obispo prison in California.
After nothing had been heard from
Leary for a long time, his name again appeared in the daily papers in summer
1975 with the announcement of a parole and early release from prison. But he was
not set free until early in 1976. I learned from his friends that he was now
occupied with psychological problems of space travel and with the exploration of
cosmic relationships between the human nervous system and interstellar space —
that is, with problems whose study would bring him no further difficulties on
the part of governmental authorities.
Thus the Islamic scholar
Dr. Rudolf Gelpke entitled his accounts of self-experiments with LSD and
psilocybin, which appeared in the publication Antaios, for January 1962, and
this title could also be used for the following descriptions of LSD experiments.
LSD trips and the space flights of the astronauts are comparable in many
respects. Both enterprises require very careful preparations, as far as measures
for safety as well as objectives are concerned, in order to minimize dangers and
to derive the most valuable results possible. The astronauts cannot remain in
space nor the LSD experimenters in transcendental spheres, they have to return
to earth and everyday reality, where the newly acquired experiences must be
The following reports were
selected in order to demonstrate how varied the experiences of LSD inebriation
can be. The particular motivation for undertaking the experiments was also
decisive in their selection. Without exception, this selection involves only
reports by persons who have tried LSD not simply out of curiosity or as a
sophisticated pleasure drug, but who rather experimented with it in the quest
for expanded possibilities of experience of the inner and outer world; who
attempted, with the help of this drug key, to unlock new “doors of
perception” (William Blake); or, to continue with the comparison chosen by
Rudolf Gelpke, who employed LSD to surmount the force of gravity of space and
time in the accustomed world view, in order to arrive thereby at new outlooks
and understandings in the “universe of the soul.”
The first two of the following
research records are taken from the previously cited report by Rudolf Gelpke in
Dance of the Spirits in the
(0.075 mg LSD on 23 June 1961,
After I had ingested this dose,
which could be considered average, I conversed very animatedly with a
professional colleague until approximately 14:00 hours. Following this, I
proceeded alone to the Werthmuller bookstore where the drug now began to act
most unmistakably. I discerned, above all, that the subjects of the books in
which I rummaged peacefully in the back of the shop were indifferent to me,
whereas random details of my surroundings suddenly stood out strongly, and
somehow appeared to be “meaningful.” . . . Then, after some ten minutes, I
was discovered by a married couple known to me, and had to let myself become
involved in a conversation with them that, I admit, was by no means pleasant to
me, though not really painful either. I listened to the conversation (even to
myself) “ as from far away. “ The things that were discussed (the
conversation dealt with Persian stories that I had translated) “belonged to
another world”: a world about which I could indeed express myself (I had,
after all, recently still inhabited it myself and remembered the “rules of the
game”!), but to which I no longer possessed any emotional connection. My
interest in it was obliterated — only I did not dare to let myself observe
After I managed to dismiss
myself, I strolled farther through the city to the marketplace. I had no
“visions,” saw and heard everything as usual, and yet everything was also
altered in an indescribable way; “imperceptible glassy walls” everywhere.
With every step that I took, I became more and more like an automaton. It
especially struck me that I seemed to lose control over my facial musculature
— I was convinced that my face was grown stiff, completely expressionless,
empty, slack and mask-like. The only reason I could still walk and put myself in
motion, was because I remembered that, and how I had “earlier” gone and
moved myself. But the farther back the recollection went, the more uncertain I
became. I remember that my own hands somehow were in my way: I put them in my
pockets, let them dangle, entwined them behind my back... as some burdensome
objects, which must be dragged around with us and which no one knows quite how
to stow away. I had the same reaction concerning my whole body. I no longer knew
why it was there, and where I should go with it. All sense for decisions of that
kind had been lost . They could only be reconstructed laboriously, taking a
detour through memories from the past. It took a struggle of this kind to enable
me to cover the short distance from the marketplace to my home, which I reached
at about 15:10.
no way had I had the feeling of being inebriated. What I experienced was rather
a gradual mental extinction. It was not at all frightening; but I can imagine
that in the transition to certain mental disturbances — naturally dispersed
over a greater interval — a very similar process happens: as long as the
recollection of the former individual existence in the human world is still
present, the patient who has become unconnected can still (to some extent) find
his way about in the world: later, however, when the memories fade and
ultimately die out, he completely loses this ability.
Shortly after I had entered my room, the “glassy stupor” gave way. I sat down, with a view out of a window, and was at once enraptured: the window was opened wide, the diaphanous gossamer curtains, on the other hand, were drawn, and now a mild wind from the outside played with these veils and with the silhouettes of potted plants and leafy tendrils on the sill behind, which the sunlight delineated on the curtains breathing in the breeze. This spectacle captivated me completely. I “sank” into it, saw only this gentle and incessant waving and rocking of the plant shadows in the sun and the wind. I knew what “it” was, but I sought after the name for it, after the formula, after the “magic word” that I knew and already I had it: Totentanz, the dance of the dead.... This was what the wind and the light were showing me on the screen of gossamer. Was it frightening? Was I afraid? Perhaps — at first. But then a great cheerfulness infiltrated me, and I heard the music of silence, and even my soul danced with the redeemed shadows to the whistle of the wind. Yes, I understood: this is the curtain, and this curtain itself IS the secret, the “ultimate” that it concealed. Why, therefore, tear it up? He who does that only tears up himself. Because “there behind,” behind the curtain, is “nothing.”…
Polyp from the Deep
(0.150 mg LSD on 15 April
1961, 9:15 hours)
Beginning of the effect already
after about 30 minutes with strong inner agitation, trembling hands, skin
chills, taste of metal on the palate.
10:00: The environment of the
room transforms itself into phosphorescent waves, running hither from the feet
even through my body. The skin — and above all the toes — is as electrically
charged; a still constantly growing excitement hinders all clear thoughts....
10:20: I lack the words to
describe my current condition. It is as if an
“other” complete stranger were seizing possession of me bit by bit.
Have greatest trouble writing (“inhibited” or”uninhibited”? — I
This sinister process of an
advancing self-estrangement aroused in me the feeling of powerlessness, of being
helplessly delivered up. Around 10:30, through closed eyes I saw innumerable,
self-intertwining threads on a red background. A sky as heavy as lead appeared
to press down on everything; I felt my ego compressed in itself, and I felt like
a withered dwarf.... Shortly before
13:00 I escaped the more and more oppressing atmosphere of the company in the
studio, in which we only hindered one another reciprocally from unfolding
completely into the inebriation. I sat down in a small, empty room, on the
floor, with my back to the wall, and saw through the only window on the narrow
frontage opposite me a bit of gray-white cloudy sky. This, like the whole
environment in general, appeared to be hopelessly normal at this moment. I was
dejected, and my self seemed so repulsive and hateful to me that I had not dared
(and on this day even had actually repeatedly desperately avoided) to look in a
mirror or in the face of another person. I very much wished this inebriation
were finally finished, but it still had my body totally in its possession. I
imagined that I perceived, deep within its stubborn oppressive weight, how it
held my limbs surrounded with a hundred polyp arms — yes, I actually
experienced this in a mysterious rhythm; electrified contacts, as of a real,
indeed imperceptible, but sinister omniscient being, which I
addressed with a loud voice, reviled, bid, and challenged to open combat.
“It is only the projection of evil in your self,” another voice
assured me. “It is your soul monster!” This perception was like a flashing
sword. It passed through me with redeeming sharpness. The polyp arms fell away
from me — as if cut through — and simultaneously the hitherto dull and
gloomy gray-white of the sky behind the open window suddenly scintillated like
sunlit water. As I stared at it so enchanted, it changed (for me!) to real
water: a subterranean spring overran me, which had ruptured there all at once
and now boiled up toward me, wanted to become a storm, a lake, an ocean, with
millions and millions of drops — and on all of these drops, on every single
one of them, the light danced.... As the room, window, and sky came back into my
consciousness (it was 13:25 hours), the inebriation was certainly not at an end
— not yet — but its rearguard, which passed by me during the ensuing two
hours, very much resembled the rainbow that follows the storm.
Both the estrangement from the
environment and the estrangement from the individual body, experienced in both
of the preceding experiments described by Gelpke — as well as the feeling of
an alien being, a demon, seizing possession of oneself — are features of LSD
inebriation that, in spite of all the other diversity and variability of the
experience, are cited in most research reports. I have already described the
possession by the LSD demon as an uncanny experience in my first planned
self-experiment. Anxiety and terror then affected me especially strongly,
because at that time I had no way of knowing that the demon would again release
The adventures described in the
following report, by a painter, belong to a completely different type of LSD
experience. This artist visited me in order to obtain my opinion about how the
experience under LSD should be understood and interpreted. He feared that the
profound transformation of his personal life, which had resulted from his
experiment with LSD, could rest on a mere delusion. My explanation — that LSD,
as a biochemical agent, only triggered his visions but had not created them and
that these visions rather originated from his own soul — gave him confidence
in the meaning of his transformation.
LSD Experience of a Painter
…Therefore I traveled with Eva
to a solitary mountain valley. Up there in nature, I thought it would be
particularly beautiful with Eva. Eva was young and attractive. Twenty years
older than she, I was already in the middle of life. Despite the sorrowful
consequences that I had experienced previously, as a result of erotic escapades,
despite the pain and the disappointments that I inflicted on those who loved me
and had believed in me, I was drawn again with irresistible power to this
adventure, to Eva, to her youth. I was under the spell of this girl. Our affair
indeed was only beginning, but I felt this seductive power more strongly than
ever before. I knew that I could no longer resist. For the second time in my
life I was again ready to desert my family, to give up my position, to break all
bridges. I wanted to hurl myself uninhibitedly into this lustful inebriation
with Eva. She was life, youth. Over again it cried out in me, again and again to
drain the cup of lust and life until the last drop, until death and perdition.
Let the Devil fetch me later on! I had indeed long ago done away with God and
the Devil. They were for me only human inventions, which came to be utilized by
a skeptical, unscrupulous minority, in order to suppress and exploit a
believing, naive majority. I wanted to have nothing to do with this mendacious
social moral. To enjoy, at all costs, I wished to enjoy et apres nous te
deluge. “What is wife to me, what is child to me — let them go begging,
if they are hungry.” I also perceived the institution of marriage as a social
lie. The marriage of my parents and marriages of my acquaintances seemed to
confirm that sufficiently for me. Couples remained together because it was more
convenient; they were accustomed to it, and “yes, if it weren’t for the
children…” Under the pretense of a good marriage, each tormented the other
emotionally, to the point of rashes and stomach ulcers, or each went his own
way. Everything in me rebelled against the thought of having to love only one
and the same woman a life long. I frankly perceived that as repugnant and
unnatural. Thus stood my inner disposition on that portentous summer evening at
the mountain lake.
At seven o’clock in the evening
both of us took a moderately strong dose of LSD, some 0.1 milligrams. Then we
strolled along about the lake and then sat on the bank. We threw stones in the
water and watched the forming wave circles. We felt a slight inner restlessness.
Around eight o’clock we entered the hotel lounge and ordered tea and
sandwiches. Some guests still sat there, telling jokes and laughing loudly. They
winked at us. Their eyes sparkled strangely. We felt strange and distant and had
the feeling that they would notice something in us. Outside it slowly became
dark. We decided only reluctantly to go to our hotel room. A street without
lights led along the black lake to the distant guest house. As I switched on the
light, the granite staircase, leading from the shore road to the house, appeared
to flame up from step to step. Eva quivered all at once, frightened.
“Hellish” went through my mind, and all of a sudden horror passed through my
limbs, and I knew: now it’s going to turn out badly. From afar, from the
village, a clock struck nine. Scarcely were we in our room, when Eva threw
herself on the bed and looked at me with wide eyes. It was not in the least
possible to think of love. I sat down on the edge of the bed and held both of
Eva’s hands. Then came the terror. We sank into a deep, indescribable horror,
which neither of us understood.
“Look in my eyes, look at me,” I implored Eva, yet again
and again her gaze was averted from me, and then she cried out loud in terror
and trembled all over her body. There was no way out. Outside was only gloomy
night and the deep, black lake. In the public house all the lights were
extinguished; the people had probably gone to sleep. What would they have said
if they could see us now? Possibly they would summon the police, and then
everything would become still much worse. A drug scandal — intolerable
We could no longer move from the
spot. We sat there surrounded by four wooden walls whose board joints shone
infernally. It became more unbearable all the time. Suddenly the door was opened
and “something dreadful” entered. Eva cried out wildly and hid herself under
the bed covers. Once again a cry. The horror under the covers was yet worse.
“Look straight in my eyes!” I called to her, but she rolled her eyes back
and forth as though out of her mind. She is becoming insane, I realized. In
desperation I seized her by the hair so that she could no longer turn her face
away from me. I saw dreadful fear in her eyes. Everything around us was hostile
and threatening, as if everything wanted to attack us in the next moment. You
must protect Eva, you must bring her through until morning, then the effects
will discontinue, I said to myself. Then again, however, I plunged into nameless
horror. There was no more time or reason; it seemed as if this condition would
The objects in the room were
animated to caricatures; everything on all sides sneered scornfully. I saw
Eva’s yellow-black striped shoes, which I had found so stimulating, appearing
as two large, evil wasps crawling on the floor. The water piping above the
washbasin changed to a dragon head, whose eyes, the two water taps, observed me
malevolently. My first name, George, came into my mind, and all at once I felt
like Knight George, who must fight for Eva. Eva’s cries tore me from these
thoughts. Bathed in perspiration and trembling, she fastened herself to me. “I
am thirsty,” she moaned. With great effort, without releasing Eva’s hand, I
succeeded in getting a glass of water for her. But the water seemed slimy and
viscous, was poisonous, and we could not quench our thirst with it. The two
night-table lamps glowed with a strange brightness, in an infernal light. The
clock struck twelve.
This is hell, I thought. There is
indeed no Devil and no demons, and yet they were perceptible in us, filled up
the room, and tormented us with unimaginable terror. Imagination, or not?
Hallucinations, projections? — insignificant questions when confronted with
the reality of fear that was fixed in our bodies and shook us: the fear alone,
it existed. Some passages from Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception came to
me and brought me brief comfort. I looked at Eva, at this whimpering, horrified
being in her torment, and felt great remorse and pity. She had become strange to
me; I scarcely recognized her any longer. She wore a fine golden chain around
her neck with the medallion of the Virgin Mary. It was a gift from her younger
brother. I noticed how a benevolent, comforting radiation, which was connected
with pure love, emanated from this necklace. But then the terror broke loose
again, as if to our final destruction. I needed my whole strength to constrain
Eva. Loudly I heard the electrical meter ticking weirdly outside of the door, as
if it wanted to make a most important, evil, devastating announcement to me in
the next moment. Disdain, derision, and malignity again whispered out of all
nooks and crevices. There, in the midst of this agony, I perceived the ringing
of cowbells from afar as a wonderful, promising music. Yet soon it became silent
again, and renewed fear and dread once again set in. As a drowning man hopes for
a rescuing plank, so I wished that the cows would yet again want to draw near
the house. But everything remained quiet, and only the threatening tick and hum
of the current meter buzzed round us like an invisible, malevolent insect.
Morning finally dawned. With
great relief I noticed how the chinks in the window shutters lit up. Now I could
leave Eva to herself; she had quieted down. Exhausted, she closed her eyes and
fell asleep. Shocked and deeply sad, I still sat on the edge of the bed. Gone
was my pride and self- assurance; all that remained of me was a small heap of
misery. I examined myself in the mirror and started: I had become ten years
older in the course of the night. Downcast, I stared at the light of the
night-table lamp with the hideous shade of intertwined plastic cords. All at
once the light seemed to become brighter, and in the plastic cords it began to
sparkle and to twinkle; it glowed like diamonds and gems of all colors, and an
overwhelming feeling of happiness welled up in me. All at once, lamp, room, and
Eva disappeared, and I found myself in a wonderful, fantastic landscape. It was
comparable to the interior of an immense Gothic church nave, with infinitely
many columns and Gothic arches. These consisted, however, not of stone, but
rather of crystal. Bluish, yellowish, milky, and clearly transparent crystal
columns surrounded me like trees in an open forest. Their points and arches
became lost in dizzying heights. A bright light appeared before my inner eye,
and a wonderful, gentle voice spoke to me out of the light. I did not hear it
with my external ear, but rather perceived it, as if it were clear thoughts that
arise in one.
I realized that in the horror of
the passing night I had experienced my own individual condition: selfishness. My
egotism had kept me separated from mankind and had led me to inner isolation. I
had loved only myself, not my neighbor; loved only the gratification that the
other offered me. The world had existed only for the satisfaction of my greed. I
had become tough, cold, and cynical. Hell, therefore, had signified that:
egotism and lovelessness. Therefore everything had seemed strange and
unconnected to me, so scornful and threatening. Amid flowing tears, I was
enlightened with the knowledge that true love means surrenderof selfishness and
that it is not desires but rather selfless love that forms the bridge to the
heart of our fellow man. Waves of ineffable happiness flowed through my body. I
had experienced the grace of God. But how could it be possible that it was
radiating toward me, particularly out of this cheap lampshade? Then the inner
voice answered: God is in everything.
The experience at the mountain
lake has given me the certainty that beyond the ephemeral, material world there
also exists an imperishable, spiritual reality, which is our true home. I am now
on my way home.
For Eva everything remained just
a bad dream. We broke up a short time thereafter.
The following notes kept by a
twenty-five-year-old advertising agent are contained in The LSD Story by
John Cashman (Fawcett Publications, Greenwich, Conn., 1966). They were included
in this selection of LSD reports, along with the preceding example, because the
progression that they describe — from terrifying visions to extreme euphoria,
a kind of deathrebirth cycle — is characteristic of many LSD experiments.
A Joyous Song of Being
My first experience with LSD came
at the home of a close friend who served as my guide. The surroundings were
comfortably familiar and relaxing. I took two ampuls (200 micrograms) of LSD
mixed in half a glass of distilled water. The experience lasted for close to
eleven hours, from 8 o’clock on a Saturday evening until very nearly 7
o’clock the next morning. I have no firm point of comparison, but I am
positive that no saint ever saw more glorious or joyously beautiful visions or
experienced a more blissful state of transcendence. My powers to convey the
miracles are shabby and far too inadequate to the task at hand. A sketch, and an
artless one at that, must suffice where only the hand of a great master working
from a complete palette could do justice to the subject. I must apologize for my
own limitations in this feeble attempt to reduce the most remarkable experience
of my life to mere words. My superior smile at the fumbling, halting attempts of
others in their attempts to explain the heavenly visions to me has been
transformed into a knowing smile of a conspirator — the common experience
requires no words.
My first thought after drinking
the LSD was that it was having absolutely no effect. They had told me thirty
minutes would produce the first sensation, a tingling of the skin. There was no
tingling. I commented on this and was told to relax and wait. For the lack of
anything else to do I stared at the dial light of the table radio, nodding my
head to a jazz piece I did not recognize. I think it was several minutes before
I realized that the light was changing color kaleidoscopically with the
different pitch of the musical sounds, bright reds and yellows in the high
register, deep purple in the low. I laughed. I had no idea when it had started.
I simply knew it had. I closed my eyes, but the colored notes were still there.
I was overcome by the remarkable brilliance of the colors. I tried to talk, to
explain what I was seeing, the vibrant and luminous colors. Somehow it didn’t
seem important. With my eyes open, the radiant colors flooded the room, folding
over on top of one another in rhythm with the music. Suddenly I was aware that
the colors were the music. The discovery did not seem startling. Values, so
cherished and guarded, were becoming unimportant. I wanted to talk about the
colored music, but I couldn’t. I was reduced to uttering one-syllable words
while polysyllabic impressions tumbled through my mind with the speed of light.
The dimensions of the room were
changing, now sliding into a fluttering diamond shape, then straining into an
oval shape as if someone were pumping air into the room, expanding it to the
bursting point. I was having trouble focusing on objects. They would melt into
fuzzy masses of nothing or sail off into space, self-propelled, slow-motion
trips that were of acute interest to me. I tried to check the time on my watch,
but I was unable to focus on the
hands. I thought of asking for the time, but the thought passed. I was too busy
seeing and listening. The sounds were exhilarating, the sights remarkable. I was
completely entranced. I have no idea how long this lasted. I do know the egg
The egg, large, pulsating, and a
luminous green, was there before I actually saw it. I sensed it was there. It
hung suspended about halfway between where I sat and the far wall. I was
intrigued by the beauty of the egg. At the same time I was afraid it would drop
to the floor and break. I didn’t want the egg to break. It seemed most
important that the egg should not break. But even as I thought of this, the egg
slowly dissolved and revealed a great multihued flower that was like no flower I
have ever seen. Its incredibly exquisite petals opened on the room, spraying
indescribable colors in every direction. I felt the colors and heard them as
they played across my body, cool and warm, reed-ike and tinkling.
The first tinge of apprehension
came later when I saw the center of the flower slowly eating away at the petals,
a black, shiny center that appeared to be formed by the backs of a thousand
ants. It ate away the petals at an agonizingly slow pace. I wanted to scream for
it to stop or to hurry up. I was pained by the gradual disappearance of the
beautiful petals as if being swallowed by an insidious disease. Then in a flash
of insight I realized to my horror that the black thing was actually devouring
me. I was the flower and this foreign, creeping thing was eating me!
I shouted or screamed, I really
don’t remember. I was too full of fear and loathing. I heard my guide say:
“Easy now. Just go with it. Don’t fight it. Go with it.” I tried, but the
hideous blackness caused such repulsion that I screamed: “I can’t! For
God’s sake help me! Help me!” The voice was soothing, reassuring: “Let it
come. Everything is all right. Don’t worry. Go with it. Don’t fight.”
I felt myself dissolving into the
terrifying apparition, my body melting in waves into the core of blackness, my
mind stripped of ego and life and, yes even death. In one great crystal instant
I realized that I was immortal. I asked the question: “Am I dead?” But the
question had no meaning. Meaning was meaningless. Suddenly there was white light
and the shimmering beauty of unity. There was light everywhere, white light with
a clarity beyond description. I was dead and I was born and the exultation was
pure and holy. My lungs were bursting with the joyful song of being. There was
unity and life and the exquisite love that filled my being was unbounded. My
awareness was acute and complete. I saw God and the devil and all the saints and
I knew the truth. I felt myself flowing into the cosmos, levitated beyond all
restraint, liberated to swim in the blissful radiance of the heavenly visions.
I wanted to shout and sing of
miraculous new life and sense and form, of the joyous beauty and the whole mad
ecstasy of loveliness. I knew and understood all there is to know and
understand. I was immortal, wise beyond wisdom, and capable of love, of all
loves. Every atom of my body and soul had seen and felt God. The world was
warmth and goodness. There was no time, no place, no me. There was only cosmic
harmony. It was all there in the white light. With every fiberof my being I knew
it was so.
I embraced the enlightenment with
complete abandonment. As the experience receded I longed to hold onto it and
tenaciously fought against the encroachment of the realities of time and place.
For me, the realities of our limited existence were no longer valid. I had seen
the ultimate realities and there would be no others. As I was slowly transported
back to the tyranny of clocks and schedules and petty hatreds, I tried to talk
of my trip, my enlightenment, the horrors, the beauty, all of it. I must have
been babbling like an idiot. My thoughts swirled at a fantastic rate, but the
words couldn’t keep pace. My guide smiled and told me he understood.
The preceding collection of
reports on “travels in the universe of the soul,” even though they encompass
such dissimilar experiences, are still not able to establish a complete picture
of the broad spectrum of all possible reactions to LSD, which extends from the
most sublime spiritual, religious, and mystical experiences, down to gross
psychosomatic disturbances. Cases of LSD sessions have been described in which
the stimulation of fantasy and of visionary experience, as expressed in the LSD
reports assembled here, is completely absent, and the experimenter was for the
whole time in a state of ghastly physical and mental discomfort, or even felt
Reports about the modification of
sexual experience under the influence of LSD are also contradictory. Since
stimulation of all sensory perception is an essential feature of LSD effects,
the sensual orgy of sexual intercourse can undergo unimaginable enhancements.
Cases have also been described, however, in which LSD led not to the anticipated
erotic paradise, but rather to a purgatory or even to the hell of frightful
extinction of every perception and to a lifeless vacuum.
Such a variety and contradiction
of reactions to a drug is found only in LSD and the related hallucinogens. The
explanation for this lies in the complexity and variability of the conscious and
subconscious minds of people, which LSD is able to penetrate and to bring to
life as experienced reality.
Mexican Relatives of LSD
Late in 1956 a notice in
the daily paper caught my interest. Among some Indians in southern Mexico,
American researchers had discovered mushrooms that were eaten in religious
ceremonies and that produced an inebriated condition accompanied by
Since, outside of the mescaline
cactus found also in Mexico, no other drug was known at the time that, like LSD,
produced hallucinations, I would have liked to establish contact with these
researchers, in order to learn details about these hallucinogenic mushrooms. But
there were no names and addresses in the short newspaper article, so that it was
impossible to get further information. Nevertheless, the mysterious mushrooms,
whose chemical investigation would be a tempting problem, stayed in my thoughts
from then on.
As it later turned out, LSD was
the reason that these mushrooms found their way into my laboratory, with out my
assistance, at the beginning of the following year.
Through the mediation of Dr. Yves
Dunant, at the time director of the Paris branch of Sandoz, an inquiry came to
the pharmaceutical research management in Basel from Professor Roger Heim,
director of the Laboratoire de Cryptogamie of the Museum National d’Histoire
Naturelle in Paris, asking whether we were interested in carrying out the
chemical investigation of the Mexican hallucinogenic mushrooms. With great joy I
declared myself ready to begin this work in my department, in the laboratories
for natural product research. That was to be my link to the exciting
investigations of the Mexican sacred mushrooms, which were already broadly
advanced in the ethnomycological and botanical aspects.
For a long time the existence of
these magic mushrooms had remained an enigma. The history of their rediscovery
is presented at first hand in the magnificent two-volume standard work of
ethnomycology, Mushrooms, Russia and History (Pantheon Books, New York,
1957), for the authors, the American researchers Valentina Pavlovna Wasson and
her husband, R. Gordon Wasson, played a decisive role in this rediscovery. The
following descriptions of the fascinating history of these mushrooms are taken
from the Wassons’ book.
The first written evidence of the
use of inebriating mushrooms on festival occasions, or in the course of
religious ceremonies and magically oriented healing practices, is found among
the Spanish chroniclers and naturalists of the sixteenth century, who entered
the country soon after the conquest of Mexico by Hernan Cortes. The most
important of these witnesses is the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagun, who
mentions the magic mushrooms and describes their effects and their use in
several passages of his famous historical work, Historia General de tas Cosas
de Nueva Espana, written between the years 1529 and 1590. Thus he describes,
for example, how merchants celebrated the return home from a successful business
trip with a mushroom party:
Coming at the very first, at the time of feasting, they ate
mushrooms when, as they said, it was the hour of the blowing of the flutes. Not
yet did they partake of food; they drank only chocolate during the night. And
they ate mushrooms with honey. When already the mushrooms were taking effect,
there was dancing, there was weeping.... Some saw in a vision that they would
die in war. Some saw in a vision that they would be devoured by wild beasts....
Some saw in a vision that they would become rich, wealthy. Some saw in a vision
that they would buy slaves, would become slave owners. Some saw in a vision that
they would commit adultery [and so] would have their heads bashed in, would be
stoned to death.... Some saw in a vision that they would perish in the water.
Some saw in a vision that they would pass to tranquility in death. Some saw in
avision that they would fall from the housetop, tumble to their death…. All
such things they saw.... And when [the effects of] the mushroom ceased, they
conversed with one another, spoke of what they had seen in the vision.
In a publication from the same
period, Diego Duran, a Dominican friar, reported that inebriating mushrooms were
eaten at the great festivity on the occasion of the accession to the throne of
Moctezuma II, the famed emperor of the Aztecs, in the year 1502. A passage in
the seventeenth-century chronicle of Don Jacinto de la Serna refers to the use
of these mushrooms in a religious framework:
And what happened was that there
had come to [the village] an Indian… and his name was Juan Chichiton… and he
had brought the red-colored mushrooms that are gathered in the uplands, and with
them he had committed a great idolatry.... In the house where everyone had
gathered on the occasion of a saint’s feast… the teponastli [an Aztec
percussion instrument] was playing and singing was going on the whole night
through. After most of the night had passed, Juan Chichiton, who was the priest
for that solemn rite, to all of those present at the flesta gave the mushrooms
to eat, after the manner of Communion, and gave them pulque to drink… so that
they all went out of their heads, a shame it was to see.
In Nahuatl, the language of the
Aztecs, these mushrooms were described as teonanactl, which can be translated as
There are indications that
ceremonial use of such mushrooms reaches far back into pre-Columbian times.
So-called mushroom stones have been found in El Salvador, Guatemala, and the
contiguous mountainous districts of Mexico. These are stone sculptures in the
form of pileate mushroom, on whose stem the face or the form of a god or an
animallike demon is carved. Most are about 30 cm high. The oldest examples,
according to archaeologists, date back to before 500 B.C.
R. G. Wasson argues, quite
convincingly, that there is a connection between these mushroom stones and
teonanacatl. If true, this means that the mushroom cult, the magico-medicinal
and religious-ceremonial use of the magic mushrooms, is more than two thousand
To the Christian missionaries,
the inebriating, vision- and hallucination-producing effects of these mushrooms
seemed to be Devil’s work. They therefore tried, with all the means in their
power, to extirpate their use. But they succeeded only partially, for the
Indians have continued secretly down to our time to utilize the mushroom
teonanacatl, which was sacred to them.
Strange to say, the reports in
the old chronicles about the use of magic mushrooms remained unnoticed during
the following centuries, probably because they were considered products of the
imagination of a superstitious age.
All traces of the existence of
“sacred mushrooms” were in danger of becoming obliterated once and for all,
when, in 1915, an Americanbotanist of repute, Dr. W. E. Safford, in an address
before the Botanical Society in Washington and in a scientific publication,
advanced the thesis that no such thing as magic mushrooms had ever existed at
all: the Spanish chroniclers had taken the mescaline cactus for a mushroom! Even
if false, this proposition of Safford’s served nevertheless to direct the
attention of the scientific world to the riddle of the mysterious mushrooms.
It was the Mexican physician Dr.
Blas Pablo Reko who first openly disagreed with Safford’s interpretation and
who found evidence that mushrooms were still employed in medicinal-religious
ceremonies even in our time, in remote districts of the southern mountains of
Mexico. But not until the years 19338 did the anthropologist Robert J. Weitlaner
and Dr. Richard Evans Schultes, a botanist from Harvard University, find actual
mushrooms in that region, which were used there for this ceremonial purpose; and
only in 1938 could a group of young American anthropologists, under the
direction of Jean Bassett Johnson, attend a secret nocturnal mushroom ceremony
for the first time. This was in Huautla de Jimenez, the capital of the Mazatec
country, in the State of Oaxaca. But these researchers were only spectators,
they were not permitted to partake of the mushrooms. Johnson reported on the
experience in a Swedish journal (Ethnotogical Studies 9, 1939).
Then exploration of the magic
mushrooms was interrupted. World War II broke out. Schultes, at the behest of
the American government, had to occupy himself with rubber production in the
Amazon territory, and Johnson was killed after the Allied landing in North
It was the American researchers,
the married couple Dr. Valentina Pavlovna Wasson and her husband, R. Gordon
Wasson, who again took up the problem from the ethnographic aspect. R. G. Wasson
was a banker, vice-president of the J. P. Morgan Co. in New York. His wife, who
died in 1958, was a pediatrician. The Wassons began their work in 1953, in the
Mazatec village Huautla de Jimenez, where fifteen years earlier J. B. Johnson
and others had established the continued existence of the ancient Indian
mushroom cult. They received especially valuable information from an American
missionary who had been active there for many years, Eunice V. Pike, member of
the Wycliffe Bible Translators. Thanks to her knowledge of the native language
and her ministerial association with the inhabitants, Pike had information about
the significance of the magic mushrooms that nobody else possessed. During
several lengthy sojourns in Huautla and environs, the Wassons were able to study
the present use of the mushrooms in detail and compare it with the descriptions
in the old chronicles. This showed that the belief in the “sacred mushrooms”
was still prevalent in that region. However, the Indians kept their beliefs a
secret from strangers. It took great tact and skill, therefore, to gain the
confidence of the indigenous population and to receive insight into this secret
In the modern form of the
mushroom cult, the old religious ideas and customs are mingled with Christian
ideas and Christian terminology. Thus the mushrooms are often spoken of as the
blood of Christ, because they will grow only where a drop of Christ’s blood
has fallen on the earth. According to another notion, the mushrooms sprout where
a drop of saliva from Christ’s mouth has moistened the ground, and it is
thcrefore Jesus Christ himself who speaks through the mushrooms.
The mushroom ceremony follows the
form of a consultation. The seeker of advice or a sick person or his or her
family questions a “wise man” or a “wise woman,” asabio orsabia, also
named curandero orcurandera, in return for a modest payment. Curandero can best
be translated into English as “healing priest,” for his function is that of
a physician as well as that of a priest, both being found only rarely in these
remote regions. In the Mazatec language the healing priest is called co-ta-ci-ne,
which means “one who knows.” He eats the mushroom in the framework of a
ceremony that always takes place at night. The other persons present at the
ceremony may sometimes receive mushrooms as well, yet a much greater dose always
goes to the curandero. The performance is executed with the accompaniment of
prayers and entreaties, while the mushrooms are incensed briefly over a basin,
in which copal (an incense-like resin) is burned. In complete darkness, at times
by candlelight, while the others present lie quietly on their straw mats, the
curandero, kneeling or sitting, prays and sings before a type of altar bearing a
crucifix, an image of a saint, or some other object of worship. Under the
influence of the sacred mushrooms, the curandero counsels in a visionary state,
in which even the inactive observers more or less participate. In the monotonous
song of the curandero, the mushroom teonanacatl gives its answers to the
questions posed. It says whether the diseased person will live or die, which
herbs will effect the cure; it reveals who has killed a specific person, or who
has stolen the horse; or it makes known how a distant relative fares, and so
The mushroom ceremony not only
has the function of a consulation of the type described, for the Indians it also
has a meaning in many respects similar to the Holy Communion for the believing
Christian. From many utterances of the natives it could be inferred that they
believe that God has given the Indians the sacred mushroom because they are poor
and possess no doctors and medicines; and also, because they cannot read, in
particular the Bible, God can therefore speak directly to them through the
mushroom. The missionary Eunice V. Pike even alluded to the difficulties that
result from explaining the Christian message, the written word, to a people who
believe they possess a means — the sacred mushrooms of course — to make
God’s will known to them in a direct, clear manner: yes, the mushrooms permit
them to see into heaven and to establish communication with God himself.
The Indians’ reverence for the
sacred mushrooms is also evident in their belief that they can be eaten only by
a “clean” person. “Clean” here means ceremonially clean, and that term
among other things includes sexual abstinence at least four days before and
after ingestion of the mushrooms. Certain rules must also be observed in
gathering the mushrooms. With nonobservance of these commandments, the mushrooms
can make the person who eats it insane, or can even kill.
The Wassons had undertaken their
first expedition to the Mazatec country in 1953, but not until 1955 did they
succeed in overcoming the shyness and reserve of the Mazatec friends they had
managed to make, to the point of being admitted as active participants in a
mushroom ceremony. R. Gordon Wasson and his companion, the photographer Allan
Richardson, were given sacred mushrooms to eat at the end of June 1955, on the
occasion of a nocturnal mushroom ceremony. They thereby became in all likelihood
the first outsiders, the first whites, ever permitted to take teonanacatl.
In the second volume of
Mushrooms, Russia and History, in enraptured words, Wasson describes how the
mushroom seized possession of him completely, although he had tried to struggle
against its effects, in order to be able to remain an objective observer. First
he saw geometric, colored patterns, which then took on architectural
characteristics. Next followed visions of splendid colonnades, palaces of
supernatural harmony and magnificence embellished with precious gems, triumphal
cars drawn by fabulous creatures as they are known only from mythology, and
landscapes of fabulous luster. Detached from the body, the spirit soared
timelessly in a realm of fantasy among images of a higher reality and deeper
meaning than those of the ordinary, everyday world. The essence of life, the
ineffable, seemed to be on the verge of being unlocked, but the ultimate door
failed to open.
This experience was the final
proof, for Wasson, that the magical powers attributed to the mushrooms actually
existed and were not merely superstition.
In order to introduce the
mushrooms to scientific research, Wasson had earlier established an association
with mycologist Professor Roger Heim of Paris. Accompanying the Wassons on
further expeditions into the Mazatec country, Heim conducted the botanical
identification of the sacred mushrooms. He showed that they were gilled
mushrooms from the family Strophariaceae, about a dozen different species not
previously described scientifically, the greatest part belonging to the genus
Psilocybe. Professor Heim also succeeded in cultivating some of the species in
the laboratory. The mushroom Psilocybe mexicana turned out to be especially
suitable for artificial cultivation.
Chemical investigations ran
parallel with these botanical studies on the magic mushrooms, with the goal of
extracting the hallucinogenically active principle from the mushroom material
and preparing it in chemically pure form. Such investigations were carried out
at Professor Heim’s instigation in the chemicaI laboratory of the Museum
National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, and work teams were occupied with this
problem in the United States in the research laboratories of two large
pharmaceutical companies: Merck, and Smith, Kline and French. The American
laboratories had obtained some of the mushrooms from R. G. Wasson and had
gathered others themselves in the Sierra Mazateca.
As the chemical investigations in
Paris and in the United States turned out to be ineffectual, Professor Heim
addressed this matter to our firm, as mentioned at the beginning of this
chapter, because he felt that our experimental experience with LSD, related to
the magic mushrooms by similar activity, could be of use in the isolation
attempts. Thus it was LSD that showed teonanacatl the way into our laboratory.
As director of the department of
natural products of the Sandoz pharmaceutical-chemical research laboratories at
that time, I wanted to assign-the investigation of the magic mushrooms to one of
my coworkers. However, nobody showed much eagerness to take on this problem
because it was known that LSD and everything connected with it were scarcely
popular subjects to the top management. Because the enthusiasm necessary for
successful endeavors cannot be commanded, and because the enthusiasm was already
present in me as far as this problem was concerned, I decided to conduct the
Some 100 g of dried mushrooms of
the species Psilocybe mexicana, cultivated by Professor Heim in the laboratory,
were available for the beginning of the chemical analysis. My laboratory
assistant, Hans Tscherter, who during our decade-long collaboration, had
developed into a very capable helper, completely familiar with my manner of
work, aided me in the extraction and isolation attempts. Since there were no
clues at all concerning the chemical properties of the active principle we
sought, the isolation attempts had to be conducted on the basis of the effects
of the extract fractions. But none of the various extracts showed an unequivocal
effect, either in the mouse or the dog, which could have pointed to the presence
of hallucinogenic principles. It therefore became doubtful whether the mushrooms
cultivated and dried in Paris were still active at all. That could only be
determined by experimenting with this mushroom material on a human being. As in
the case of LSD, I made this fundamental experiment myself, since it is not
appropriate for researchers to ask anyone else to perform self-experiments that
they require for their own investigations, especially if they entail, as in this
case, a certain risk.
In this experiment I ate 32 dried
specimens of Psilocybe mexicana, which together weighed 2.4 g. This amount
corresponded to an average dose, according to the reports of Wasson and Heim, as
it is used by the curanderos. The mushrooms displayed a strong psychic effect,
as the following extract from the report on that experiment shows:
Thirty minutes after my taking
the mushrooms, the exterior world began to undergo a strange transformation.
Everything assumed a Mexican character. As I was perfectly well aware that my
knowledge of the Mexican origin of the mushroom would lead me to imagine only
Mexican scenery, I tried deliberately to look on my environment as I knew it
normally. But all voluntary efforts to look at things in their customary forms
and colors proved ineffective. Whether my eyes were closed or open, I saw only
Mexican motifs and colors. When the doctor supervising the experiment bent over
me to check my blood pressure, he was transformed into an Aztec priest and I
would not have been astonished if he had drawn an obsidian knife. In spite of
the seriousness of the situation, it amused me to see how the Germanic face of
my colleague had acquired a purely Indian expression. At the peak of the
intoxication, about 1 1/2 hours after ingestion of the mushrooms, the rush of
interior pictures, mostly abstract motifs rapidly changing in shape and color,
reached such an alarming degree that I feared that I would be torn into this
whirlpool of form and color and would dissolve. After about six hours the dream
came to an end. Subjectively, I had no idea how long this condition had lasted.
I felt my return to everyday reality to be a happy return from a strange,
fantastic but quite real world to an old and familiar home.
This self-experiment showed once
again that human beings react much more sensitively than animals to psychoactive
substances. We had already reached the same conclusion in experimenting with LSD
on animals, as described in an earlier chapter of this book. It was not
inactivity of the mushroom material, but rather the deficient reaction
capability of the research animals vis-à-vis such a type of active principle,
that explained why our extracts had appeared inactive in the mouse and dog.
Because the assay on human
subjects was the only test at our disposal for the detection of the active
extract fractions, we had no other choice than to perform the testing on
ourselves if we wanted to carry on the work and bring it to a successful
conclusion. In the self-experiment just described, a strong reaction lasting
several hours was produced by 2.4 g dried mushrooms. Therefore, in the sequel we
used samples corresponding to only one-third of this amount, namely 0.8 g dried
mushrooms. If these samples contained the active principle, they would only
provoke a mild effect that impaired the ability to work for a short time, but
this effect would still be so distinct that the inactive fractions and those
containing the active principle could unequivocally be differentiated from one
another. Several coworkers and colleagues volunteered as guinea pigs for this
series of tests.
With the help of this
reliable test on human subjects, the active principle could be isolated,
concentrated, and transformed into a chemically pure state by means of the
newest separation methods. Two new substances, which I named psilocybin and
psilocin, were thereby obtained in the form of colorless crystals.
These results were published in
March 1958 in the journal Experientia, in collaboration with Professor Heim and
with my colleagues Dr. A. Brack and Dr. H. Kobel, who had provided greater
quantities of mushroom material for these investigations after they had
essentially improved the laboratory cultivation of the mushrooms.
Some of my coworkers at the time
— Drs. A. J. Frey, H. Ott, T. Petrzilka, and F. Troxler — then participated
in the next steps of these investigations, the determination of the chemical
structure of psilocybin and psilocin and the subsequent synthesis of these
compounds, the results of which were published in the November 1958 issue of
Experientia. The chemical structures of these mushroom factors deserve special
attention in several respects. Psilocybin and psilocin belong, like LSD, to the
indole compounds, the biologically important class of substances found in the
plant and animal kingdoms. Particular chemical features common to both the
mushroom substances and LSD show that psilocybin and psilocin are closely
related to LSD, not only with regard to psychic effects but also to their
chemical structures. Psilocybin is the phosphoric acid ester of psilocin and, as
such, is the first and hitherto only phosphoric-acid-containing indole compound
discovered in nature. The phosphoric acid residue does not contribute to the
activity, for the phosphoric-acid-free psilocin is just as active as psilocybin,
but it makes the molecule more stable. While psilocin is readily decomposed by
the oxygen in air, psilocybin is a stable substance.
Psilocybin and psilocin possess a
chemical structure very similar to the brain factor serotonin. As was already
mentioned in the chapter on animal experiments and biological research,
serotonin plays an important role in the chemistry of brain functions. The two
mushroom factors, like LSD, block the effects of serotonin in pharmacological
experiments on different organs. Other pharmacological properties of psilocybin
and psilocin are also similar to those of LSD. The main difference consists in
the quantitative activity, in animal as well as human experimentation. The
average active dose of psilocybin or psilocin in human beings amounts to 10 mg
(0.01 g); accordingly, these two substances are more than 100 times less active
than LSD, of which 0.1 mg constitutes a strong dose. Moreover, the effects of
the mushroom factors last only four to six hours, much shorter than the effects
of LSD (eight to twelve hours).
The total synthesis of psilocybin
and psilocin, without the aid of the mushrooms, could be developed into a
technical process, which would allow these substances to be produced on a large
scale. Synthetic production is more rational and cheaper than extraction from
Thus with the isolation and
synthesis of the active principles, the demystification of the magic mushrooms
was accomplished. The compounds whose wondrous effects led the Indians to
believe for millennia that a god was residing in the mushrooms had their
chemical structures elucidated and could be produced synthetically in flasks.
Just what progress in scientific
knowledge was accomplished by natural products research in this case?
Essentially, when all is said and done, we can only say that the mystery of the
wondrous effects of teonanacatl was reduced to the mystery of the effects of two
crystalline substances — since these effects cannot be explained by science
either, but can only be describe.
Voyage into the Universe of the Soul with Psilocybin
The relationship between
the psychic effects of psilocybin and those of LSD, their visionaryhallucinatory
character, is evident in the following report from Antaios, of a psilocybin
experiment by Dr. Rudolf Gelpke. He has characterized his experiences with LSD
and psilocybin, as already mentioned in a previous chapter, as “travels in the
universe of the soul.”
Where Time Stands Still
(10 mg psilocybin, 6 April
After ca. 20 minutes, beginning
effects: serenity, speechlessness, mild but pleasant dizzy sensation, and
“pleasureful deep breathing.”
10:50 Strong! dizziness, can no
10:55 Excited, intensity of
colors: everything pink to red.
11:05 The world concentrates
itself there on the center of the table.
Colors very intense.
11:10 A divided being,
unprecedented — how can I describe this sensation of life? Waves, different
selves, must control me.
Immediately after this note I
went outdoors, leaving the breakfast table, where I had eaten with Dr. H. and
ourwives, and lay down on the lawn. The inebriation pushed rapidly to its
climax. Although I had firmly resolved to make constant notes, it now seemed to
me a complete waste of time, the motion of writing infinitely slow, the
possibilities of verbal expression unspeakably paltry — measured by the flood
of inner experience that inundated me and threatened to burst me. It seemed to
me that 100 years would not be sufficient to describe the fullness of experience
of a single minute. At the beginning, optical impressions predominated: I saw
with delight the boundless succession of rows of trees in the nearby forest.
Then the tattered clouds in the sunny sky rapidly piled up with silent and
breathtaking majesty to a superimposition of thousands of layers — heaven on
heaven — and I waited then expecting that up there in the next moment
something completely powerful, unheard of, not yet existing, would appear or
happen — would I behold a god? But only the expectation remained, the
presentiment, this hovering, “on the threshold of the ultimate feeling.”
…Then I moved farther away (the proximity of others disturbed me) and lay down
in a nook of the garden on a sun-warmed wood pile — my fingers stroked this
wood with overflowing, animal-like sensual affection. At the same time I was
submerged within myself; it was an absolute climax: a sensation of bliss
pervaded me, a contented happiness — I found myself behind my closed eyes in a
cavity full of brick-red ornaments, and at the same time in the “center of the
universe of consummate calm.” I knew everything was good — the cause and
origins of everything was good. But at the same moment I also understood the
suffering and the loathing, the depression and misunderstanding of ordinary
life: there one is never “total,” but instead divided, cut in pieces, and
split up into the tiny fragments of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, and
years: there one is a slave of Moloch time, which devoured one piecemeal; one is
condemned to stammering, bungling, and patchwork; one must drag about with
oneself the perfection and absolute, the togetherness of all things; the eternal
moment of the golden age, this original ground of being — that indeed
nevertheless has always endured and will endure forever — there in the weekday
of human existence, as a tormenting thorn buried deeply in the soul, as a
memorial of a claim never fulfilled, as a fata morgana of a lost and promised
paradise; through this feverish dream “present” to a condemned “past” in
a clouded “future.” I understood. This inebriation was a spaceflight, not of
the outer but rather of the inner man, and for a moment I experienced reality
from a location that lies somewhere beyond the force of gravity of time.
As I began again to feel this
force of gravity, I was childish enough to want to postpone the return by taking
a new dose of 6 mg psilocybin at 11:45, and once again 4 mg at 14:30. The effect
was trifling, and in any case not worth mentioning.
Mrs. Li Gelpke, an artist, also
participated in this series of investigations, taking three self-experiments
with LSD and psilocybin. The artist wrote of the drawing she made during the
on this page is consciously fashioned. While I worked on it, the memory (of the
experience under psilocybin) was again reality, and led me at every stroke. For
that reason the picture is as many-layered as this memory, and the figure at the
lower right is really the captive of its dream.... When books about Mexican art
came into my hands three weeks later, I again found the motifs of my visions
there with a sudden start....
I have also mentioned the
occurrence of Mexican motifs in psilocybin inebriation during my first
selfexperiment with dried Psilocybe mexicana mushrooms, as was described in the
section on the chemical investigation of these mushrooms. The same phenomenon
has also struck R. Gordon Wasson. Proceeding from such observations, he has
advanced the conjecture that ancient Mexican art could have been influenced by
visionary images, as they appear in mushroom inebriation.
After we had managed to
solve the riddle of the sacred mushroom teonanacatt in a relatively short time,
I also became interested in the problem of another Mexican magic drug not yet
chemically elucidated, olotiuhqui. Ololiuhqui is the Aztec name for the seeds of
certain climbing plants (Convolvulaceae) that, like the mescaline cactus peyotl
and the teonanacatl mushrooms, were used in pre-Columbian times by the Aztecs
and neighboring people in religious ceremonies and magical healing practices.
Ololiuhqui is still used even today by certain Indian tribes like the Zapotec,
Chinantec, Mazatec, and Mixtec, who until a short time ago still led a geniunely
isolated existence, little influenced by Christianity, in the remote mountains
of southern Mexico.
An excellent study of the
historical, ethnological, and botanical aspects of ololiuhqui was published in
1941 by Richard Evans Schultes, director of the Harvard Botanical Museum in
Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is entitled “A Contribution to Our Knowledge of
Rivea corymbosa, the Narcotic Ololiuqui of the Aztecs.” The following
statements about the history of ololiuhqui derive chiefly from Schultes’s
monograph. [Translator’s note: As R. Gordon Wasson has pointed out,
“ololiuhqui” is a more precise orthography than the more popular spelling
used by Schultes. See Botanical Museum Leaflets Harvard University 20: 161-212,
The earliest records about this
drug were written by Spanish chroniclers of the sixteenth century, who also
mentioned peyotl and teonanacatl. Thus the Franciscan friar Bernardino de
Sahagun, in his already cited famous chronicle Historia General de las Cosas de
Nueva Espana, writes about the wondrous effects of olotiuhqui: “There is an
herb, called coatl xoxouhqui (green snake), which produces seeds that are called
ololiuhqui. These seeds stupefy and deprive one of reason: they are taken as a
We obtain further information
about these seeds from the physician Francisco Hernandez, whom Philip II sent to
Mexico from Spain, from 1570 to 1575, in order to study the medicaments of the
natives. In the chapter “On Ololiuhqui” of his monumental work entitled
Rerum Medicarum Novae Hispaniae Thesaurus seu lantarum, Animalium Mineralium
Mexicanorum Historia, published in Rome in 1651, he gives a detailed description
and the first illustration of ololiuhqui. An extract from the Latin text
accompanying the illustration reads in translation: “Ololiuhqui, which others
call coaxihuitl or snake plant, is a climber with thin, green, heart-shaped
leaves.... The flowers are white, fairly large.... The seeds are roundish….
When the priests of the Indians wanted to visit with the gods and obtain
information from them, they ate of this plant in order to become inebriated.
Thousands of fantastic images and demons then appeared to them....” Despite
this comparatively good description, the botanical identification of ololiuhqui
as seeds of Rivea corymbosa (L.) Hall. f. occasioned many discussions in
specialist circles. Recently preference has been given to the synonym Turbina
corymbosa (L.) Raf.
When I decided in 1959 to attempt
the isolation o the active principles of ololiuhqui, only a single report on
chemical work with the seeds of Turbina cormbosa was available. It was the work
of the pharmacologist C. G. Santesson of Stockholm, from the year 1937.
Santesson, however, was not successful in isolating an active substance in pure
Contradictory findings had been
published about the activity of theololiuhqui seeds. The psychiatrist H. Osmond
conducted a self-experiment with the seeds of Turbina corymbosa in 1955. After
the ingestion of 60 to 100 seeds, he entered into a state of apathy and
emptiness, accompanied by enhanced visual sensitivity. After four hours, there
followed a period of relaxation and well-being, lasting for a longer time. The
results of V. J. Kinross-Wright, published in England in 1958, in which eight
voluntary research subjects, who had taken up to 125 seeds, perceived no effects
at all, contradicted this report.
Through the mediation of R.
Gordon Wasson, I obtained two samples of ololiuhgui seeds. In his accompanying
letter of 6 August 1959 from Mexico City, he wrote of them:
…The parcels that I am sending
you are the following….
A small parcel of seeds that I
take to be Rivea corymbosa, otherwise known as ololiuqui well-known narcotic of
the Aztecs, called in Huautla “la semilla de la Virgen.” This parcel, you
will find, consists of two little bottles, which represent two deliveries of
seeds made to us in Huautla, and a larger batch of seeds delivered to us by
Francisco Ortega “Chico,” the Zapotec guide, who himself gathered the seeds
from the plants at the Zapotec town of San Bartolo Yautepec....
The first-named, round, light
brown seeds from Huautla proved in the botanical determination to have been
correctly identified as Rivea (Turbina) corymbosa, while the black, angular
seeds from San Bartolo Yautepec were identified as Ipomoea violacea L.
While Turbina corymbosa thrives
only in tropical or subtropical climates, one also finds Ipomoea violacea as an
ornamental plant dispersed over the whole earth in the temperate zones. It is
the morning glory that delights the eye in our gardens in diverse varieties with
blue or blue-red striped caiyxes.
The Zapotec, besides the original
ololiuhqui (that is, the seeds of Turbina corymbosa, which they call badoh),
also utilize badoh negro, the seeds of Ipomoea violacea. T. MacDougall, who
furnished us with a second larger consignment of the last-named seeds, made this
My capable laboratory assistant
Hans Tscherter, with whom I had already carried out the isolation of the active
principles of the mushrooms, participated in the chemical investigation of the
ololiuhqui drug. We advanced the working hypothesis that the active principles
of the ololiuhqui seeds could be representatives of the same class of chemical
substances, the indole compounds, to which LSD, psilocybin, and psilocin belong.
Considering the very great number of other groups of substances that, like the
indoles, were under consideration as active principles of ololiuhqui, it was
indeed extremely improbable that this assumption would prove true. It could,
however, very easily be tested. The presence of indole compounds, of course, may
simply and rapidly be determined by colorimetric reactions. Thus even traces of
indole substances, with a certain reagent, give an intense blue-colored
We had luck with our hypothesis.
Extracts of ololiuhqui seeds with the appropriate reagent gave the blue
coloration characteristic of indole compounds. With the help of this
colorimetric test, we succeeded in a short time in isolating the indole
substances from the seeds and in obtaining them in chemically pure form. Their
identification led to an astonishing result. What we found appeared at first
scarcely believable. Only after repetition and the most careful scrutiny of the
operations was our suspicion concerning the peculiar findings eliminated: the
active principles from the ancient Mexican magic drug ololiuhqui proved to be
identical with substances that were already present in my laboratory. They were
identical with alkaloids that had been obtained in the course of the decadeslong
investigations of ergot; partly isolated as such from ergot, partly obtained
through chemical modification of ergot substances.
Lysergic acid amide, lysergic
acid hydroxyethylamide, and alkaloids closely related to them chemically were
established as the main active principles of olotiuhqui. (See formulae in the
appendix.) Also present was the alkaloid ergobasine, whose synthesis had
constituted the starting point of my investigations on ergot alkaloids. Lysergic
acid amide and lysergic acid hydroxyethylamide, active principles of ololiuhqui,
are chemically very closely related to lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), which
even for the nonchemist follows from the names.
Lysergic acid amide was described
for the first time by the English chemists S. Smith and G. M. Timmis as a
cleavage product of ergot alkaloids, and I had also produced this substance
synthetically in the course of the investigations in which LSD originated.
Certainly, nobody at the time could have suspected that this cornpound
synthesized in the flask would be discovered twenty years later as a naturally
occurring active principle of an ancient Mexican magic drug.
After the discovery of the
psychic effects of LSD, I had also tested lysergic acid amide in a
selfexperiment and established that it likewise evoked a dreamlike condition,
but only with about a tenfold to twentyfold greater dose than LSD. This effect
was characterized by a sensation of mental emptiness and the unreality and
meaninglessness of the outer world, by enhanced sensitivity of hearing, and by a
not unpleasant physical lassitude, which ultimately led to sleep. This picture
of the effects of LA-l 1 1, as lysergic acid amide was called as a research
preparation, was confirmed in a systematic investigation by the psychiatrist Dr.
When I presented the findings of
our investigations on ololiuhqui at the Natural Products Congress of the
International Union for Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) in Sydney, Australia,
in the fall of 1960, my colleagues received my talk with skepticism. In the
discussions following my lecture, some persons voiced the suspicion that the
ololiuhqui extracts could well have been contaminated with traces of lysergic
acid derivatives, with which so much work had been done in my laboratory.
There was another reason for the
doubt in specialist circles concerning our findings. The occurrence in higher
plants (i.e., in the morning glory family) of ergot alkaloids that hitherto had
been known only as constituents of lower fungi, contradicted the experience that
certain substances are typical of and restricted to respective plant families.
It is indeed a very rare exception to find a characteristic group of substances,
in this case the ergot alkaloids, occurring in two divisions of the plant
kingdom broadly separated in evolutionary history.
Our results were confirmed,
however, when different laboratories in the United States, Germany, and Holland
subsequently verified our investigations on the ololiuhqui seeds. Nevertheless,
the skepticism went so far that some persons even considered the possibility
that the seeds could have been infected with alkaloid-producing fungi. That
suspicion, however, was ruled out experimentally.
These studies on the active
principles of ololiuhqui seeds, although they were published only in
professional journals, had an unexpected sequel. We were apprised by two Dutch
wholesale seed companies that their sale of seeds of Ipomoea violacea, the
ornamental blue morning glory, had reached unusual proportions in recent times.
They had heard that the great demand was connected with investigations of these
seeds in our laboratory, about which they were eager to learn the details. It
turned out that the new demand derived from hippie circles and other groups
interested in hallucinogenic drugs. They believed they had found in the
ololiuhqui seeds a substitute for LSD, which was becoming less and less
The morning glory seed boom,
however, lasted only a comparatively short time, evidently because of the
undesirable experiences that those in the drug world had with this “new”
ancient inebriant. The ololiuhqui seeds, which are taken crushed with water or
another mild beverage, taste very bad and are difficult for the stomach to
digest. Moreover, the psychic effects of ololiuhqui, in fact, differ from those
of LSD in that the euphoric and the hallucinogenic components are less
pronounced, while a sensation of mental emptiness, often anxiety and depression,
predominates. Furthermore, weariness and lassitude are hardly desirable effects
as traits in an inebriant. These could all be reasons why the drug culture’s
interest in the morning glory seeds has diminished.
Only a few investigations have
considered the question whether the active principles of ololiuhqui could find a
useful application in medicine. In my opinion, it would be worthwhile to clarify
above all whether the strong narcotic, sedative effect of certain ololiuhqui
constituents, or of chemical modifications of these, is medicinally useful.
My studies in the field of
hallucinogenic drugs reached a kind of logical conclusion with the
investigations of ololiuhqui. They now formed a circle, one could almost say a
magic circle: the starting point had been the synthesis of lysergic acid amides,
among them the naturally occurring ergot alkaloid ergobasin. This led to the
synthesis of lysergic acid diethylamide, LSD. The hallucinogenic properties of
LSD were the reason why the hallucinogenic magic mushroom teonanacatl found its
way into my laboratory. The work with teonanacatt, from which psilocybin and
psilocin were isolated, proceeded to the investigation of another Mexican magic
drug, olotiuhqui, in which hallucinogenic principles in the form of lysergic
acid amides were again encountered, including ergobasin — with which the magic
In Search of the Magic Plant
“Ska Maria Pastora” in the Mazatec Country
R. Gordon Wasson, with whom
I had maintained friendly relations since the investigations of the Mexican
magic mushrooms, invited my wife and me to take part in an expedition to Mexico
in the fall of 1962. The purpose of the journey was to search for another
Mexican magic plant. Wasson had learned on his travels in the mountains of
southern Mexico that the expressed juice of the leaves of a plant, which were
called hojas de la Pastora or hojas de Maria Pastora, in Mazatec ska Pastora or
ska Maria Pastora (leaves of the shepherdess or leaves of Mary the shepherdess),
were used among the Mazatec in medico-religious practices, like the teonanacatl
mushrooms and the ololiuhqui seeds.
The question now was to ascertain
from what sort of plant the “leaves of Mary the shepherdess” derived, and
then to identify this plant botanically. We also hoped, if at all possible, to
gather sufficient plant material to conduct a chemical investigation on the
hallucinogenic principles it contained.
On 26 September 1962, my
wife and I accordingly flew to Mexico City, where we met Gordon Wasson. He had
made all the necessary preparations for the expedition, so that in two days we
had already set out on the next leg of the journey to the south. Mrs. Irmgard
Weitlaner Johnson, (widow of Jean B. Johnson, a pioneer of the ethnographic
study of the Mexican magic mushrooms, killed in the Allied landing in North
Africa) had joined us. Her father, Robert J. Weitlaner, had emigrated to Mexico
from Austria and had likewise contributed toward the rediscovery of the mushroom
cult. Mrs. Johnson worked at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City,
as an expert on Indian textiles.
After a two-day journey in a
spacious Land Rover, which took us over the plateau, along the snow-capped
Popocatepetl, passing Puebla, down into the Valley of Orizaba with its
magnificent tropical vegetation, then by ferry across the Popoloapan (Butterfly
River), on through the former Aztec garrison Tuxtepec, we arrived at the
starting point of our expedition, the Mazatec village of Jalapa de Diaz, lying
on a hillside.
There we were in the midst of the
environment and among the people that we would come to know in the succeeding 2
There was an uproar upon our
arrival in the marketplace, center of this village widely dispersed in the
jungle. Old and young men, who had been squatting and standing around in the
half-opened bars and shops, pressed suspiciously yet curiously about our Land
Rover; they were mostly barefoot but all wore a sombrero. Women and girls were
nowhere to be seen. One of the men gave us to understand that we should follow.
him. He led us to the local president, a fat mestizo who had his office in a
one-story house with a corrugated iron roof. Gordon showed him our credentials
from the civil authorities and from the military governor of Oaxaca, which
explained that we had come here to carry out scientific investigations. The
president, who probably could not read at all, was visibly impressed by the
large-sized documents equipped with official seals. He had lodgings assigned to
us in a spacious shed, in which we could place our air mattresses and sleeping
I looked around the region
somewhat. The ruins of a large church from colonial times, which must have once
been very beautiful, rose almost ghostlike in the direction of an ascending
slope at the side of the village square. Now I could also see women looking out
of their huts, venturing to examine the strangers. In their long, white dresses,
adorned with red borders, and with their long braids of blue-black hair, they
offered a picturesque sight.
We were fed by an old Mazatec
woman, who directed a young cook and two helpers. She lived in one of the
typical Mazatec huts. These are simply rectangular structures with thatched
gabled roofs and walls of wooden poles joined together, windowless, the chinks
between the wooden poles offering sufficient opportunity to look out. In the
middle of the hut, on the stamped clay floor, was an elevated, open fireplace,
built up out of dried clay or made of stones. The smoke escaped through large
openings in the walls under the two ends of the roof. Bast mats that lay in a
corner or along the walls served as beds. The huts were shared with the domestic
animals, as well as black swine, turkeys, and chickens. There was roasted
chicken to eat, black beans, and also, in place of bread, tortittas, a type of
cornmeal pancake that is baked on the hot stone slab of the hearth. Beer and
tequila, an Agave liquor, were served.
Next morning our troop formed for the ride through the Sierra
Mazateca. Mules and guides were engaged from the horsekeeper of the village.
Guadelupe, the Mazatec familiar with the route, took charge of guiding the lead
animal. Gordon, Irmgard, my wife, and I were stationed on our mules in the
middle. Teodosio and Pedro, called Chico, two young fellows who trotted along
barefoot beside the two mules laden with our baggage, brought up the rear.
It took some time to get
accustomed to the hard wooden saddles. Then, however, this mode of locomotion
proved to be the most ideal type of travel that I know of. The mules followed
the leader, single file, at a steady pace. They required no direction at all by
the rider. With surprising dexterity, they sought out the best spots along the
almost impassable, partly rocky, partly marshy paths, which led through thickets
and streams or onto precipitous slopes. Relieved of all travel cares, we could
devote all our attention to the beauty of the landscape and the tropical
vegetation. There were tropical forests with gigantic trees overgrown with
twining plants, then again clearings with banana groves or coffee plantations,
between light stands of trees, flowers at the edge of the path, over which
wondrous butterflies bustled about.... We made our way upstream along the broad
riverbed of Rio Santo Domingo, with brooding heat and steamy air, now steeply
ascending, then again falling. During a short, violent tropical downpour, the
long broad ponchos of oilcloth, with which Gordon had equipped us, proved quite
useful. Our Indian guides had protected themselves from the cloudburst with
gigantic, heart-shaped leaves that they nimbly chopped off at the edge of the
path. Teodosio and Chico gave the impression of great, green hay ricks as they
ran, covered with these leaves, beside their mules.
Shortly before nightfall we
arrived at the first settlement, La Providencia ranch. The patron, Don Joaquin
Garcia, the head of a large family, welcomed us hospitably and full of dignity.
It was impossible to determine how many children, in addition to the grown-ups
and the domestic animals, were present in the large living room, feebly
illuminated by the hearth fire alone.
Gordon and I placed our sleeping
bags outdoors under the projecting roof. I awoke in the morning to find a pig
grunting over my face.
After another day’s journey on
the backs of our worthy mules, we arrived at Ayautla, a Mazatec settlement
spread across a hillside. En route, among the shrubbery, I had delighted in the
blue calyxes of the magic morning glory Ipomoea violacea, the mother plant of
the ololiuhqui seeds. It grew wild there, whereas among us it is only found in
the Garden as an ornamental plant.
We remained in Ayautla for
several days. We had lodging in the house of Dona Donata Sosa de Garcia. Dona
Donata was in charge of a large family, which included her ailing husband. In
addition, she presided over the coffee cultivation of the region. The collection
center for the freshly picked coffee beans was in an adjacent building. It was a
lovely picture, the young Indian woman and girls returning home from the harvest
toward evening, in their bright garments adorned with colored borders, the
coffee sacks carried on their backs by headbands. Dona Donata also managed a
type of grocery store, in which her husband, Don Eduardo, stood behind the
In the evening by candlelight,
Dona Donata, who besides Mazatec also spoke Spanish, told us about life in the
village; one tragedy or another had already struck nearly every one of the
seemingly peaceful huts that lay surrounded by this paradisiacal scenery. A man
who had murdered his wife, and who now sits in prison for life, had lived in the
house next door, which now stood empty. The husband of a daughter of Dona Donata,
after an affair with another woman, was murdered out of jealousy. The president
of Ayautla, a young bull of a mestizo, to whom we had made our formal visit in
the afternoon, never made the short walk from his hut to his “office” in the
village hall (with the corrugated iron roof) unless accompanied by two heavily
armed men. Because he exacted illegal taxes, he was afraid of being shot to
death. Since no higher authority sees to justice in this remote region, people
have recourse to self-defense of this type.
Thanks to Dona Donata’s good
connections, we received the first sample of the sought-after plant, some leaves
of hojas de la Pastora, from an old woman. Since the flowers and roots were
missing, however, this plant material was not suitable for botanical
identification. Our efforts to obtain more precise information about the habitat
of the plant and its use were also fruitless.
The continuation of our journey
from Ayautla was delayed, as we had to wait until our boys could again bring
back the mules that they had taken to pasture on the other side of Rio Santo
Domingo, over the river swollen by intense downpours.
After a two-day ride, on which we
had passed the night in the high mountain village of San MiguelHuautla, we
arrived at Rio Santiago. Here we were joined by Dona Herlinda Martinez Cid, a
teacher from Huautla de Jimenez. She had ridden over on the invitation of Gordon
Wasson, who had known her since his mushroom expeditions, and was to serve as
our Mazatec and Spanish-speaking interpreter. Moreover, she could help us,
through her numerous relatives scattered in the region, to pave the way to
contacts with curanderos and curanderas who used the hojas de 1a Pastora in
their practice. Because of our delayed arrival in Rio Santiago, Dona Herlinda,
who was acquainted with the dangers of the region, had been apprehensive about
us, fearing we might have plunged down a rocky path or been attacked by robbers.
Our next stop was in San Jose
Tenango, a settlement lying deep in a valley, in the midst of tropical
vegetation with orange and lemon trees and banana plantations. Here again was
the typical village picture: in the center, a marketplace with a half-ruined
church from the colonial period, with two or three stands, a general store, and
shelters for horses and mules. We found lodging in a corrugated iron barracks,
with the special luxury of a cement floor, on which we could spread out our
In the thick jungle on the
mountainside we discovered a s-pring, whose magnificent fresh water in a natural
rocky basin invited us to bathe. That was an unforgettable pleasure after days
without opportunities to wash properly. In this grotto I saw a hummingbird for
the first time in nature, a blue-green, metallic, iridescent gem, which whirred
over great liana blossoms.
The desired contact with persons
skilled in medicine came about thanks to the kindred connections of Dona
Herlinda, beginning with the curandero Don Sabino. But he refused, for some
reason, to receive us in a consultation and to question the leaves. From an old
curandera, a venerable woman in a strikingly magnificent Mazatec garment, with
the lovely name Natividad Rosa, we received a whole bundle of flowering
specimens of the sought-after plant, but even she could not be prevailed upon to
perform a ceremony with the leaves for us. Her excuse was that she was too old
for the hardship of the magical trip; she could never cover the long distance to
certain places: a spring where the wise women gather their powers, a lake on
which the sparrows sing, and where objects get their names. Nor would Natividad
Rosa tell us where she had gathered the leaves. They grew in a very, very
distant forest valley. Wherever she dug up a plant, she put a coffee bean in the
earth as thanks to the gods.
We now possessed ample plants
with flowers and roots, which were suitable for botanical identification. It was
apparently a representative of the genus Salvia, a relative of the well-known
meadow sage. The plants had blue flowers crowned with a white dome, which are
arranged on a panicle 20 to 30 cm long, whose stem leaked blue.
Several days later, Natividad
Rosa brought us a whole basket of leaves, for which she was paid fifty pesos.
The business seemed to have been discussed, for two other women brought us
further quantities of leaves. As it was known that the expressed juice of the
leaves is drunk in the ceremony, and this must therefore contain the active
principle, the fresh leaves were crushed on a stone plate, squeezed out in a
cloth, the juice diluted with alcohol as a preservative, and decanted into
flasks in order to be studied later in the laboratory in Basel. I was assisted
in this work by an Indian girl, who was accustomed to dealing with the stone
plate, the metate, on which the Indians since ancient times have ground their
corn by hand.
On the day before the journey was
to continue, having given up all hope of being able to attend a ceremony, we
suddenly made another contact with a curandera, one who was ready “ to serve
us.” A confidante of Herlinda’s, who had produced this contact, led us after
nightfall along a secret path to the hut of the curandera, lying solitary on the
mountainside above the settlement.
No one from the village was to
see us or discover that we were received there. It was obviously considered a
betrayal of sacred customs, worthy of punishment, to allow strangers, whites, to
take part in this. That indeed had also been the real reason why the other
healers whom we asked had refused to admit us to a leaf ceremony. Strange
birdcalls from the darkness accompanied us on the ascent, and the barking of
dogs was heard on all sides. The dogs had detected the strangers. The curandera
Consuela Garcia, a woman of some forty years, barefoot like all Indian women in
this region, timidly admitted us to her hut and immediately closed up the
doorway with a heavy bar. She bid us lie down on the bast mats on the stamped
mud floor. As Consuela spoke only Mazatec, Herlinda translated her instructions
into Spanish for us. The curandera lit a candle on a table covered with some
images of saints, along with a variety of rubbish. Then she began to bustle
about busily, but in silence. All at once we heard peculiar noises and a
rummaging in the room-did the hut harbor some hidden person whose shape and
proportions could not be made out in the candlelight? Visibly disturbed,
Consuela searched the room with the burning candle. It appeared to be merely
rats, however, who were working their mischief. In a bowl the curandera now
kindled copal, an incense-like resin, which soon filled the whole hut with its
aroma. Then the magic potion was ceremoniously prepared. Consuela inquired which
of us wished to drink of it with her. Gordon announced himself. Since I was
suffering from a severe stomach upset at the time, I could not join in. My wife
substituted for me. The curandera laid out six pairs of leaves for herself. She
apportioned the same number to Gordon. Anita received three pairs. Like the
mushrooms, the leaves are always dosed in pairs, a practice that, of course, has
a magical significance. The leaves were crushed with the metate, then squeezed
out through a fine sieve into a cup, and the metate and the contents of the
sieve were rinsed with water. Finally, the filled cups were incensed over the
copal vessel with much ceremony. Consuela asked Anita and Gordon, before she
handed them their cups, whether they believed in the truth and the holiness of
the ceremony. After they answered in the affirmative and the very bitter-tasting
potion was solemnly imbibed, the candles were extinguished and, lying in
darkness on the bast masts, we awaited the effects.
After some twenty minutes Anita
whispered to me that she saw striking, brightly bordered images. Gordon also
perceived the effect of the drug. The voice of the curandera sounded from the
darkness, half speaking, half singing. Herlinda translated: Did we believe in
Christ’s blood and the holiness of the rites? After our “creemos” (“We
believe”), the ceremonial performance
When the ceremony was at an end,
the curandera asked us to rest yet a while longer in prayer on our bast mats.
Suddenly a thunderstorm burst out. Through the cracks of the beam walls,
lightning flashed into the darkness of the hut, accompanied by violent
thunderbolts, while a tropical downpour raged, beating on the roof. Consuela
voiced apprehension that we would not be able to leave her house unseen in the
darkness. But the thunderstorm let up before daybreak, and we went down the
mountainside to our corrugated iron barracks, as noiselessly as possible by the
light of flashlights, unnoticed by the villagers, but dogs again barked from all
Participation in this ceremony
was the climax of our expedition. It brought confirmation that the hojas de la
Pastora were used by the Indians for the same purpose and in the same ceremonial
milieu as teonanacatl, the sacred mushrooms. Now we also had authentic plant
material, not only sufficient for botanical identification, but also for the
planned chemical analysis. The inebriated state that Gordon Wasson and my wife
had experienced with the hojas had been shallow and only of short duration, yet
it had exhibited a distinctly hallucinogenic character.
On the morning after this
eventful night we took leave of San Jose Tenango. The guide, Guadelupe, and the
two fellows Teodosio and Pedro appeared before our barracks with the mules at
the appointed time. Soon packed up and mounted, our little troop then moved
uphill again, through the fertile landscape glittering in the sunlight from the
night’s thunderstorm. Returning by way of Santiago, toward evening we reached
our last stop in Mazatec country, the capital Huautla de Jimenez.
From here on, the return trip to
Mexico City was made by automobile. With a final supper in the Posada Rosaura,
at the time the only inn in Huautla, we took leave of our Indian guides and of
the worthy mules that had carried us so surefootedly and in such a pleasant way
through the Sierra Mazatec. The Indians were paid of, and Teodosio, who also
accepted payment for his chief in Jalapa de Diaz (where the animals were to be
returned afterward), gave a receipt with his thumbprint colored by a ballpoint
pen. We took up quarters in Dona Herlinda’s house.
A day later we made our formal
visit to the curandera Maria Sabina, a woman made famous by the Wassons’
publications. It had been in her hut that Gordon Wasson became the first white
man to taste of the sacred mushrooms, in the course of a nocturnal ceremony in
the summer of 1955. Gordon and Maria Sabina greeted each other cordially, as old
friends. The curandera lived out of the way, on the mountainside above Huautla.
The house in which the historic session with Gordon Wasson had taken place had
been burned, presumably by angered residents or an envious colleague, because
she had divulged the secret of teonanacatl to strangers. In the new hut in which
we found ourselves, an incredible disorder prevailed, as had probably also
prevailed in the old hut, in which half-naked children, hens, and pigs bustled
about. The old curandera had an intelligent face, exceptionally changeable in
expression. She was obviously impressed when it was explained that we had
managed to confine the spirit of the mushrooms in pills, and she at once
declared herself ready to “serve us” with these, that is, to grant us a
consultation. It was agreed that this should take place the coming night in the
house of Dona Herlinda.
In the course of the day I took a
stroll through Huautla de Jimenez, which led along a main street on the
mountainside. Then I accompanied Gordon on his visit to the Instituto Nacional
Indigenista. This governmental organization had the duty of studying and helping
to solve the problems of the indigenous population, that is, the Indians. Its
leader told us of the difficulties that the “coffee policy” had caused in
the area at that time. The president of Huautla, in collaboration with the
Instituto Nacional Indigenista had tried to eliminate middlemen in order to
shape the coffee prices favorably for the producing Indians. His body was found,
mutilated, the previous June. Our stroll also took us past the cathedral, from
which Gregorian chants resounded. Old Father Aragon, whom Gordon knew well from
his earlier stays, invited us into the vestry for a glass of tequila.
As we returned home to
Herlinda’s house toward evening, Maria Sabina had already arrived there with a
large company, her two lovely daughters, Apolonia and Aurora (two prospective
curanderas), and a niece, all of whom brought children along with them. Whenever
her child began to cry, Apolonia would offer her breast to it. The old curandero
Don Aurelio also appeared, a mighty man, one-eyed, in a black-andwhite
patternedserape (cloak). Cacao and sweet pastry were served on the veranda. I
was reminded of the report from an ancient chronicle which described how
chocotatl was drunk before the ingestion of teonanacatl.
After the fall of darkness, we
all proceeded into the room in which the ceremony would take place. It was then
locked up-that is, the door was obstructed with the only bed available. Only an
emergency exit into the back garden remained unlatched for absolute necessity.
It was nearly midnight when the ceremony began. Until that time the whole party
lay, in darkness sleeping or awaiting the night’s events, on the bast mats
spread on the floor. Maria Sabina threw a piece of copal on the embers of a
brazier from time to time, whereby the stuffy air in the crowded room became
somewhat bearable. I had explained to the curandera through Herlinda, who was
again with the party as interpreter, that one pill contained the spirit of two
pairs of mushrooms. (The pills contained 5.0 mg synthetic psilocybin apiece.)
When all was ready, Maria Sabina
apportioned the pills in pairs among the grown-ups present. After solemn
smoking, she herself took two pairs (corresponding to 20 mg psilocybin). She
gave the same dose to Don Aurelio and her daughter Apolonia, who would also
serve as curandera. Aurora received one pair, as did Gordon, while my wife and
Irmgard got only one pill each.
One of the children, a girl of
about ten, under the guidance of Maria Sabina, had prepared for me the juice of
five pairs of fresh leaves of hojas de la Pastora. I wanted to experience this
drug that I had been unable to try in San Jose Tenango. The potion was said to
be especially active when prepared by an innocent child. The cup with the
expressed juice was likewise incensed and conjured by Maria Sabina and Don
Aurelio, before it was delivered to me.
All of these preparations and the
following ceremony progressed in much the same way as the consultation with the
curandera Consuela Garcia in San Jose Tenango.
After the drug was apportioned
and the candle on the “ altar” was extinguished, we awaited the effects in
Before a half hour had elapsed,
the curandera murmured something; her daughter and Don Aurelio also became
restless. Herlinda translated and explained to us what was wrong. Maria Sabina
had said that the pills lacked the spirit of the mushrooms. I discussed the
situation with Gordon, who lay beside me. For us it was clear that absorption of
the active principle from the pills, which must first dissolve in the stomach,
occurs more slowly than from the mushrooms, in which some of the active
principle already becomes absorbed through the mucous membranes during chewing.
But how could we give a scientific explanation under such conditions? Rather
than try to explain, we decided to act. We distributed more pills. Both
curanderas and the curandero each received another pair. They had now each taken
a total dosage of 30 mg psilocybin. After about another quarter of an hour, the
spirit of the pills did begin to yield its effects, which lasted until the crack
of dawn. The daughters, and Don Aurelio with his deep bass voice, fervently
answered the prayers and singing of the curandera. Blissful, yearning moans of
Apolonia and Aurora, between singing and prayer, gave the impression that the
religious experience of the young women in the drug inebriation was combined
with sensual-sexual feelings.
In the middle of the ceremony
Maria Sabina asked for our request. Gordon inquired again after the health of
his daughter and grandchild. He received the same good information as from the
curandera Consuela. Mother and child were in fact well when he returned home to
New York. Obviously, however, this still represents no proof of the prophetic
abilities of both curanderas.
Evidently as an effect of the
hojas, I found myself for some time in a state of mental sensitivity and intense
experience, which, however, was not accompanied by hallucinations. Anita,
Irmgard, and Gordon experienced a euphoric condition of inebriation that was
influenced by tke strange, mystical atmosphere. My wife was impressed by the
vision of very distinct strange line patterns.
She was astonished and perplexed,
later, on discovering precisely the same images in the rich ornamentation over
the altar in an old church near Puebla. That was on the return trip to Mexico
City, when we visited churches from colonial times. These admirable churches
offer great cultural and historical interest because the Indian artists and
workmen who assisted in their construction smuggled in elements of Indian style.
Klaus Thomas, in his book Die kunstlich gesteuerte Seele [The artificially
steered mind] (Ferdinand Enke Verlag, Stuttgart, 1970), writes about the
possible influence of visions from psilocybin inebriation on Meso-American
Indian art: “Surely a culturalhistorical comparison of the old and new
creations of Indian art… must convince the unbiased spectator of the harmony
with the images, forms and colors of a psilocybin inebriation.” The Mexican
character of the visions seen in my first experience with dried Psilocybe
mexicana mushrooms and the drawing of Li Gelpke after a psilocybin inebriation
could also point to such an association.
As we took leave of Maria Sabina
and her clan at the crack of dawn, the curandera said that the pills had the
same power as the mushrooms, that there was no difference. This was a
confirmation from the most competent authority, that the synthetic psilocybin is
identical with the natural product. As a parting gift I let Maria Sabina have a
vial of psilocybin pills. She radiantly explained to our interpreter Herlinda
that she could now give consultations even in the season when no mushrooms grow.
How should we judge the conduct
of Maria Sabina, the fact that she allowed strangers, white people, access to
the secret ceremony, and let them try the sacred mushroom?
To her credit it can be said that
she had thereby opened the door to the exploration of the Mexican mushroom cult
in its present form, and to the scientific, botanical, and chemical
investigation of the sacred mushrooms. Valuable active substances, psilocybin
and psilocin, resulted. Without this assistance, the ancient knowledge and
experience that was concealed in these secret practices would possibly, even
probably, have disappeared without a trace, without having borne fruit, in the
advancement of Western civilization.
From another standpoint, the
conduct of this curandera can be regarded as a profanation of a sacred
custom-even as a betrayal. Some of her countrymen were of this opinion, which
was expressed in acts of revenge, including the burning of her house.
The profanation of the mushroom
cult did not stop with the scientific investigations. The publication about the
magic mushrooms unleashed an invasion of hippies and drug seekers into the
Mazatec country, many of whom behaved badly, some even criminally. Another
undesirable consequence was the beginning of true tourism in Huautla de Jimenez,
whereby the originality of the place was eradicated.
Such statements and
considerations are, for the most part, the concern of ethnographical research.
Wherever researchers and scientists trace and elucidate the remains of ancient
customs that are becoming rarer, their primitiveness is lost. This loss is only
more or less counterbalanced when the outcome of the research represents a
lasting cultural gain.
From Huautla de Jimenez we
proceeded first to Teotitlan, in a breakneck truck ride along a half-paved road,
and from there went on a comfortable car trip back to Mexico City, the starting
point of our expedition. I had lost several kilograms in body weight, but was
overwhelmingly compensated in enchanting experiences.
The herbarium samples of hojas de
la Pastora, which we had brought with us, were subjected to botanical
indentification by Carl Epling and Carlos D. Jativa at the Botanical Institute
of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They found that this plant
was a hitherto undescribed species of Satvia, which was named Salvia divinorum
by these authors. The chemical investigation of the juice of the magic sage in
the laboratory in Basel was unsuccessful. The psychoactive principle of this
drug seems to be a rather unstable substance, since the juice prepared in Mexico
and preserved with alcohol proved in selfexperiments to be no longer active.
Where the chemical nature of the active principle is concerned, the problem of
the magic plant ska Maria Pastora still awaits solution.
So far in this book I have mainly
described my scientific work and matters relating to my professional activity.
But this work, by its very nature, had repercussions on my own life and
personality, not least because it brought me into contact with interesting and
important contemporaries. I have already mentioned some of them-Timothy Leary,
Rudolf Gelpke, Gordon Wasson. Now, in the pages that follow, I would like to
emerge from the natural scientist’s reserve, in order to portray encounters
which were personally meaningful to me and which helped me solve questions posed
by the substances I had discovered.
from Ernst Junger
Radiance is the perfect
term to express the influence that Ernst Junger’s literary work and
personality have had on me. In the light of his perspective, which
stereoscopically comprises the surfaces and depths of things, the world I knew
took on a new, translucent splendor. That happened a long time before the
discovery of LSD and before I came into personal contact with this author in
connection with hallucinogenic drugs.
My enchantment with Ernst Junger
began with his book Das Abenteuerliche Herz [The Adventurous Heart].
Again and again in the last forty years I have taken up this book. Here more
than ever, in themes that weigh more lightly and lie closer to me than war and a
new type of human being (subjects of Junger’s earlier books), the beauty and
magic of Junger’s prose was opened to me-descriptions of flowers, of dreams,
of solitary walks; thoughts about chance, the future, colors, and about other
themes that have direct relation to our personal lives. Everywhere in his prose
the miracle of creation became evident, in the precise description of the
surfaces and, in translucence, of the depths; and the uniqueness and the
imperishable in every human being was touched upon. No other writer has thus
opened my eyes.
Drugs were also mentioned in Das
Abenteuerliche Herz. Many years passed, however, before I myself began to be
especially interested in this subject, after the discovery of the psychic
effects of LSD.
My first correspondence with
Ernst Junger had nothing to do with the context of drugs; rather I once wrote to
him on his birthday, as a thankful reader.
Bottmingen, 29 March 1947
Dear Mr. Junger,
As one richly endowed by you for
years, I wished to send a jar of honey to you for your birthday. But I did not
have this pleasure, because my export license has been refused in Bern.
The gift was intended less as a
greeting from a country in which milk and honey still flow, than as a
reminiscence of the enchanting sentences in your book Auf den Marmorklippen (On
the Marble Cliffs), where you speak of the “golden bees.”
The book mentioned here had
appeared in 1939, just shortly before the outbreak of World War II. Auf den
Marmorklippen is not only a masterpiece of German prose, but also a work of
great significance because in this book the characteristics of tyrants and the
horror of war and nocturnal bombardment are described prophetically, in poetic
In the course of our
correspondence, Ernst Junger also inquired about my LSD studies, of which he had
learned through a friend. Thereupon I sent him the pertinent publications, which
he acknowledged with the following comments:
…together with both enclosures
concerning your new phantasticum. It seems indeed that you have entered a field
that contains so many tempting mysteries.
Your consignment came together
with the Confessions of an English Opium Eater, that has just been published in
a new translation. The translator writes me that his reading of Das
Abenteuerliche Herz stimulated him to do his work.
As far as I am concerned, my
practical studies in this field are far behind me. These are experiments in
which one sooner or later embarks on truly dangerous paths, and may be
considered lucky to escape with only a black eye.
What interested me above all was the relationship of these
substances to productivity. It has been my experience, however, that creative
achievement requires an alert consciousness, and that it diminishes under the
spell of drugs. On the other hand, conceptualization is important, and one gains
insights under the influence of drugs that indeed are not possible otherwise. I
consider the beautiful essay that Maupassant has written about ether to be such
an insight. Moreover, I had the impression that in fever one also discovers new
landscapes, new archipelagos, and a new music, that becomes completely distinct
when the “customs station” [“An der Zollstation” [At the custom
station], the title heading of a section in Das Abenteuerliche Herz (2d ed.)
that concerns the transition from life to death.] appears. For geographic
description, on the other hand, one must be fully conscious. What productivity
means to the artist, healing means to the physician. Accordingly, it also may
suffice for him that he sometimes enters the regions through the tapestries that
our senses have woven. Moreover, I seem to perceive in our time less of a taste
for the phantastica than for the energetica — amphetamine, which has even been
furnished to fliers and other soldiers by the armies, belongs to this group. Tea
is in my opinion a phantasticum, coffee an energeticum-tea therefore possesses a
disproportionately higher artistic rank. I notice that coffee disrupts the
delicate lattice of light and shadows, the fruitful doubts that emerge during
the writing of a sentence. One exceeds his inhibitions. With tea, on the other
hand, the thoughts climb genuinely upward.
So far as my “studies” are
concerned, I had a manuscript on that topic, but have since burned it. My
excursions terminated with hashish, that led to very pleasant, but also to manic
states, to oriental tyranny....
Soon afterward, in a letter from
Ernst Junger I learned that he had inserted a discourse about drugs in the novel
Heliopolis, on which he was then working. He wrote to me about the drug
researcher who figures in the novel:
Among the trips in the geographical and metaphysical worlds
which I am attempting to describe there are those of a purely sedentary man, who
explores the archipelagos beyond the navigable seas, for which he uses drugs as
a vehicle. I give extracts from his log book. Certainly, I cannot allow this
Columbus of the inner globe to end well — he dies of a poisoning. Avis au
The book that appeared the
following year bore the subtitle Ruckblick auf eine Stadt [Retrospective on a
city], a retrospective on a city of the future, in which technical apparatus and
the weapons of the present time were developed still further in magic, and in
which power struggles between a demonic technocracy and a conservative force
took place. In the figure of Antonio Peri, Junger depicted the mentioned drug
researcher, who resided in the ancient city of Heliopolis.
He captured dreams, just like
others appear to chase after butterflies with nets. He did not travel to the
islands on Sundays and holidays and did not frequent the taverns on Pagos beach.
He locked himself up in his studio for trips into the dreamy regions. He said
that all countries and unknown islands were woven into the tapestry. The drugs
served him as keys to entry into the chambers and caves of this world. In the
course of the years he had gained great knowledge, and he kept a log book of his
excursions. A small library adjoined this studio, consisting partly of herbals
and medicinal reports, partly of works by poets and magicians. Antonio tended to
read there while the effect of the drug itself Developed…. He went on voyages
of discovery in the universe of his brain....
In the center of this library,
which was pillaged by mercenaries of the provincial governor during the arrest
of Antonio Peri, stood the great inspirers of the nineteenth century: De Quincey,
E.T.A. Hoffmann, Poe, and Baudelaire. Yet there were also books from the ancient
past: herbals, necromancy texts, and demonology of the middle-aged world.
They included the names Albertus Magnus, Raimundus Lullus, and
Agrippa of Nettesheym.... Moreover,
there was the great folio De Praestigiis Daemonum by Wierus, and the very
unique compilations of Medicus Weckerus, published in Basel in 1582....
In another part of his
collection, Antonio Peri seemed to have cast his ttention principally “on
ancient pharmacology books, formularies and pharmacopoeias, and to have hunted
for reprints of journals and annals. Among others was found a heavy old volume
by the Heidelberg psychologists on the extract of mescal buttons, and a paper on
the phantastica of ergot by ofmann-Bottmingen....”
In the same year in which
Hetiopolis came out, I made the personal acquaintance of the author. I went to
meet Ernst Junger in Ravensburg, for a Swiss sojourn. On a wonderful fall
journey in southern Switzerland, together with mutual friends, I experienced the
radiant power of his personality.
Two years later, at the beginning
of February 1951, came the great adventure, an LSD trip with Ernst Junger.
Since, up until that moment, there were only reports of LSD experiments in
connection with psychiatric inquiries, this experiment especially interested me,
because this was an opportunity to observe the effects of LSD on the artistic
person, in a non-medical milieu. That was still somewhat before Aldous Huxley,
from the same perspective, began to experiment with mescaline, about which he
then reported in his two books The Doors of Perception and Heaven and
In order to have medical aid on
hand if necessary, I invited my friend, the physician and pharmacologist
Professor Heribert Konzett, to participate. The trip took place at 10:00 in the
morning, in the living room of our house in Bottmingen. Since the reaction of
such a highly sensitive man as Ernst Junger was not foreseeable, a low dose was
chosen for this first experiment as a precaution, only 0.05 mg. The experiment
then, did not lead into great depths.
The beginning phase was
characterized by the intensification of aesthetic experience. Red-violet roses
were of unknown luminosity and radiated in portentous brightness. The concerto
for flute and harp by Mozart was perceived in its celestial beauty as heavenly
music. In mutual astonishment we contemplated the haze of smoke that ascended
with the ease of thought from a Japanese incense stick. As the inebriation
became deeper and the conversation ended, we came to fantastic reveries while we
lay in our easy chairs with closed eyes. Ernst Junger enjoyed the color display
of oriental images: I was on a trip among Berber tribes in North Africa, saw
colored caravans and lush oases. Heribert Konzett, whose features seemed to me
to be transfigured, Buddha-like, experienced a breath of timelessness,
liberation from the past and the future, blessedness through being completely
here and now.
The return from the altered state
of consciousness was associated with strong sensitivity to cold. Like freezing
travelers, we enveloped ourselves in covers for the landing. The return to
everyday reality was celebrated with a good dinner, in which Burgundy flowed
This trip was characterized by
the mutuality and parallelism of our experiences, which were perceived as
profoundly joyful. All three of us had drawn near the gate to an experience of
mystical being; however, it did not open. The dose we had chosen was too low. In
misunderstanding this reason, Ernst Junger, who had earlier been thrust into
deeper realms by a high dose of mescaline, remarked: “Compared with the tiger
mescaline, your LSD, is, after all, only a house cat.” After later experiments
with higher doses of LSD, he revised this estimation.
Junger has assimilated the
mentioned spectacle of the incense stick into literature, in his story Besuch
auf Gotenhotm [Visit to Godenholm], in which deeper experiences of drug
inebriation also play a part:
Schwarzenberg burned an incense stick, as he sometimes did, to
clear the air. A blue plume ascended from the tip of the stick. Moltner looked
at it first with astonishment, then with delight, as if a new power of the eyes
had come to him. It revealed itself in the play of this fragrant smoke, which
ascended from the slender stick and then branched out into a delicate crown. It
was as if his imagination had created it — a pallid web of sea lilies in the
depths, that scarcely trembled from the beat of the surf. Time was active in
this creation — it had circled it, whirled about it, wreathed it, as if
imaginary coins rapidly piled up one on top of another. The abundance of space
revealed itself in the fiber work, the nerves, which stretched and unfolded in
the height, in a vast number of filaments.
Now a breath of air affected the vision, and softly twisted it
about the shaft like a dancer. Moltner uttered a shout of surprise. The beams
and lattices of the wondrous flower wheeled around in new planes, in new fields.
Myriads of molecules observed the harmony. Here the laws no longer acted under
the veil of appearance; matter was so delicate and weightless that it clearly
reflected them. How simple and cogent everything was. The numbers, masses and
weights stood out from matter. They cast off the raiments. No goddess could
inform the initiates more boldly and freely. The pyramids with their weight did
not reach up to this revelation. That was Pythagorean luster. No spectacle had
ever affected him with such a magic spell.
This deepened experience in the
aesthetic sphere, as it is described here in the example of contemplation of a
haze of blue smoke, is typical of the beginning phase of LSD inebriation, before
deeper alterations of conscious begin.
I visited Ernst Junger
occasionally in the following years, in Wilfingen, Germany, where he had moved
from Ravensburg; or we met in Switzerland, at my place in Bottmingen, or in
Bundnerland in southeastern Switzerland. Through the shared LSD experience our
relations had deepened. Drugs and problems connected with them constituted a
major subject of our conversation and correspondence, without our having made
further practical experiments in the meantime.
We exchanged literature about
drugs. Ernst Junger thus let me have for my drug library the rare, valuable
monograph of Dr. Ernst Freiherrn von Bibra, Die Narkotischen Genussmittel und
der Mensch [Narcotic pleasure drugs and man] printed in Nuremburg in 1855. This
book is a pioneering, standard work of drug literature, a source of the first
order, above all as relates to the history of drugs. What von Bibra embraces
under the designation “Narkotischen Genussmittel” are not only substances
like opium and thorn apple, but also coffee, tobacco, kat, which do not fall
under the present conception of narcotics, any more than do drugs such as coca,
fly agaric, and hashish, which he also described.
Noteworthy, and today still as
topical as at the time, are the general opinions about drugs that von Bibra
contrived more than a century ago:
The individual who has taken too
much hashish, and then runs frantically about in the streets and attacks
everyone who confronts him, sinks into insignificance beside the numbers of
those who after mealtime pass calm and happy hours with a moderate dose; and the
number of those who are able to overcome the heaviest exertions through coca,
yes, who were possibly rescued from death by starvation through coca, by far
exceed the few coqueros who have undermined their health by immoderate use. In
the same manner, only a misplaced hypocrisy can condemn the vinous cup of old
father Noah, because individual drunkards do not know how to observe limit and
From time to time I advised Ernst
Junger about actual and entertaining events in the field of inebriating drugs,
as in my letter of September 1955:
…Last week the first 200 grams of a new drug arrived, whose
investigation I wish to take up. It involves the seeds of a mimosa (Piptadenia
peregrina Benth,) that is used as a stimulating intoxicant by the Indians of the
Orinoco. The seeds are ground, fermented, and then mixed with the powder of
burned snail shells. This powder is sniffed by the Indians with the help of a
hollow, forked bird bone, as already reported by Alexander von Humboldt in Reise
nach den Aequinoctiat-Gegenden des Neuen Kontinents [Voyage to the equinoctial
regions of the new continent] (Book 8, Chapter 24). The warlike tribe, the
Otomaco, especially use this drug, called niopo, yupa, nopo or cojoba, to an
extensive degree, even today. It is reported in the monograph by P. J. Gumilla,
S. J. (Et Orinoco Itustrado, 1741): “The Otomacos sniffed the powder before
they went to battle with the Caribes, for in earlier times there existed savage
wars between these tribes.... This drug robs them completely of reason, and they
frantically seize their weapons. And if the women were not so adept at holding
them back and binding them fast, they would daily cause horrible devastation. It
is a terrible vice.... Other benign and docile tribes that also sniff the yupa,
do not get into such a fury as the Otomacos, who through self-injury with this
agent made themselves completely cruel before combat, and marched into battle
with savage fury.”
I am curious how niopo would act
on people like us. Should a niopo session one day come to pass, then we should
on no account send our wives away, as on that early spring reverie [The LSD trip
of February 1951 is meant here.], that they may bind us fast if necessary....
Chemical analysis of this drug
led to isolation of active principles that, like the ergot alkaloids and
psilocybin, belong to the group of indole alkaloids, but which were already
described in the technical literature, and were therefore not investigated
further in the Sandoz laboratories. [Translator’s note: The active principles
of niopo are DMT (N,Ndimethyltryptamine) and its congeners. DMT was first
prepared in 1931 by Manske.] The fantastic effects described above appeared to
occur only with the particular manner of use as snuff powder, and also seemed to
be related, in all probability, to the psychic structure of the Indian tribes
Fundamental questions of
drug problems were dealt with in the following correspondence.
Bottmingen, 16 December 1961
Dear Mr. Junger,
On the one hand, I would have the
great desire, besides the natural scientific, chemical, and pharmacological
investigation of hallucinogenic substances, also to research their use as magic
drugs in other regions.... On the other hand, I must admit that the fundamental
question very much occupies me, whether the use of these types of drugs, namely
of substances that so deeply affect our minds, could not indeed represent a
forbidden transgression of limits. As long as any means or methods are used,
which provide only an additional, newer aspect of reality, surely there is
nothing to object to in such means; on the contrary, the experience and the
knowledge of further facets of the reality only makes this reality ever more
real to us. The question exists, however, whether the deeply affecting drugs
under discussion here will in fact only open an additional window for our senses
and perceptions, or whether the spectator himself, the core of his being,
undergoes alterations. The latter would signify that something is altered that
in my opinion should always remain intact. My concern is addressed to the
question, whether the innermost core of our being is actually unimpeachable, and
cannot become damaged by whatever happens in its material, physical-chemical,
biological and psychic shells-or whether matter in the form of these drugs
displays a potency that has the ability to attack the spiritual center of the
personality, the self. The latter would have to be explained by the fact that
the effect of magic drugs happens at the borderline where mind and matter
merge-that these magic substances are themselves cracks in the infinite realm of
matter, in which the depth of matter, its relationship with the mind, becomes
particularly obvious. This could be expressed by a modification of the familiar
words of Goethe:
“Were the eye not sunny,
It could never behold the sun;
If the power of the mind were not
How could matter disturb the
This would correspond to cracks
which the radioactive substances constitute in the periodic system of the
elements, where the transition of matter into energy becomes manifest. Indeed,
one must ask whether the production of atomic energy likewise represents a
transgression of forbidden limits.
A further disquieting thought,
which follows from the possibility of influencing the highest intellectual
functions by traces of a substance, concerns free will.
The highly active psychotropic
substances like LSD and psilocybin possess in their chemical structure a very
close relationship with substances inherent in the body, which are found in the
central nervous system and play an important role in the regulation of its
functions. It is therefore conceivable that through some disturbance in the
metabolism of the normal neurotransmitters, a compound like LSD or psilocybin is
formed, which can determine and alter the character of the individual, his
worldview and his behavior. A trace of a substance, whose production or
nonproduction we cannot control with our wills, has the power to shape our
destiny. Such biochemical considerations could have led to the sentence that
Gottfried Benn quoted in his essay “Provoziertes Leben” [Provoked Life]:
“God is a substance, a drug!”
On the other hand, it is well
known that substances like adrenaline, for example, are formed or set free in
our organism by thoughts and emotions, which for their part determine the
functions of the nervous system. One may therefore suppose that our material
organism is susceptible to and shaped by our mind, in the same way that our
intellectual essence is shaped by our biochemistry. Which came first can indeed
no better be determined than the question, whether the chicken came before the
In spite of my uncertainty with
regard to the fundamental dangers that could lie in the use of hallucinogenic
substances, I have continued investigations on the active principles of the
Mexican magic morning glories, of which I wrote you briefly once before. In the
seeds of this morning glory, that were called otoliuhqui by the ancient Aztecs,
we found as active principles lysergic acid derivatives chemically very closely
related to LSD. That was an almost unbelievable finding. I have all along had a
particular love for the morning glories. They were the first flowers that I grew
myself in my little child’s garden. Their blue and red cups belong to the
first memories of my childhood.
I recently read in a book by D.
T. Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, that the morning glory plays a great role
in Japan, among the flower lovers, in literature, and in graphic arts. Its
fleeting splendor has given the Japanese imagination rich stimulus. Among
others, Suzuki quotes a three-line poem of the poetess Chiyo (1702-75), who one
morning went to fetch water from a neighbor’s house, because . . .
“My trough is captivated
by a morning glory blossom,
So I ask after water.”
The morning glory thus shows both
possible ways of influencing the mind-body-essence of man: in Mexico it exerts
its effects in a chemical way as a magic drug, while in Japan it acts from the
spiritual side, through the beauty of its flower cups.
Wilflingen, 17 December 1961
Dear Mr. Hofmann,
I give you my thanks for your
detailed letter of 16 December. I have reflected on your central question, and
may probably become occupied with it on the occasion of the revision of An der
Zeitmauer [At the wall of time]. There I intimated that, in the field of physics
as well as in the field of biology, we are beginning to develop procedures that
are no longer to be understood as advances in the established sense, but that
rather intervene in evolution and lead forth in the development of the species.
Certainly I turn the glove inside out, for I suppose that it is a new world age,
which begins to act evolutionarily on the prototypes. Our science with its
theories and discoveries is therefore not the cause, rather one of the
consequences of evolution, among others. Animals, plants, the atmosphere and the
surfaces of planets will be concerned simultaneously. We do not progress from
point to point, rather we cross over a line.
The risk that you indicated is
well to be considered. However, it exists in every aspect of our existence. The
common denominator appears now here, now there.
In mentioning radioactivity, you
use the word crack. Cracks are not merely points of discovery, but also points
of destruction. Compared to the effects of radiation, those of the magical drugs
are more genuine and much less rough. In classical manner they lead us beyond
the humane. Gurdjieff has already seen that to some extent. Wine has already
changed much, has brought new gods and a new humanity with it. But wine is to
the new substances as classical physics is to modern physics. These things
should only be tried in small circles. I cannot agree with the thoughts of
Huxley, that possibilities for transcendence could here be given to the masses.
Indeed, this does not involve comforting fictions, but rather realities, if we
take the matter earnestly. And few contacts will suffice here for the setting of
courses and guidance. It also transcends theology and belongs in the chapter of
theogony, as it necessarily entails entry into a new house, in the astrological
sense. At first, one can be satisfied with this insight, and should above all be
cautious with the designations.
Heartfelt thanks also for the
beautiful picture of the blue morning glory. It appears to be the same that I
cultivate year after year in my garden. I did not know that it possesses
specific powers; however, that is probably the case with every plant. We do not
know the key to most. Besides this, there must be a central viewpoint from which
not only the chemistry, the structure, the color, but rather all attributes
discussions about the magic drugs were supplemented by practical experiments.
One such experiment, which served as a comparison between LSD and psilocybin,
took place in the spring of 1962. The proper occasion for it presented itself at
the home of the Jungers, in the former head forester’s house of
Stauffenberg’s Castle in Wilflingen. My friends, the pharmacologist Professor
Heribert Konzett and the Islamic scholar Dr. Rudolf Gelpke, also took part in
this mushroom symposium.
The old chronicles described how
the Aztecs drank chocolatl before they ate teonanacatl. Thus Mrs. Liselotte
Junger likewide served us hot chocolate, to set the mood. Then she abandoned the
four men to their fate.
We had gathered in a fashionable
living room, with a dark wooden ceiling, white tile stove, period furniture, old
French engravings on the walls, a gorgeous bouquet of tulips on the table. Ernst
Junger wore a long, broad, dark blue striped kaftan-like garment that he had
brought from Egypt; Heribert Konzett was resplendent in a brightly embroidered
mandarin gown; Rudolf Gelpke and I had put on housecoats. The everyday reality
should be laid aside, along with everyday clothing.
Shortly before sundown we took
the drug, not the mushrooms, but rather their active principle, 20 mg psilocybin
each. That corresponded to some two thirds of the very strong dose that was
taken by the curandera Maria Sabina in the form of Psilocybe mushrooms.
After an hour I still noticed no
effect, while my companions were already very deeply into the trip. I had come
with the hope that in the mushroom inebriation I could manage to allow certain
images from euphoric moments of my childhood, which remained in my memory as
blissful experiences, to come alive: a meadow covered with chrysanthemums
lightly stirred by the early summer wind; the rosebush in the evening light
after a rain storm; the blue irises hanging over the vineyard wall. Instead of
these bright images from my childhood home, strange scenery emerged, when the
mushroom factor finally began to act. Half stupefied, I sank deeper, passed
through totally deserted cities with a Mexican type of exotic, yet dead
splendor. Terrified, I tried to detain myself on the surface, to concentrate
alertly on the outer world, on the surroundings. For a time I succeeded. I then
observed Ernst Junger, colossal in the room, pacing back and forth, a powerful,
mighty magician. Heribert Konzett in the silky lustrous housecoat seemed to be a
dangerous, Chinese clown. Even Rudolf Gelpke appeared sinister to me; long,
With the increasing depth of
inebriation, everything became yet stranger. I even felt strange to myself.
Weird, cold, foolish, deserted, in a dull light, were the places I traversed
when I closed my eyes. Emptied of all meaning, the environment also seemed
ghostlike to me whenever I opened my eyes and tried to cling to the outer world.
The total emptiness threatened to drag me down into absolute nothingness. I
remember how I seized Rudolf Gelpke’s arm as he passed by my chair, and held
myself to him, in order not to sink into dark nothingness. Fear of death seized
me, and illimitable longing to return to the living creation, to the reality of
the world of men. After timeless fear I slowly returned to the room . I saw and
heard the great magician lecturing uninterruptedly with a clear, loud voice,
about Schopenhauer, Kant, Hegel, and speaking about the old Gaa, the beloved
little mother. Heribert Konzett and Rudolf Gelpke were already completely on the
earth again, while I could only regain my footing with great effort.
For me this entry into the
mushroom world had been a test, a confrontation with a dead world and with the
void. The experiment had developed differently from what I had expected.
Nevertheless, the encounter with the void can also be appraised as a gain. Then
the existence of the creation appears so much more wondrous.
Midnight had passed, as we sat
together at the table that the mistress of the house had set in the upper story.
We celebrated the return with an exquisite repast and with Mozart’s music. The
conversation, during which we exchanged our experiences, lasted almost until
Ernst Junger has described how he
had experienced this trip, in his book Annahenngenrogen und Rausch [Approaches
— drugs and inebriation] (published by Ernst Klett Verlag, Stuttgart,
1970), in the section “Ein Pilz-Symposium” [A mushroom symposium]. The
following is an extract from the work:
As usual, a half hour or a little
more passed in silence. Then came the first signs: the flowers on the table
began to flare up and sent out flashes. It was time for leaving work; outside
the streets were being cleaned, like on every weekend. The brush strokes invaded
the silence painfully. This shuffling and brushing, now and again also a
scraping, pounding, rumbling, and hammering, has random causes and is also
symptomatic, like one of the signs that announces an illness. Again and again it
also plays a role in the history of magic practices.
By this time the mushroom began
to act; the spring bouquet glowed darker. That was no natural light. The shadows
stirred in the corners, as if they sought form. I became uneasy, even chilled,
despite the heat that emanated from the tiles. I stretched myself on the sofa,
drew the covers over my head.
Everything became skin and was
touched, even the retina-there the contact was light. This light was
multicolored; it arranged itself in strings, which gently swung back and forth;
in strings of glass beads of oriental doorways. They formed doors, like those
one passes through in a dream, curtains of lust and danger. The wind stirred
them like a garment. They also fell down from the belts of dancers, opened and
closed themselves with the swing of the hips, and from the beads a rippling of
the most delicate sounds fluttered to the heightened senses. The chime of the
silver rings on the ankles and wrists is already too loud. It smells of sweat,
blood, tobacco, chopped horse hairs, cheap rose essence. Who knows what is going
on in the stables?
It must be an immense palace,
Mauritanian, not a good place. At this ballroom flights of adjoining rooms lead
into the lower stratum. And everywhere the curtains with their glitter, their
sparkling, radioactive glow. Moreover, the rippling of glassy instruments with
their beckoning, their wooing solicitation: “ Will you go with me, beautiful
boy?” Now it ceased, now it repeated, more importunate, more intrusive, almost
already assured of agreement.
Now came forms-historical
collages, the vox humana, the call of the cuckoo. Was it the whore of Santa
Lucia, who stuck her breasts out of the window? Then the play was ruined. Salome
danced; the amber necklace emitted sparks and made the nipples erect. What would
one not do for one’s Johannes? [Translator’s note: “Johannes” here is
slang for penis, as in English “Dick” or “Peter.”] — damned, that was
a disgusting obscenity, which did not come from me, but was whispered through
The snakes were dirty, scarcely
alive, they wallowed sluggishly over the floor mats. They were garnished with
brilliant shards. Others looked up from the floor with red and green eyes. It
glistened and whispered, hissed and sparkled like diminutive sickles at the
sacred harvest. Then it quieted, and came anew, more faintly, more forward. They
had me in their hand. “There we immediately understood ourselves.”
Madam came through the curtain:
she was busy, passed by me without noticing me. I saw the boots with the red
heels. Garters constricted the thick thighs in the middle, the flesh bulged out
there. The enormous breasts, the dark delta of the Amazon, parrots, piranhas,
semiprecious stones everywhere. Now she went into the kitchen-or are there still
cellars here? The sparkling and whispering, the hissing and twinkling could no
longer be differentiated; it seemed to become concentrated, now proudly
rejoicing, full of hope.
It became hot and intolerable; I
threw the covers off. The room was faintly illuminated; the pharmacologist stood
at the window in the white mandarin frock, which had served me shortly before in
Rottweil at the carnival. The orientalist sat beside the tile stove; he moaned
as if he had a nightmare. I understood; it had been a first round, and it would
soon start again. The time was not yet up. I had already seen the beloved little
mother under other circumstances. But even excrement is earth, belongs like gold
to transformed matter. One must come to terms with it, without getting too
These were the earthy mushrooms.
More light was hidden in the dark grain that burst from the ear, more yet in the
green juice of the succulents on the glowing slopes of Mexico….
[Translator’s note: Junger is referring to LSD, a derivative of ergot, and
mescaline, derived from the Mexican peyotl cactus.]
The trip had run awry —
possibly I should address the mushrooms once more. Yet indeed the whispering
returned, the flashing and sparkling-the bait pulled the fish close behind
itself. Once the motif is given, then it engraves itself, like on a roller each
new beginning, each new revolution repeats the melody. The game did not get
beyond this kind of dreariness. I don’t know how often this was repeated, and
prefer not to dwell upon it. Also, there are things which one would rather keep
to oneself. In any case, midnight was past....
We went upstairs; the table was
set. The senses were still heightened and the Doors of Perception were opened.
The light undulated from the red wine in the carafe; a froth surged at the brim.
We listened to a flute concerto. It had not turned out better for the others:
How beautiful, to be back among men.” Thus Albert Hofmann.
The orientalist on the other hand
had been in Samarkand, where Timur rests in a coffin of nephrite. He had
followed the victorious march through cities, whose dowry on entry was a
cauldron filled with eyes. There he had long stood before one of the skull
pyramids that terrible Timur had erected, and in the multitude of severed heads
had perceived even his own. It was encrusted with stones.
A light dawned on the
pharmacologist when he heard this: Now I know why you were sitting in the
armchair without your head — I was astonished; I knew I wasn’t dreaming. I
wonder whether I should not strike out this detail since it borders on the area
of ghost stories.
The mushroom substance had
carried all four of us off, not into luminous heights, rather into deeper
regions. It seems that the psilocybin inebriation is more darkly colored in the
majority of cases than the inebriation produced by LSD. The influence of these
two active substances is sure to differ from one individual to another.
Personally, for me, there was more light in the LSD experiments than in the
experiments with the earthy mushroom, just as Ernst Junger remarks in the
The next and last thrust
into the inner universe together with Ernst Junger, this time again using LSD,
led us very far from everyday consciousness. We came close to the ultimate door.
Of course this door, according to Ernst Junger, will in fact only open for us in
the great transition from life into the hereafter.
This last joint experiment
occurred in February 1970, again at the head forester’s house in Wilflingen.
In this case there were only the two of us. Ernst Junger took 0.15 mg LSD, I
took 0.10 mg. Ernst Junger has published without commentary the log book, the
notes he made during the experiment, in Approaches, in the section
“Nochmals LSD” [LSD once again]. They are scanty and tell the reader little,
just like my own records.
The experiment lasted from
morning just after breakfast until darkness fell.
At the beginning of the trip, we
again listened to the concerto for flute and harp by Mozart, which always made
me especially happy, but this time, strange to say, seemed to me like the
turning of porcelain figures. Then the intoxication led quickly into wordless
depths. When I wanted to describe the perplexing alterations of consciousness to
Ernst Junger, no more than two or three words came out, for they sounded so
false, so unable to express the experience; they seemed to originate from an
infinitely distant world that had become strange; I abandoned the attempt,
laughing hopelessly. Obviously, Ernst Junger had the same experience, yet we did
not need speech; a glance sufficed for the deepest understanding. I could,
however, put some scraps of sentences on paper, such as at the beginning: “Our
boat tosses violently.” Later, upon regarding expensively bound books in the
library: “Like red-gold pushed from within to without-exuding golden
luster.” Outside it began to snow. Masked children marched past and carts with
carnival revelers passed by in the streets. With a glance through the window
into the garden, in which snow patches lay, many-colored masks appeared over the
high walls bordering it, embedded in an infinitely joyful shade of blue: “A
Breughel garden-I live with and in the objects.” Later: “At present-no
connection with the everyday world.” Toward the end, deep, comforting insight
expressed: “Hitherto confirmed on my path.” This time LSD had led to a
with Aldous Huxley
In the mid-1950s, two books
by Aldous Huxley appeared, The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell,
dealing with inebriated states produced by hallucinogenic drugs. The alterations
of sensory perceptions and consciousness, which the author experienced in a
self-experiment with mescaline, are skillfully described in these books. The
mescaline experiment was a visionary experience for Huxley. He saw objects in a
new light; they disclosed their inherent, deep, timeless existence, which
remains hidden from everyday sight.
These two books contained
fundamental observations on the essence of visionary experience and about the
significance of this manner of comprehending the world-in cultural history, in
the creation of myths, in the origin of religions, and in the creative process
out of which works of art arise. Huxley saw the value of hallucinogenic drugs in
that they give people who lack the gift of spontaneous visionary perception
belonging to mystics, saints, and great artists, the potential to experience
this extraordinary state of consciousness, and thereby to attain insight into
the spiritual world of these great creators. Hallucinogens could lead to a
deepened understanding of religious and mystical content, and to a new and fresh
experience of the great works of art. For Huxley these drugs were keys capable
of opening new doors of perception; chemical keys, in addition to other proven
but laborious “door openers” to the visionary world like meditation,
isolation, and fasting, or like certain yoga practices.
At the time I already knew the
earlier work of this great writer and thinker, books that meant much to me, like
Point Counter Point, Brave New World, After Many a Summer, Eyeless
in Gaza, and a few others. In The Doors of Perception and Heaven
and Hell, Huxley’s newly-published works, I found a meaningful exposition
of the experience induced by hallucinogenic drugs, and I thereby gained a
deepened insight into my own LSD experiments.
I was therefore delighted when I
received a telephone call from Aldous Huxley in the laboratory one morning in
August 1961. He was passing through Zurich with his wife. He invited me and my
wife to lunch in the Hotel Sonnenberg.
A gentleman with a yellow freesia
in his buttonhole, a tall and noble appearance, who exuded kindness- this is the
image I retained from this first meeting with Aldous Huxley. The table
conversation revolved mainly around the problem of magic drugs. Both Huxley and
his wife, Laura Archera Huxley, had also experimented with LSD and psilocybin.
Huxley would have preferred not to designate these two substances and mescaline
as “drugs,” because in English usage, as also by the way with Droge in
German, that word has a pejorative connotation, and because it was important to
differentiate the hallucinogens from the other drugs, even linguistically. He
believed in the great importance of agents producing visionary experience in the
modern phase of human evolution.
He considered experiments under
laboratory conditions to be insignificant, since in the extraordinarily
intensified susceptibility and sensitivity to external impressions, the
surroundings are of decisive importance. He recommended to my wife, when we
spoke of her native place in the mountains, that she take LSD in an alpine
meadow and then look into the blue cup of a gentian flower, to behold the wonder
As we parted, Aldous Huxley gave
me, as a remembrance of this meeting, a tape recording of his lecture
“Visionary Experience,” which he had delivered the week before at an
international congress on applied psychology in Copenhagen. In this lecture,
Aldous Huxley spoke about the meaning and essence of visionary experience and
compared this type of world view to the verbal and intellectual comprehension of
reality as its essential complement.
In the following year, the newest
and last book by Aldous Huxley appeared, the novel Island. This story,
set on the utopian island Pala, is an attempt to blend the achievements of
natural science and technical civilization with the wisdom of Eastern thought,
to achieve a new culture in which rationalism and mysticism are fruitfully
united. The moksha medicine, a magical drug prepared from a mushroom, plays a
significant role in the life of the population of Pala (moksha is Sanskrit for
“release,” “liberation”). The drug could be used only in critical
periods of life. The young men on Pala received it in initiation rites, it is
dispensed to the protagonist of the novel during a life crisis, in the scope of
a psychotherapeutic dialogue with a spiritual friend, and it helps the dying to
relinquish the mortal body, in the transition to another existence.
In our conversation in Zurich, I
had already learned from Aldous Huxley that he would again treat the problem of
psychedelic drugs in his forthcoming novel. Now he sent me a copy of Island,
inscribed “To Dr. Albert Hofmann, the original discoverer of the moksha
medicine, from Aldous Huxley.”
The hopes that Aldous Huxley
placed in psychedelic drugs as a means of evoking visionary experience, and the
uses of these substances in everyday life, are subjects of a letter of 29
February 1962, in which he wrote me:
…I have good hopes that this
and similar work will result in the development of a real Natural History of
visionary experience, in all its variations, determined by differences of
physique, temperament and profession, and at the same time of a technique of
Applied Mysticism — a technique for helping individuals to get the most out of
their transcendental experience and to make use of the insights from the
“Other World” in the affairs of “This World.” Meister Eckhart wrote that
“what is taken in by contemplation must be given out in love.” Essentially
this is what must be developed-the art of giving out in love and intelligence
what is taken in from vision and the experience of self-transcendence and
solidarity with the Universe....
Aldous Huxley and I were together
often at the annual convention of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences (WAAS)
in Stockholm during late summer 1963. His suggestions and contributions to
discussions at the sessions of the academy, through their form and importance,
had a great influence on the proceedings.
WAAS had been established in
order to allow the most competent specialists to consider world problems in a
forum free of ideological and religious restrictions and from an international
viewpoint encompassing the whole world. The results: proposals, and thoughts in
the form of appropriate publications, were to be placed at the disposal of the
responsible governments and executive organizations.
The 1963 meeting of WAAS had
dealt with the population explosion and the raw material reserves and food
resources of the earth. The corresponding studies and proposals were collected
in Volume II of WAAS under the title The Population Crisis and the Use of World
Resources. A decade before birth control, environmental protection, and the
energy crisis became catchwords, these world problems were examined there from
the most serious point of view, and proposals for their solution were made to
governments and responsible organizations. The catastrophic events since that
time in the aforementioned fields makes evident the tragic discrepancy between
recognition, desire, and feasibility.
Aldous Huxley made the proposal,
as a continuation and complement of the theme “World Resources” at the
Stockholm convention, to address the problem “Human Resources,” the
exploration and application of capabilities hidden in humans yet unused. A human
race with more highly developed spiritual capacities, with expanded
consciousness of the depth and the incomprehensible wonder of being, would also
have greater understanding of and better consideration for the biological and
material foundations of life on this earth. Above all, for Western people with
their hypertrophied rationality, the development and expansion of a direct,
emotional experience of reality, unobstructed by words and concepts, would be of
evolutionary significance. Huxley considered psychedelic drugs to be one means
to achieve education in this direction. The psychiatrist Dr. Humphry Osmond,
likewise participating in the congress, who had created the term psychedelic
(mind-expanding), assisted him with a report about significant possibilities of
the use of hallucinogens.
The convention in Stockholm in
1963 was my last meeting with Aldous Huxley. His physical appearance was already
marked by a severe illness; his intellectual personage, however, still bore the
undiminished signs of a comprehensive knowledge of the heights and depths of the
inner and outer world of man, which he had displayed with so much genius, love,
goodness, and humor in his literary work.
Aldous Huxley died on 22 November
of the same year, on the same day President Kennedy was assassinated. From Laura
Huxley I obtained a copy of her letter to Julian and Juliette Huxley, in which
she reported to her brother- and sister-in-law about her husband’s last day.
The doctors had prepared her for a dramatic end, because the terminal phase of
cancer of the throat, from which Aldous Huxley suffered, is usually accompanied
by convulsions and choking fits. He died serenely and peacefully, however.
In the morning, when he was
already so weak that he could no longer speak, he had written on a sheet of
paper: “LSD — try it — intramuscular — 100 mmg.” Mrs. Huxley
understood what was meant by this, and ignoring the misgivings of the attending
physician, she gave him, with her own hand, the desired injection — she let
him have the moksha medicine.
Correspondence with the Poet-Physician Walter Vogt
My friendship with the
physician, psychiatrist, and writer Walter Vogt, M.D., is also among the
personal contacts that I owe to LSD. As the following extract from our
correspondence shows, it was less the medicinal aspects of LSD, important to the
physician, than the consciousness-altering effects on the depth of the psyche,
of interest to the writer, that constituted the theme of our correspondence.
Muri/Bern, 22 November 1970
Dear Mr. Hofmann,
Last night I dreamed that I was
invited to tea in a cafe by a friendly family in Rome. This family also knew the
pope, and so the pope sat at — the same table to tea with us. He was all in
white and also wore a white miter. He sat there so handsome and was silent.
And today I suddenly had the idea
of sending you my Vogel auf dem Tisch [Bird
on the table]-as a visiting card if you so wish-a book that remained a little
apocryphal, which upon reflection I do not regret, although the Italian
translator is firmly convinced that is my best. (Ah yes, the pope is also an
Italian. So it goes....) Possibly this little work will interest you. It was
written in 1966 by an author who at that time still had not had any shred of
experience with psychedelic substances and who read the reports about medicinal
experiments with these drugs devoid of understanding. However, little has
changed since, except that now the misgiving comes from the other side.
suppose that your discovery has caused a hiatus (not directly a Saul-to-Paul
conversion as Roland Fischer says….) in my work (also a large word) — and
indeed, that which I have written since has become rather realistic or at least
less expressive. In any case I could not have brought off the cool realism of my
TV piece “Spiele der Macht” [Games of power] without it. The different
drafts attest it, in case they are still lying around somewhere.
Should you have interest and time
for a meeting, it would delight me very much to visit you sometime for a
Burg, i.L. 28 November 1970
Dear Mr. Vogt,
If the bird that alighted on my
table was able to find its way to me, this is one more debt I owe to the magical
effect of LSD. I could soon write a book about all of the results that derive
from that experiment in 1943....
Muri/Bern, 13 March 1971
Dear Mr. Hofmann,
Enclosed is a critique of
Junger’s Annahenngen [Approaches], from the daily paper, that will presumably
It seems to me that to
hallucinate-to dream-to write, stands at all times in contrast to everyday
consciousness, and their functions are complementary. Here I can naturally speak
only for myself. This could be different with others — it is also truly
difficult to speak with others about such things, because people often speak
altogether different languages....
However, since you are now
gathering autographs, and do me the honor of incorporating some of my letters in
your collection, I enclose for you the manuscript of my “testament” — in
which your discovery plays a role as “the
only joyous invention of the twentieth century....”
dr. walter vogts most recent
I wish to have no special funeral
only expensive and obscene orchids innumerable little birds with gay names no
naked dancers but psychedelic garments loudspeaker in every corner and nothing
but the latest beatles record [Abbey Road] one hundred thousand million times
and do what you like [“Blind Faith”] on an endless tape nothing more than a
popular Christ with a halo of genuine gold and a beloved mourning congregation
that pumped themselves full with acid [acid = LSD] till they go to heaven [From
Abbey Road, side two] one two three four five six seven possibly we will
encounter one another there
most cordially dedicated to Dr.
Beginning of Spring 1971
Dear Mr. Vogt,
You have again presented me with
a lovely letter and a very valuable autograph, the testament 1969....
Very remarkable dreams in recent
times induce me to test a connection between the composition (chemical) of the
evening meal and the quality of dreams. Yes, LSD is also something that one
Muri/Bern, 5 September 1971
Dear Mr. Hofmann,
Over the weekend at Murtensee [On
that Sunday, I (A. H.) hovered over the Murtensee in the balloon of my friend E.
I., who had taken me along as passenger.] I often thought of you-a most radiant
autumn day. Yesterday, Saturday, thanks to one tablet of aspirin (on account of
a headache or mild flu), I experienced a very comical flashback, like with
mescaline (of which I have had only a little, exactly once)....
I have read a delightful essay by
Wasson about mushrooms; he divides mankind into mycophobes and mycophiles....
Lovely fly agarics must now be growing in the forest near you. Sometime
shouldn’t we sample some?
Muri/Bern, 7 September 1971
Dear Mr. Hofmann,
Now I feel I must write briefly
to tell you what I have done outside in the sun, on the dock under your balloon:
I finally wrote some notes about our visit in Villars-sur-Ollons (with Dr.
Leary), then a hippie-bark went by on the lake, self-made like from a Fellini
film, which I sketched, and over and above it I drew your balloon.
Burg i.L., 15 April 1972
Dear Mr. Vogt,
Your television play “Spiele
der Macht” [Games of power] has impressed me extraordinarily.
I congratulate you on this
magnificent piece, which allows mental cruelty to become conscious, and
therefore also acts in its way as “consciousness-expanding”, and can thereby
prove itself therapeutic in a higher sense, like ancient tragedy.
Burg i.L., 19 May 1973
Dear Mr. Vogt,
Now I have already read your lay
sermon three times, the description and interpretation of your Sinai Trip.
[Walter Vogt: Mein Sinai Trip. Eine Laienpredigt [My Sinai trip: A lay sermon] (Verlag
der Arche, Zurich, 1972). This publication contains the text of a lay sermon
that Walter Vogt gave on 14 November 1971 on the invitation of Parson Christoph
Mohl, in the Protestant church of aduz (Lichtenstein), in the course of a series
of sermons by writers, and in addition contains an afterword by the author and
by the inviting parson. It involves the description and interpretation of an
ecstatic-religious experience evoked by LSD, that the author is able to “place
in a distant, if you will superficial, analogy to the great Sinai Trip of
Moses.” It is not only the “patriarchal atmosphere” that is to be traced
out of these descriptions, that constitutes this analogy; there are deeper
references, which are more to be read between the lines of this text.] Was it
really an LSD trip? … It was a courageous deed, to choose such a notorious
event as a drug experience as the theme of a sermon, even a lay sermon. But the
questions raised by hallucinogenic drugs do actually belong in the church-in a
prominent place in the church, for they are sacred drugs (peyotl, teonanacatl,
ololiuhqui, with which LSD is mostly closely related by chemical structure and
I can fully agree with what you
say in your introduction about the modern ecclesiastical religiosity: the three
sanctioned states of consciousness (the waking condition of uninterrupted work
and performance of duty, alcoholic intoxication, and sleep), the distinction
between two phases of psychedelic inebriation (the first phase, the peak of the
trip, in which the cosmic relationship is experienced, or the submersion into
one’s own body, in which everything that is, is within; and the second phase,
characterized as the phase of enhanced comprehension of symbols), and the
allusion to the candor that hallucinogens bring about in consciousness states.
These are all observations that are of fundamental importance in the judgement
of hallucinogenic inebriation.
The most worthwhile spiritual
benefit from LSD experiments was the experience of the inextricable intertwining
of the physical and spiritual. “Christ in matter” (Teilhard de Chardin). Did
the insight first come to you also through your drug experiences, that we must
descend “into the flesh, which we are,” in order to get new prophesies? A
criticism of your sermon: you allow the “deepest experience that there is”
— “The kingdom of heaven is within you”-to be uttered by Timothy Leary.
This sentence, quoted without the indication of its true source, could be
interpreted as ignorance of one, or rather the principal truth of Christian
belief. One of your statements deserves universal recognition: “There is no
non-ecstatic religious experience.” …
Next Monday evening I shall be interviewed on Swiss television
(about LSD and the Mexican magic drugs, on the program “At First Hand”). I
am curious about the sort of questions that will be asked…
Muri/Bern, 24 May 1973
Dear Mr. Hofmann,
course it was LSD — only I did not want to write about it explicitly, I really
do not know just why myself.... The great emphasis I placed on the good Leary,
who now seems to me to be somewhat flipped out, as the prime witness, can indeed
only be explained by the special context of the talk or sermon.
I must admit that the perception
that we must descend “into the flesh, which we are” actually first came to
me with LSD. I still ruminate on it, possibly it even came “too late” for me
in fact, although more and more I advocate your opinion that LSD should be taboo
for youth (taboo, not forbidden, that is the difference…). The sentence that
you like, “there is no nonecstatic religious experience,” was apparently not
liked so much by others for example, by my (almost only) literary friend and
minister-lyric poet Kurt Mart…. But in any case, we are practically never of
the same opinion about anything, and notwithstanding, we constitute when we
occasionally communicate by phone and arrange little activities together, the
smallest minimafia of Switzerland.
Burg i.L., 13 April 1974
Dear Mr. Vogt,
Full of suspense, we watched your
TV play “Pilate before the Silent Christ” yesterday evening.
…as a representation of the
fundamental man-God relationship: man, who comes to God with his most difficult
questions, which finally he must answer himself, because God is silent. He does
not answer them with words. The answers are contained in the book of his
creation (to which the questioning man himself belongs). True natural science
decipherin of this text.
Muri/Bern, 11 May 1974
Dear Mr. Hofmann,
I have composed a “poem” in
half twilight, that I dare to send to you. At first I wanted to send it to
Leary, but this would make no sense.
Leary in jail
Gelpke is dead
Treatment in the asylum
is this your psychedelic
Had we taken seriously something
with which one only ought to play
vice-versa . . .
The diverse aspects, the
multi-faceted emanations of LSD are also expressed in the variety of cultural
circles with which this substance has brought me into contact. On the scientific
plane, this has involved colleagues-chemists, pharmacologists, physicians, and
mycologists-whom I met at universities, congresses, lectures, or with whom I
came into association through publication. In the literary-philosophical field
there were contacts with writers. In the preceding chapters I have reported on
the relationships of this type that were most significant for me. LSD also
provided me with a variegated series of personal acquaintances from the drug
scene and from hippie circles, which will briefly be described here.
Most of these visitors came from
the United States and were young people, often in transit to the Far East in
search of Eastern wisdom or of a guru; or else hoping to come by drugs more
easily there. Prague also was sometimes the goal, because LSD of good quality
could at the time easily be acquired there. [Translator’s Note: When
Sandoz’s patents on LSD expired in 1963, the Czech pharmaceutical firm Spofa
began to manufacture the drug.] Once arrived in Europe, they wanted to take
advantage of the opportunity to see the father of LSD, “the man who made the
famous LSD bicycle trip.” But more serious concerns sometimes motivated a
visit. There was the desire to report on personal LSD experiences and to debate
the purport of their meaning, at the source, so to speak. Only rarely did a
visit prove to be inspired by the desire to obtain LSD when a visitor hinted
that he or she wished once to experiment with most assuredly pure material, with
Visitors of various types and
with diverse desires also came from Switzerland and other European countries.
Such encounters have become rarer in recent times, which may be related to the
fact that LSD has become less important in the drug scene. Whenever possible, I
have welcomed such visitors or agreed to meet somewhere. This I considered to be
an obligation connected with my role in the history of LSD, and I have tried to
help by instructing and advising.
Sometimes no true conversation
occurred, for example with the inhibited young man who arrived on a motorbike. I
was not clear about the objective of his visit. He stared at me, as if asking
himself: can the man who has made something so weird as LSD really look so
completely ordinary? With him, as with other similar visitors, I had the feeling
that he hoped, in my presence, the LSD riddle would somehow solve itself.
Other meetings were completely
different, like the one with the young man from Toronto. He invited me to lunch
at an exclusive restaurant — impressive appearance, tall, slender, a
businessman, proprietor of an important industrial firm in Canada, brilliant
intellect. He thanked me for the creation of LSD, which had given his life
another direction. He had been 100 percent a businessman, with a purely
materialistic worldview. LSD had opened his eyes to the spiritual aspect of
life. Now he possessed a sense for art, literature, and philosophy and was
deeply concerned with religious and metaphysical questions. He now desired to
make the LSD experience accessible in a suitable milieu to his young wife, and
hoped for a similarly fortunate transformation in her.
Not as profound, yet still
liberating and rewarding, were the results of LSD experiments which a young Dane
described to me with much humor and fantasy. He came from California, where he
had been a houseboy for Henry Miller in Big Sur. He moved on to France with the
plan of acquiring a dilapidated farm there, which he, a skilled carpenter, then
wanted to restore himself. I asked him to obtain an autograph of his former
employer for my collection, and after some time I actually received an original
piece of writing from Henry Miller’s hand.
A young woman sought me out to
report on LSD experiences that had been of great significance to her inner
development. As a superficial teenager who pursued all sorts of entertainments,
and quite neglected by her parents, she had begun to take LSD out of curiosity
and love of adventure. For three years she took frequent LSD trips. They led to
an astonishing intensification of her inner life. She began to seek after the
deeper meaning of her existence, which eventually revealed itself to her. Then,
recognizing that LSD had no further power to help her, without difficulty or
exertion of will she was able to abandon the drug. Thereafter she was in a
position to develop herself further without artificial means. She was now a
happy intrinsically secure person — thus she concluded her report. This young
woman had decided to tell me her history, because she supposed that I was often
attacked by narrow-minded persons who saw only the damage that LSD sometimes
caused among youths. The immediate motive of her testimony was a conversation
that she had accidentally overheard on a railway journey. A man complained about
me, finding it disgraceful that I had spoken on the LSD problem in an interview
published in the newspaper. In his opinion, I ought to denounce LSD as primarily
the devil’s work and should publicly admit my guilt in the matter.
Persons in LSD delirium, whose
condition could have given rise to such indignant condemnation, have never
personally come into my sight. Such cases, attributable to LSD consumption under
irresponsible circumstances, to overdosage, or to psychotic predisposition,
always landed in the hospital or at the police station. Great publicity always
came their way.
A visit by one young American girl
stands out in my memory as an example of the tragic effects of LSD. It was
during the lunch hour, which I normally spent in my office under strict
confinement-no visitors, secretary’s office closed up. Knocking came at the
door, discretely but firmly repeated, until eventually I went to open it. I
scarcely believed my eyes: before me stood a very beautiful young woman, blond,
with large blue eyes, wearing a long hippie dress, headband, and sandals. “I
am Joan, I come from New York — you are Dr. Hofmann?” Before I inquired what
brought her to me, I asked her how she had got through the two checkpoints, at
the main entrance to the factory area and at the door of the laboratory
building, for visitors were admitted only after telephone query, and this flower
child must have been especially noticeable. “I am an angel, I can pass
everywhere,” she replied. Then she explained that she came on a great mission.
She had to rescue her country, the United States; above all she had to direct
the president (at the time L. B. Johnson) onto the correct path. This could be
accomplished only by having him take LSD. Then he would receive the good ideas
that would enable him to lead the country out of war and internal difficulties.
Joan had come to me hoping that I
would help her fulfill her mission, namely to give LSD to the president. Her
name would indicate she was the Joan of Arc of the USA. I don’t know whether
my arguments, advanced with all consideration of her holy zeal, were able to
convince her that her plan had no prospects of success on psychological,
technical, internal, and external grounds.
Disappointed and sad, she went
away. Next day I received a telephone call from Joan. She again asked me to help
her, since her financial resources were exhausted. I took her to a friend in
Zurich who provided her with work, and with whom she could live. Joan was a
teacher by profession, and also a nightclub pianist and singer. For a while she
played and sang in a fashionable Zurich restaurant. The good bourgeois clients
of course had no idea what sort of angel sat at the grand piano in a black
evening dress and entertained them with sensitive playing and a soft and
sensuous voice. Few paid attention to the words of her songs; they were for the
most part hippie songs, many of them containing veiled praise of drugs. The
Zurich performance did not last long; within a few weeks I learned from my
friend that Joan had suddenly disappeared. He received a greeting card from her
three months later, from Israel. She had been committed to a psychiatric
For the conclusion of my
assortment of LSD visitors, I wish to report about a meeting in which LSD
figured only indirectly. Miss H. S., head secretary in a hospital, wrote to ask
me for a personal interview. She came to tea. She explained her visit thus: in a
report about an LSD experience, she had read the description of a condition she
herself had experienced as a young girl, which still disturbed her today;
possibly I could help her to understand this experience.
She had gone on a business trip
as a commercial apprentice. They spent the night in a mountain hotel. H. S.
awoke very early and left the house alone in order to watch the sunrise. As the
mountains began to light up in a sea of rays, she was perfused by an
unprecedented feeling of happiness, which persisted even after she joined the
other participants of the trip at morning service in the chapel. During the Mass
everything appeared to her in a supernatural luster, and the feeling of
happiness intensified to such an extent that she had to cry loudly. She was
brought back to the hotel and treated as someone with a mental disorder.
This experience largely
determined her later personal life. H.S. feared she was not completely normal.
On the one hand, she feared this experience, which had been explained to her as
a nervous breakdown; on the other hand, she longed for arepetitionof the
condition. Internally split, she had led an unstable life. In repeated
vocational changes and in varying personal relationships, consciously or
unconsciously she again sought this ecstatic outlook, which once made her so
I was able to reassure my
visitor. It was no psychopathological event, no nervous breakdown that she had
experienced at the time. What many people seek to attain with the help of LSD,
the visionary experience of a deeper reality, had come to her as spontaneous
grace. I recommended a book by Aldous Huxley to her, The Perennial Philosophy
(Harper, New York & London, 1945) a collection of reports of spontaneous
blessed visions from all times and cultures. Huxley wrote that not only mystics
and saints, but also many more ordinary people than one generally supposes,
experience such blessed moments, but that most do not recognize their importance
and, instead of regarding them as promising rays of hope, repress them, because
they do not fit into everyday rationality.
Experience and Reality
Was kann ein Mensch im Leben mehr
What more can a person gain in
I am often asked what has
made the deepest impression upon me in my LSD experiments, and whether I have
arrived at new understandings through these experiences.
Of greatest significance to
me has been the insight that I attained as a fundamental understanding from all
of my LSD experiments: what one commonly takes as “the reality,” including
the reality of one’s own individual person, by no means signifies something
fixed, but rather something that is ambiguous — that there is not only one,
but that there are many realities, each comprising also a different
consciousness of the ego.
One can also arrive at this
insight through scientific reflections. The problem of reality is and has been
from time immemorial a central concern of philosophy. It is, however, a
fundamental distinction, whether one approaches the problem of reality
rationally, with the logical methods of philosophy, or if one obtrudes upon this
problem emotionally, through an existential experience. The first planned LSD
experiment was therefore so deeply moving and alarming, because everyday reality
and the ego experiencing it, which I had until then considered to be the only
reality, dissolved, and an unfamiliar ego experienced another, unfamiliar
reality. The problem concerning the innermost self also appeared, which, itself
unmoved, was able to record these external and internal transformations.
Reality is inconceivable without
an experiencing subject, without an ego. It is the product of the exterior
world, of the sender and of a receiver, an ego in whose deepest self the
emanations of the exterior world, registered by the antennae of the sense
organs, become conscious. If one of the two is lacking, no reality happens, no
radio music plays, the picture screen remains blank.
If one continues with the
conception of reality as a product of sender and receiver, then the entry of
another reality under the influence of LSD may be explained by the fact that the
brain, the seat of the receiver, becomes biochemically altered. The receiver is
thereby tuned into another wavelength than that corresponding to normal,
everyday reality. Since the endless variety and diversity of the universe
correspond to infinitely many different wavelengths, depending on the adjustment
of the receiver, many different realities, including the respective ego, can
become conscious. These different realities, more correctly designated as
different aspects of the reality, are not mutually exclusive but are
complementary, and form together a portion of the all-encompassing, timeless,
transcendental reality, in which even the unimpeachable core of
self-consciousness, which has the power to record the different egos, is
The true importance of LSD and
related hallucinogens lies in their capacity to shift the wavelength setting of
the receiving “self,” and thereby to evoke alterations in reality
consciousness. This ability to allow different, new pictures of reality to
arise, this truly cosmogonic power, makes the cultish worship of hallucinogenic
plants as sacred drugs understandable.
What constitutes the essential,
characteristic difference between everyday reality and the world picture
experienced in LSD inebriation? Ego and the outer world are separated in the
normal condition of consciousness, in everyday reality; one stands face-to-face
with the outer world; it has become an object. In the LSD state the boundaries
between the experiencing self and the outer world more or less disappear,
depending on the depth of the inebriation. Feedback between receiver and sender
takes place. A portion of the self overflows into the outer world, into objects,
which begin to live, to have another, a deeper meaning. This can be perceived as
a blessed, or as a demonic transformation imbued with terror, proceeding to a
loss of the trusted ego. In an auspicious case, the new ego feels blissfully
united with the objects of the outer world and consequently also with its fellow
beings. This experience of deep oneness with the exterior world can even
intensify to a feeling of the self being one with the universe. This condition
of cosmic consciousness, which under favorable conditions can be evoked by LSD
or by another hallucinogen from the group of Mexican sacred drugs, is analogous
to spontaneous religious enlightenment, with the unio mystica. In both
conditions, which often last only for a timeless moment, a reality is
experienced that exposes a gleam of the transcendental reality, in vihich
universe and self, sender and receiver, are one. [The relationship of
spontaneous to drug-induced enlightenment has been most extensively investigated
by R. C. Zaehner, Mysticismacred and Profane (The Clarendon Press, Oxford,
Gottfried Benn, in his essay
“Provoziertes Leben” [Provoked life] (in Ausdnckswelt, Limes Verlag,
Wiesbaden, 1949), characterized the reality in which self and world are
separated, as “the schizoid catastrophe, the Western entelechy neurosis.” He
…In the southern part of our
continent this concept of reality began to be formed. The Hellenistic-European
agonistic principle of victory through effort, cunning, malice, talent, force,
and later, European Darwinism and “superman,” was instrumental in its
formation. The ego emerged, dominated, fought; for this it needed instruments,
material, power. It had a different relationship to matter, more removed
sensually, but closer formally. It analyzed matter, tested, sorted: weapons,
object of exchange, ransom money. It clarified matter through isolation, reduced
it to formulas, took pieces out of it, divided it up. [Matter became] a concept
which hung like a disaster over the West, with which the West fought, without
grasping it, to which it sacrified enormous quantities of blood and happiness; a
concept whose inner tension and fragmentations it was impossible to dissolve
through a natural viewing or methodical insight into the inherent unity and
peace of prelogical forms of being… instead the cataclysmic character of this
idea became clearer and clearer… a state, a social organization, a public
morality, for which life is economically
usable life and which does not recognize the world of provoked life, cannot stop
its destructive force. A society, whose hygiene and race cultivation as a modern
ritual is founded solely on hollow biological statistics, can only represent the
external viewpoint of the mass; for this point of view it can wage war,
incessantly, for reality is simply raw material, but its metaphysical background
remains forever obscured. [This excerpt from Benn’s essay was taken from Ralph
Metzner’s translation “Provoked Life: An Essay on the Anthropology of the
Ego,” which was published in Psychedelic Review I (1): 47-54, 1963. Minor
corrections in Metzner’s text have been made by A. H.]
As Gottfried Benn formulates it
in these sentences, a concept of reality that separates self and the world has
decisively determined the evolutionary course of European intellectual history.
Experience of the world as matter, as object, to which man stands opposed, has
produced modern natural science and technology- creations of the Western mind
that have changed the world. With their help human beings have subdued the
world. Its wealth has been exploited in a manner that may be characterized as
plundering, and the sublime accomplishment of technological civilization, the
comfort of Western industrial society, stands face-to-face with a catastrophic
destruction of the environment. Even to the heart of matter, to the nucleus of
the atom and its splitting, this objective intellect has progressed and has
unleashed energies that threaten all life on our planet.
A misuse of knowledge and
understanding, the products of searching intelligence, could not have emerged
from a consciousness of reality in which human beings are not separated from the
environment but rather exist as part of living nature and the universe. All
attempts today to make amends for the damage through environmentally protective
measures must remain only hopeless, superficial patchwork, if no curing of the
“Western entelechy neurosis” ensues, as Benn has characterized the objective
reality conception. Healing would mean existential experience of a deeper,
The experience of such a
comprehensive reality is impeded in an environment rendered dead by human hands,
such as is present in our great cities and industrial districts. Here the
contrast between self and outer world becomes especially evident. Sensations of
alienation, of loneliness, and of menace arise. It is these sensations that
impress themselves on everyday consciousness in Western industrial society; they
also take the upper hand everywhere that technological civilization extends
itself, and they largely determine the production of modern art and literature.
There is less danger of a cleft
reality experience arising in a natural environment. In field and forest, and in
the animal world sheltered therein, indeed in every garden, a reality is
perceptible that is infinitely more real, older, deeper, and more wondrous than
everything made by people, and that will yet endure, when the inanimate,
mechanical, and concrete world again vanishes, becomes rusted and fallen into
ruin. In the sprouting, growth, blooming, fruiting, death, and regermination of
plants, in their relationship with the sun, whose light they are able to convert
into chemically bound energy in the form of organic compounds, out of which all
that lives on our earth is built; in the being of plants the same mysterious,
inexhaustible, eternal life energy is evident that has also brought us forth and
takes us back again into its womb, and in which we are sheltered and united with
all living things.
We are not leading up to a
sentimental enthusiasm for nature, to “back to nature” in Rousseau’s
sense. That romantic movement, which sought the idyll in nature, can also be
explained by a feeling of humankind’s separation from nature. What is needed
today is a fundamental reexperience of the oneness of all living things, a
comprehensive reality consciousness that ever more infrequently develops
spontaneously, the more the primordial flora and fauna of our mother earth must
yield to a dead technological environment.
The notion of reality as
the self juxtaposed to the world, in confrontation with the outer world, began
to form itself, as reported in the citation from Benn, in the southern portion
of the European continent in Greek antiquity. No doubt people at that time knew
the suffering that was connected with such a cleft reality consciousness. The
Greek genius tried the cure, by supplementing the multiformed and richly
colored, sensual as well as deeply sorrowful Apollonian world view created by
the subject/object cleavage, with the Dionysian world of experience, in which
this cleavage is abolished in ecstatic inebriation. Nietzsche writes in The
Birth of Tragedy:
It is either through the
influence of narcotic potions, of which all primitive peoples and races speak in
hymns, or through the powerful approach of spring, penetrating with joy all of
nature, that those Dionysian stirrings arise, which in their intensification
lead the individual to forget himself completely.... Not only does the bond
between man and man come to be forged once again by the magic of the Dionysian
rite, but alienated, hostile, or subjugated nature again celebrates her
reconciliation with her prodigal son, man.
The Mysteries of Eleusis, which
were celebrated annually in the fall, over an interval of approximately 2,000
years, from about 1500 B.C. until the fourth century A.D., were intimately
connected with the ceremonies and festivals in honor of the god Dionysus. These
Mysteries were established by the goddess of agriculture, Demeter, as thanks for
the recovery of her daughter Persephone, whom Hades, the god of the underworld,
had abducted. A further thank offering was the ear of grain, which was presented
by the two goddesses to Triptolemus, the first high priest of Eleusis. They
taught him the cultivation of grain, which Triptolemus then disseminated over
the whole globe. Persephone, however, was not always allowed to remain with her
mother, because she had taken nourishment from Hades, contrary to the order of
the highest gods. As punishment she had to return to the underworld for a part
of the year. During this time, it was winter on the earth, the plants died and
were withdrawn into the ground, to awaken to new life early in the year with
Persephone’s journey to earth.
The myth of Demeter, Persephone,
Hades, and the other gods, which was enacted as a drama, formed, however, only
the external framework of events. The climax of the yearly ceremonies, which
began with a procession from Athens to Eleusis lasting several days, was the
concluding ceremony with the initiation, which took place in the night. The
initiates were forbidden by penalty of death to divulge what they had learned,
beheld, in the innermost, holiest chamber of the temple, the tetesterion (goal).
Not one of the multitude that were initiated into the secret of Eleusis has ever
done this. Pausanias, Plato, many Roman emperors like Hadrian and Marcus
Aurelius, and many other known personages of antiquity were party to this
initiation. It must have been an illumination, a visionary glimpse of a deeper
reality, an insight into the true basis of the universe. That can be concluded
from the statements of initiates about the value, about the importance of the
vision. Thus it is reported in a Homeric Hymn: “Blissful is he among men on
Earth, who has beheld that! He who has not been initiated into the holy
Mysteries, who has had no part therein, remains a corpse in gloomy darkness.”
Pindar speaks of the Eleusinian benediction with the following words:
“Blissful is he, who after having beheld this enters on the way beneath the
Earth. He knows the end of life as well as its divinely granted beginning.”
Cicero, also a famous initiate, likewise put in first position the splendor that
fell upon his life from Eleusis, when he said: “ Not only have we received the
reason there, that we may live in joy, but also, besides, that we may die with
How could the mythological
representation of such an obvious occurrence, which runs its course annually
before our eyes — the seed grain that is dropped into the earth, dies there,
in order to allow a new plant, new life, to ascend into the light-prove to be
such a deep, comforting experience as that attested by the cited reports? It is
traditional knowledge that the initiates were furnished with a potion, the
kykeon, for the final ceremony. It is also known that barley extract and mint
were ingredients of the kykeon. Religious scholars and scholars of mythology,
like Karl Kerenyi, from whose book on the Eleusinian Mysteries (Rhein-Verlag,
Zurich, 1962) the preceding statements were taken, and with whom I was
associated in relation to the research on this mysterious potion [In the English
publication of Kerenyi’s book Eleusis (Schocken Books, New York, 1977) a
reference is made to this collaboration.], are of the opinion that the kykeon
was mixed with an hallucinogenic drug. [In The Road to Eleusis by R. Gordon
Wasson, Albert Hofmann, and Carl A. P. Ruck (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New
York, 1978) the possibility is discussed that the kykeon could have acted
through an LSD-like preparation of ergot.] That would make understandable the
ecstatic-visionary experience of the Demeter-Persephone myth, as a symbol of the
cycle of life and death in both a comprehensive and timeless reality.
When the Gothic king Alarich,
coming from the north, invaded Greece in 396 A.D. and destroyed the sanctuary of
Eleusis, it was not only the end of a religious center, but it also signified
the decisive downfall of the ancient world. With the monks that accompanied
Alarich, Christianity penetrated into the country that must be regarded as the
cradle of European culture.
The cultural-historical meaning
of the Eleusinian Mysteries, their influence on European intellectual history,
can scarcely be overestimated. Here suffering humankind found a cure for its
rational, objective, cleft intellect, in a mystical totality experience, that
let it believe in immortality, in an everlasting existence.
This belief had survived in early
Christianity, although with other symbols. It is found as a promise, even in
particular passages of the Gospels, most clearly in the Gospel according to
John, as in Chapter 14: 120. Jesus speaks to his disciples, as he takes leave of
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another
Comforter, that he may abide with you forever;
Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive,
because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth
with you, and shall be in you.
will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the
world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.
that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.
This promise constitutes the
heart of my Christian beliefs and my call to natural-scientific research: we
will attain to knowledge of the universe through the spirit of truth, and
thereby to understanding of our being one with the deepest, most comprehensive
determined by the duality of creator and creation, has, however, with its
nature-alienated religiosity largely obliterated the Eleusinian-Dionysian legacy
of antiquity. In the Christian sphere of belief, only special blessed men have
attested to a timeless, comforting reality, experienced in a spontaneous vision,
an experience to which in antiquity the elite of innumerable generations had
access through the initiation at Eleusis. The unio mystica of Catholic saints
and the visions that the representatives of Christian mysticism-Jakob Boehme,
Meister Eckhart, Angelus Silesius, Thomas Traherne, William Blake, and others
describe in their writings, are obviously essentially related to the
enlightenment that the initiates to the Eleusinian Mysteries experienced.
The fundamental importance of a
mystical experience, for the recovery of people in Western industrial societies
who are sickened by a one-sided, rational, materialistic world view, is today
given primary emphasis, not only by adherents to Eastern religious movements
like Zen Buddhism, but also by leading representatives of academic psychiatry.
Of the appropriate literature, we will here refer only to the books of Balthasar
Staehelin, the Basel psychiatrist working in Zurich. [Haben und Sein (1969), Die
Welt als Du (1970), Urvertrauen und zweite Wirklichkeit (1973), and Der flnale
Mensch (1976); all published by Theologischer Verlag, Zurich.] They make
reference to numerous other authors who deal with the same problem. Today a type
of “metamedicine,” “metapsychology,” and “metapsychiatry” is
beginning to call upon the metaphysical element in people, which manifests
itself as an experience of a deeper, duality-surmounting reality, and to make
this element a basic healing principle in therapeutic practice.
In addition, it is most
significant that not only medicine but also wider circles of our society
consider the overcoming of the dualistic, cleft world view to be a prerequisite
and basis for the recovery and spiritual renewal of occidental civilization and
culture. This renewal could lead to the renunciation of the materialistic
philosophy of life and the development of a new reality consciousness.
As a path to the perception of a
deeper, comprehensive reality, in which the experiencing individual is also
sheltered, meditation, in its different forms, occupies a prominent place today.
The essential difference between meditation and prayer in the usual sense, which
is based upon the duality of creatorcreation, is that meditation aspires to the
abolishment of the I-you-barrier by a fusing of object and subject, of sender
and receiver, of objective reality and self.
Objective reality, the world view
produced by the spirit of scientific inquiry, is the myth of our time. It has
replaced the ecclesiastical-Christian and mythical-Apollonian world view.
But this ever broadening factual
knowledge, which constitutes objective reality, need not be a desecration. On
the contrary, if it only advances deep enough, it inevitably leads to the
inexplicable, primal ground of the universe: the wonder, the mystery of the
divine-in the microcosm of the atom, in the macrocosm of the spiral nebula; in
the seeds of plants, in the body and soul of people.
Meditation begins at the limits
of objective reality, at the farthest point yet reached by rational knowledge
and perception. Meditation thus does not mean rejection of objective reality; on
the contrary, it consists of a penetration to deeper dimensions of reality. It
is not escape into an imaginary dream world; rather it seeks after the
comprehensive truth of objective reality, by simultaneous, stereoscopic
contemplation of its surfaces and depths.
It could become of fundamental
importance, and be not merely a transient fashion of the present, if more and
more people today would make a daily habit of devoting an hour, or at least a
few minutes, to meditation. As a result of the meditative penetration and
broadening of the natural-scientific world view, a new, deepened reality
consciousness would have to evolve, which would increasingly become the property
of all humankind. This could become the basis of a new religiosity, which would
not be based on belief in the dogmas of various religions, but rather on
perception through the “spirit of truth.” What is meant here is a
perception, a reading and understanding of the text at first hand, “out of the
book that God’s finger has written” (Paracelsus), out of the creation.
The transformation of the
objective world view into a deepened and thereby religious reality consciousness
can be accomplished gradually, by continuing practice of meditation. It can also
come about, however, as a sudden enlightenment; a visionary experience. It is
then particularly profound, blessed, and meaningful. Such a mystical experience
may nevertheless “not be induced even by decade-long meditation,” as
Balthasar Staehelin writes. Also, it does not happen to everyone, although the
capacity for mystical experience belongs to the essence of human spirituality.
Nevertheless, at Eleusis, the
mystical vision, the healing, comforting experience, could be arranged in the
prescribed place at the appointed time, for all of the multitudes who were
initiated into the holy Mysteries. This could be accounted for by the fact that
an hallucinogenic drug came into use; this, as already mentioned, is something
that religious scholars believe.
The characteristic property of
hallucinogens, to suspend the boundaries between the experiencing self and the
outer world in an ecstatic, emotional experience, makes it possible with their
help, and after suitable internal and external preparation, as it was
accomplished in a perfect way at Eleusis, to evoke a mystical experience
according to plan, so to speak.
Meditation is a preparation for
the same goal that was aspired to and was attained in the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Accordingly it seems feasible that in the future, with the help of LSD, the
mystical vision, crowning meditation, could be made accessible to an increasing
number of practitioners of meditation
I see the true importance of LSD
in the possibility of providing material aid to meditation aimed at the mystical
experience of a deeper, comprehensive reality. Such a use accords entirely with
the essence and working character of LSD as a sacred drug.