The Psychedelic Society UK Presents An Evening with Lama Mike Crowley, Author of Secret Drugs of Buddhism
The Psychedelic Society UK will be hosting a talk together with Synergetic Press author of Secret Drugs of Buddhism, ordained lama Mike Crowley, on 29th September from 1-3 PM CDT or 7-9 PM UK time.
After over 50 years of study, Mike has amassed incontrovertible evidence that psychedelic plants and fungi were part of medieval Buddhism. This is especially so in the tantric school of Buddhism known as Vajrayana in which a psychedelic sacrament called the “elixir of immortality” (Sanskrit: amṛita) played a central role. This school was based upon scriptures called tantras which concealed their secrets behind multiple levels of meaning. Mike will reveal the simple puns and Sanskrit wordplay which indicate the nature of this “elixir”.
More about Mike Crowley
Mike Crowley is originally from Wales but currently lives in a remote cabin in a vast forest in northern California. His book, Secret Drugs of Buddhism: Psychedelic Sacraments and the Origins of the Vajrayanawas published recently and he sits on the advisory board of the Psychedelic Sangha of the US. He has been known to teach Buddhism. He is familiar with Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Mandarin Chinese. Mike has lectured at the Museum of Asia and the Pacific, Warsaw, the Jagellonian University, Cracow, The California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, and at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His work has been published in Fortean Times, Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness, and Culture, Psychedelic American, and Psychedelic Press UK.
Synergetic Press is excited to announce that we have very recently signed a co-publishing deal with Transform Press, and are set to publish a new series of Transform Press titles by Alexander and Ann Shulgin, in continuation of the Shulgin legacy. Transform Press books are now distributed through Publishers Group West, effective July 1, 2020
Since 1984, we at Synergetic Press have published in the areas of ecology, ethnobotany, anthropology as well as psychedelic history and research. Transform Press was founded in 1991 by renowned biochemist Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin and his wife and co-author, Ann Shulgin, to publish their groundbreaking classic, PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story and has specialized in works on psychopharmacology, psychedelic drug research, and other material relating to psychoactive compounds, states of consciousness, and society.
“Over the past three decades, both Synergetic Press and Transform Press have been publishing pivotal books in specialized topics of plant medicine and psychedelic psychotherapy, each cultivating important hubs for scholarship and public discourse through events and symposiums,” said Deborah Parrish Snyder, Publisher, and CEO of Synergetic Press.
“We are honored to work together with Wendy Tucker, Publisher, and CEO of Transform Press, her mother Ann Shulgin, and their team to bring out more of the pioneering work by the Shulgins’.”
“Transform Press has many projects in the pipeline. We’re very happy to be able to work with the team at Synergetic Press to broaden our reach to the public and to contribute to the ever-expanding field of psychedelic research and its history,” said Wendy Tucker.
“This is an exciting time, as information about psychedelic drugs is not being demonized as it was before,” Tucker added. “Instead it is being seen more through a lens of curiosity as to the potentials for healing and growth.”
Our First Co-published Book: The Nature of Drugs
The first co-published title, to be released in Spring 2021, will be The Nature of Drugs: A Course on Pharmacology, Pharmacokinetics, Societal Responses, and Social Impact based on a lecture series that Sasha Shulgin taught (by the same name) at San Francisco State College (SFSU).
The full text was transcribed from the original lecture tapes recorded at SFSU in 1987 and will be published in two consecutive volumes. Volume I covers the first third of the course and presents Sasha’s views on the origin of drugs, the history of U.S. drug law enforcement, human anatomy, the nervous system, the range of drug administrations, varieties of drug actions, memory and states of consciousness, and research methods. The discussions in The Nature of Drugs lay the groundwork for Sasha’s philosophy on psychopharmacology and society, what defines a drug, the nature of a person’s relationship with a given compound, and for extensive examinations of dozens of compounds in Volumes II. The book chronicles the story of humanity’s relationship with psychoactive substances from the perspective of a master psychopharmacologist and will enthrall anyone intrigued by this subject.
“For those of us who were not fortunate enough to attend Sasha’s classes, this book is a fantastic second chance to learn from a brilliant, principled, courageous, idealistic psychedelic chemist whose creations were molecules for psychotherapy, spirituality, and celebration, to help humanity wake up and save ourselves.” — Rick Doblin, Founder and Executive Director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)
Beyond this, there are plans for three additional books carrying on the Shulgin legacy, including a second volume of The Nature of Drugs, a book of letters from the Shulgin archive, and a third volume of work joining the PiHKAL-TiHKAL series.
Alexander Shulgin, The Most Prolific Psychedelic Chemist in History
The late Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin was undoubtedly one of the most pioneering chemists of this century. Completing his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley in 1955, Shulgin went on to get a job at the Dow Chemical Company, where he invented a highly lucrative, biodegradable pesticide by the name of Zectran (mexacarbate).
Whilst working at Dow in 1960, Shulgin had his first mind-altering experience. He ingested mescaline, a psychedelic compound that is naturally found in the peyote cactus, finding it so astounding that he dedicated the rest of his career to exploring psychedelic chemistry.
“I first explored mescaline in the late ’50s,” Shulgin said in a 1995 interview. “Three-hundred-fifty to 400 milligrams. I learned there was a great deal inside me.”
Dow, pleased with his work, and the high profits generated by Zectran, gave him the freedom to pursue his own research program, and thus his experimentation with synthesizing psychoactive substances began.
Shulgin left Dow in 1966, supporting himself thereafter by becoming a scientific consultant as well as a lecturer and teacher. Setting up a home-based laboratory on his ranch in Lafayette, California, he synthesized more than two hundred novel psychoactive compounds. Perhaps ironically, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) gave him permission to do so, even calling on Shulgin to serve as an expert witness in drug trials.
A bold explorer of the frontiers of neurochemistry, Shulgin tested the majority of the substances he synthesized on himself, his wife and co-researcher Ann, and a small circle of trusted friends. He and his friends kept diligent notes on their experiential research forays.
Wanting to ensure that his life’s work researching psychoactive compounds did not disappear with him, he and his wife Ann, co-authored the psychonautic tome, PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story in 1991. ‘PiHKAL’ is an abbreviation for “Phenethylamines I have known and loved.” Phenethylamines are a class of natural and synthetic compounds, some with powerful psychoactive properties, including the naturally occurring mescaline, and the synthetic methylenedioxymethamphetamine, otherwise known as MDMA.
PiHKAL, jointly written by Sasha and Ann Shulgin, is the fictionalized autobiography that blends the personal history of their falling in love with carefully detailed descriptions for how to synthesize 179 psychoactive compounds.
In 1996, the Shulgin’s published TiHKAL, a sequel to PiHKAL, standing for “tryptamines I have known and loved.” Tryptamines include well-known psychedelic substances like psilocybin, DMT, and the neurotransmitter serotonin. Similar to PiHKAL, TiHKAL is divided into two parts and is a blend of personal history and chemical recipes.
Shulgin is most often remembered for his re-discovery and synthesis of a chemical called 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine, otherwise known as MDMA. MDMA was originally synthesized by German chemist Anton Köllisch in 1912, however, when Shulgin resynthesized the chemical, he discovered that it had potent psychoactive properties.
Discovering its effects, Shulgin suggested that MDMA would be a powerful aid in therapy, and by the late 1970s, some of his colleagues were evaluating the drug’s use in therapeutic settings. However, MDMA soon escaped the therapeutic setting, rising to popularity amongst young partygoers where MDMA’s euphoric effects were soon rebranded by dealers as “ecstasy” and MDMA was reclassified as a Schedule I drug in 1985.
Shulgin lamented the reckless recreational use and ensuing prohibition of psychedelics in that it hindered the possibility of their legitimate use in psychotherapy.
“Use them [psychedelics] with care, and use them with respect as to the transformations they can achieve, and you have an extraordinary research tool. Go banging about with a psychedelic drug for a Saturday night turn-on, and you can get into a really bad place, psychologically. Know what you’re using, decide just why you’re using it, and you can have a rich experience. They’re not addictive, and they’re certainly not escapist, either, but they’re exceptionally valuable tools for understanding the human mind, and how it works.” ― Alexander Shulgin, PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story
These books, combined with Shulgin’s association with MDMA were responsible for his rapid rise to popularity, and his becoming a celebrated chemist world over.
Exploring the Shulgin’s Chemical Legacy
A new Netflix documentary series The Business of Drugs set out to investigate the economics of six illicit substances, including synthetic drugs like MDMA. The second episode, entitled “Synthetics” is devoted to exploring the chemical legacy that Alexander Shulgin left in his wake.
“The century of the synthetic drug begins but doesn’t end in the shadow of the late Alexander Shulgin. In the 1960s, Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, a renegade chemist reimagined the study of drugs, and by extension human consciousness. He is recognized as the “spiritual father of psychedelics”, creating over two hundred substances from scratch, but he also, however, inadvertently set off the billion-dollar race to control the synthetics market.”
The episode navigates the dangers of synthetics, but continually circles back to the fact Shulgin saw breakthrough therapeutic potential in MDMA, the synthetic drug that brought him his fame. Shulgin never suspected that MDMA and other substances that he synthesized would become popular amongst young partygoers. Rather, he saw them as revolutionary psychotherapeutic tools that the “War on Drugs” wrongly forced underground.
Image: Ann Shulgin with daughter, Wendy Tucker, Publisher at Transform Press (Photo by Audrey Tucker, 2020)
Naranjo’s Last Work as an Author: The Revolution We Expected
Ours is a time of immense upheaval, transformation, and crisis characterized by the unraveling of social, psychological, and spiritual paradigms of authority. As we look around our world, we find the rapacious destruction of our environment, the troubles that come from the void of meaninglessness, and a society that displays brutal and hostile tendencies toward itself and its surroundings. However, in the dismantling of our troubled world lies the keys to a renewed vision, one that carries the tenets for life after the revolution we are living through.
The Revolution We Expected, soon to be released by Synergetic Press is Claudio Naranjo’s last work as an author, and was completed at the end of his long and pioneering life. Rich with the insight, wisdom and clarity characteristic of his work, the book is an expression of his unrelenting love for humanity as well as his deep understanding of our condition, but more than that, it is also a socio-political statement created to assist in the ongoing transformation and reconfiguration of our holistic existence. Naranjo goes well beyond his incisive diagnosis of humanity’s current crises and offers a path forward grounded on the understanding that, as he says, “only in waking from our blind somnambulism can we evolve.”
Our Sinking Ship: Patriarchal Civilization in Decline
Naranjo describes the foremost problem we face as an acute lack of awareness for ourselves, others, and our environment; a problem linked to the patriarchal domination of our collective consciousness. Our world is in fact not even aware of the blindness from which we so helplessly suffer. The catastrophes, the toils, and the evils in our world are a manifestation of our ignorance, and the increasing severity of this problem is evident in our inability to respond and offer solutions. In the 21st century, this ignorance is prevalent regardless of the contemporary obsession with information and the abundance of data available to us. Beyond these vast resources (touted as impressive harbingers for a future filled with progress), we are beset by the utter scarcity of real wisdom.
Many of the great spiritual traditions from around the world have referred to our collective condition as a kind of unawareness which Naranjo identifies in his wide-ranging survey as the root of our most critical failings. He describes the origins of our crisis as stemming from what he calls “a degradation of awareness and a process of dehumanization that has accompanied our civilization process.” Furthermore, he associates our patterns of violence, insensitivity, and greed with the neglect of “maternal empathy and bodily, animal wisdom.” By imposing a tyrannical authority over the maternal (love) and the filial (instinct) aspects of our world, the paternal figure has prevented the integration of our consciousness which in turn has produced hostile and vindictive behavior.
Re-humanization through Self-Awareness
The processes of education are an important thread running through the content of Naranjo’s work. But education for Naranjo is more than a critical component in the causes of our society’s ills, it is also a way for us to reformulate our consciousness.
In a powerful passage, Naranjo describes how “nothing strikes (him) as more important in the pursuit of rehumanizing society than rehumanizing education.” He goes on to explain lucidly how although there have been recent trends that speak gratuitously of the importance of “emotional education”, a true examination of the patriarchal principles which dominate our conception of education has not yet taken place within today’s educational institutions.
The reluctance of these institutions to accept the role of the psychological and emotional components in a human’s development have been even more detrimental due to the absence of concepts like empathy, care, and love in their discourse. Naranjo believes that there is a fundamental conflict within our society because it establishes a hegemony based on the patriarchal mind which prevents us from being more loving. In order to develop this characteristic “…we must first learn to love ourselves and to do so, in turn, we must understand the extent to which we reject, disdain, push, and mistreat ourselves, without knowing it.”
Toward a Global Consciousness
Despite the circumstances of utmost difficulty which we find ourselves in, we are undergoing what Naranjo characterizes as a “revolution of consciousness”; a renewal of awareness. Although the world of politics, economics, and media is filled with examples of humanity’s challenges, there is movement beneath the surface of our society. The expanding interest in modalities through which we might reclaim our responsibility for ourselves and our world can lead to a society “richer in love”, aware of the need for individual human development. Naranjo’s book – as well as his generous catalog of work – is filled with an energy that invites us to awaken our own zeal for a better world, one that heals the blatant dysfunction and illness that permeates our present.
Celebrated psychotherapist Claudio Naranjo‘s last work as an author makes a final call to humanity to awaken to our collective potential and work to transcend our patriarchal past and present in order to build a new world. This book argues not only for a collective individual awakening, but a concerted effort to transform our institutions so that they are in service to a better world. Naranjo targets our traditional education and global economic systems that increasingly neglect human development and must transform to meet the needs of future social evolution. Ultimately, he says, we need to embark on a collective process of rehumanizing our systems and establishing self-awareness as individuals to create the necessary global consciousness to realize a new path forward; stressing the need for education to teach wisdom over knowledge, and utilizing meditation and contemplative practices to form new ways to educate, and be educated.
Eight volunteers placed themselves in the world’s first mini-biospheric system, a facility that included a range of wilderness biomes as well as farm and human living area. This biospheric laboratory designed to be a new kind of experimental ecological apparatus research is where they lived separate from Earth’s biosphere for the first two-year closure mission. During this time, the biospherians devoted themselves to caring for and studying their small world, recycling their air, water, and wastes as well as growing their own food.
We interviewed author and biospherian crew member Mark Nelson to better understand the insights gained from living in Biosphere 2, and how we can move towards being better planetary stewards individually.
Jasmine Virdi: Undoubtedly the greatest lessons that emerged from the Biosphere 2 experiment have a lot to teach us when it comes to planetary stewardship. How would you describe planetary stewardship?
Mark Nelson: Planetary stewardship is not necessarily about managing the biosphere [Earth], rather it has to do with managing ourselves and the human impacts on our planetary biosphere. I think Biosphere 2 has a number of teachings that are of crucial relevance to what is probably the greatest challenge of the 21st century. First, Biosphere 2’s lessons should motivate us to reassess how we design our technosphere; how we do business, how we farm, how we ranch, how we manufacture, and how we transport. We are coming to understand more and more, that everything we do has consequences for our global biosphere, our underappreciated life support system, affecting its natural cycles. Biosphere 2 was an amazing experiment in how to redesign and re-engineer a non-polluting technological system that is truly in service to the betterment of all life.
That being said, what are simple, affordable, and easy steps that we can take on the individual level toward becoming better planetary stewards or better biospherians?
I get emotional when I give talks and people ask “What is the first thing that I can do to become a better biospherian?” My advice is to start by falling in love with the biosphere. In order to want to save something, you have to love it. Beyond falling in love, you need to rid yourself of the illusion that you are not in every moment of your life being supported and interacting metabolically with Earth’s biosphere. Literally every breath of air that you take is a product of our biospheric system. Our current ideas about the biosphere feed into an erroneous, dualistic, dyadic vision in which us humans are separate from the Earth. Even to imagine that the technosphere is opposed to the biosphere is incorrect – it is an integral element of the Earth’s biosphere. We need to move past the idea that the biosphere and the environment is something outside of ourselves. We need what the Greeks called metanoia, a profound change of thinking to come to realize that we are all biospherians. Stepping back from the illusion that there is the world of life separate from you is a great beginning for understanding what it means to be a biospherian. We will only be motivated to take care of our biosphere if we change our illusion that we’re not part of the systems and that it is something outside of ourselves. Biosphere 2 offered this understanding in a very experiential mode in that all of the biospherian crew members, and even those who went into our test module, grasped on a somatic, bodily level that they are connected to the biosphere. And what a great realization that is!
Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains north of Tucson, Arizona, the 3.15 acres Biosphere 2 facility is the world’s largest closed ecological system. Inside are tropical rainforest, savannah, desert, mangrove marsh, coral reef biomes, a half-acre farm, and human living area.
Do you see any parallels between your two-year experiment in Biosphere 2 and the current global situation of being quarantined due to COVID-19?
Many people have been asking me about the parallels between our two-year experiment in Biosphere 2, and the COVID-19 quarantine. For us biospherians, we left an unappreciated and daily degraded biosphere (Earth), and entered a new world with the objective of assisting that new world to grow up to be beautiful, and maintain its biodiversity. In Biosphere 2, we went into as clean an environment as engineers and ecologists could possibly devise, motivated by the self-interested goal of becoming good stewards of that system. We also had the knowledge that the health of our biosphere was inextricably interconnected with our bodily health. We knew that we were metabolically inseparable from the Biosphere, having a real sense that Biosphere 2 was our lifeboat.
However, in the current situation, people are in quarantine because there is a dangerous disease agent that is out there. Despite the gravity of the situation, we are looking out of our windows at a more beautiful world. We have finally slowed down our assault on the biosphere and stopped taking for granted the miraculous processes that give us clean air, water, and food. The ‘business as usual’ approach has slowed down as a result of our quarantine, and our biosphere has become a cleaner, healthier place. We are seeing wildlife regain some confidence, pollution is decreasing, and we are finally meeting greenhouse gas and climate change goals. People are really waking up to the fact that we have a tremendous impact on our biosphere and that there is not an environment external to us. There are no small actions, everything we do has an impact for good or for ill. That truth was super obvious in Biosphere 2, but is equally true on Earth. The current situation with coronavirus serves as a good shock point for the global cadre of biospherians. Being temporarily locked out of business as usual I deeply hope will allow us to rethink what will happen when we resume “normal” life.
What are some of the main lessons that came out of Biosphere 2?
Biosphere 2 presented a challenge to the exploitative and extractive way that modern business i.e., large-scale capitalism thinks about our earth. Biosphere 2 made a big statement as it included a range of wilderness biomes like a tropical rainforest, a desert, an Everglades marsh, and even an ocean with a living coral reef. Each biome had intrinsic value because it made our mini-world more beautiful, and provided habitat for some of the other species that share our biosphere. Like nature does on Earth, those natural biomes contributed to the quality of our air and water as well as the joy of living in a wondrous world.
It was recognized that each biome had its own integrity and was not free for humans to convert to farm or ranch land or exploit for natural resources. Our role within each biome was to protect its integrity, to protect against loss of biodiversity, and to keep an eye on their overall health because we knew our bodily health depended on the health of the system as a whole. People who came to Biosphere 2 saw its biospherian crew taking tender, loving care of their environment. We learned by listening to our biosphere. I think that is a very powerful lesson in planetary stewardship that can be extrapolated from Biosphere 2. This new edition of Life Under Glass is a great way to appreciate the drama, the joy, the adventure we had during the two years.
Another great lesson was that even in a mini-biome using technology to supplement the natural functions that weren’t present, it was clear that humans and technology were not dominating or “controlling” the environment. Ultimately the microbes, fungi, plants, animals, and atmospheric cycles that we were helping to maintain were responsible for our health. Nowadays, we are so in love with the technologies that we have invented and sometimes become very grandiose, running away with the notion that humans run the biosphere. Thank goodness we don’t.
“Spaceship Earth” the Film
The film Spaceship Earth chronicles the true, stranger-than-fiction adventure of eight visionaries who in 1991 spent two years quarantined inside of a self-engineered replica of Earth’s ecosystem called BIOSPHERE 2. As the current pandemic forces us to confront the fact that the narratives that inform our modern-day existence do not serve us, this tale of dreamers reimagining a new world may inspire our own vision of the future. The film is now available to stream in the US and will be released in Europe this July.
“To have a research station on another planet, we have to figure out how to recreate a tiny biosphere for humans. That’s what the Biosphere 2 project in Arizona was trying to do in 1991. I was so interested in this experiment that I spent time locked inside their test module. But this $150 million structure was built by a theater group instead of scientists, and therein lies the drama worthy of a film. Skip the comedy (Biodome, 1996) and watch Spaceship Earth (2020), a new sympathetic documentary on this remarkable project. What they learned, of life support and human dynamics, should be better known. (Imagine being really locked down for 2 years.)” — Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired magazine
Abigail Alling, Mark Nelson, and Sally Silverstone, Foreward by Sylvia A. Earle
Planet in a bottle. Eden revisited. Laboratory under glass. The largest self-sustaining closed ecological system ever made. Biosphere 2 is many things to many people. From its half-acre farm to its coral reef to its emerald rainforest—this unique research facility has proven itself a marvel of human engineering and a testament to the human imagination.
For two years, four men and four women lived and worked inside the structure, recycling their air, water, food, and wastes, and setting a world record for living in an isolated environment. But what has this giant glass-and-steel greenhouse been to those most intimately involved with it? What has it meant to the first crew who studied and cared for it? What was it really like to be sealed inside a giant laboratory for twenty-four months?
“Life Under Glass details an extraordinary scientific experiment, one in which a handful of idealistic citizen scientists, at considerable personal risk, volunteered to enter a closed system, Biosphere 2. The audacity of the effort brings to mind that famous quote of Teddy Roosevelt in which he hails not the critics, but those in the arena who strive valiantly, who spend themselves in a worthy cause, and who, if they fail, do so while daring greatly, their faces marred by dust and sweat and blood.” – Professor Wade Davis, BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk, University of British Columbia, Vancouver
Image credit: Illustration of Albert Hofmann by Jakob Krattiger, 2004
Excerpt From: Dieter Hagenbach, Lucius Werthmüller. “Mystic Chemist”. Apple Books.
Bicycle Day 2020: An Interview with Lucius Werthmüller, Co-Author of Mystic Chemist
The celebration of ‘Bicycle Day’ commemorates the day that Swiss chemist and discoverer of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), Albert Hofmann, first intentionally ingested LSD in a self-experiment conducted in order to ascertain its effects. On April 19, 1943, Hofmann ingested 250 micrograms of the substance, believing it to be a threshold dose of the drug (he later discovered the threshold dose was a mere 20 micrograms). About an hour after ingesting the drug, Hofmann began to feel its effects take hold, asking his laboratory assistant to escort him home that evening. However, due to wartime restrictions, cars were prohibited; they had to travel home by bicycle.
Jasmine Virdi: How did you first meet Albert Hofmann?
Lucius Werthmüller: I met him when I was a child as he was a dear friend of my parents. To me, he was just another visitor at our house so I didn’t think he was particularly interesting at the time. At the age of 15, I had my first LSD
Albert Hofmann showcasing the molecular structure of LSD
experience, and only later I learned that this friend of my parents was the discoverer of LSD, and that fact obviously made him much more interesting to me. We were often guests at Albert and [his wife] Anita’s home where we had barbecues, and harvested cherries yearly to make homemade schnapps. Later, we came to develop our own relationship aside from the one we had through my parents. Becoming friends, we often met, discussing matters of parapsychology, and life after death, especially in his last years leading up to his one-hundredth birthday. He was often asked by the journalists: “What do you think, will there be a life after death?” And he usually would say, “No I don’t believe in a life after death…” and after a short pause, he added, “I know that there is life after death.”
Bicycle Day wasn’t the first time that Hofmann had tried LSD ? It was the first time intentionally, but before that, he had accidentally dosed himself.
Yes, that was on the 16th of April 1943. Before that, he reflected that this molecule [lysergic acid diethylamide] would not leave his mind. He first synthesized it during November 1938 for pharmacological research, but the chemical was not of interest, and so it was put away. However, it stayed ever present in his mind, and thinking there must be something special about it, he decided to synthesize it again five years later. When he re-synthesized it, he experienced a mildly intoxicating effect, and was unable to imagine how it had happened as he was a rigorous chemist, following strict safety protocols. His only explanation was that he must have absorbed it transdermally. This initial experience made him decide to intentionally ingest LSD three days later.
Around the age of eight, Albert began having deep mystical experiences in nature. He describes that, from one step to another, he fell into a completely different state of mind, whereby he felt united with all of nature, feeling the miracle of nature in its full glory. From that experience, he decided that he wanted to study nature further, eventually becoming a chemist. He said that, by some kind of coincidence, these strange mystical experiences that led him to be an organic chemist led him to discover a substance that can also promote these mystical experiences.
After his initial revelatory experience which was described to be both “blissful” and “terrifying” what made him decide to go back for more?
It was terrifying for him because he genuinely believed that he was on the verge of death. If you don’t know what to expect or what is happening to you, LSD can be truly terrifying. When he was cycling home he entertained the idea that he was being poisoned by the drug, and so upon arriving home he called his doctor. When the doctor told him that everything was normal, all body functions were working properly, he could finally begin to relax, and enjoy the experience, realizing LSD’s tremendous potential to unlock the realms of the unconscious.
What did Albert perceive the function of LSD to be?
He saw it as a tool for making psychotherapy much more profound, to access the unconscious more easily, and he was quite sure from the beginning that it could help transform psychiatry, psychotherapy, and also our model of consciousness.
LSD blotter art, Albert Hofmann, The Father of LSD
When was it that he started referring to LSD as his “problem child”?
That was in the 60s. During the 1950s, LSD was the subject of study for hundreds of research programs all over the world, however, the drug was contained within the scientific community. He could’ve never imagined that LSD was to become a drug on the streets, being taken at parties as he had a deep respect for it, believing that one must be very careful when ingesting it. Subsequently, he was put into contact with Timothy Leary, who was doing research at Harvard at the time, by Aldous Huxley. Initially Albert and Tim had quite an interesting correspondence, but after Leary was kicked out of Harvard and became a target in the media, Albert took his distance. He didn’t want to have LSD on the streets, and he couldn’t understand why the hippies took it in such high doses.
Then, he began to have problems in his workplace. In 1962, some members of the Nobel Prize Committee had come from Stockholm to visit him, and it was almost certain that he would receive the Nobel Prize for chemistry, but that was the time when everything was becoming more and more scandalous with Timothy Leary in the media, leading Albert to start considering LSD as his “problem child.”
He also always said that a “problem child is not a child that creates problems, rather it is a child that has an enormous potential.” The German term “das Sorgenkind” cannot be adequately translated into English, meaning a child that you have to take special care of. Despite this, Albert was always convinced that LSD would never disappear from this world, and would continue to play an important role in the research of consciousness.
What would he think of the psychedelic renaissance as it exists today?
As long as he worked in the company [Sandoz], he was quite a conservative man, keeping his distance from the counterculture, but the older he became, the more open he was to LSD use that went beyond therapy. He compared it often to the Eleusinian mysteries, and he hoped that it would become a tool for initiation. In 2007, one year after our big conference and one year before he died, LSD research was once again permissible in Switzerland, and this made him incredibly happy. He didn’t want it to be misused by the youth as he truly felt it was something to be approached with reverence. However, by the end of his life, he was open to the idea of it being used outside of medical settings by those who approached it responsibly. His contact with writers and artists from all over the world convinced him that it can play an important role outside of medical contexts, and he was more and more happy that people took it. He would love the psychedelic renaissance today!
LSD was the first psychoactive substance that Albert synthesized, but it was not the only one. What were the others? Psilocybin, and psilocin?
Yes psilocybin, and he was also taking samples of Salvia divinorum when he was with Gordon Wasson in Mexico. The two had a journey to Mexico after Albert had first synthesized psilocybin to give it to Maria Sabina, the famed Mexican curandera who had first led Gordon Wasson on a mushroom ceremony. Wasson, on his first trip, had taken back some samples of salvia, but Albert was not able to find the active component. What was important for Albert was to look for the active component in these morning glory seeds ololiuqui that were used also as a sacrament in shamanic ceremonies in Mexico.
He was deeply thrilled when he found out that there was also lysergic acid in these morning glory seeds. Apart from the psychoactive chemicals, he synthesized many medications, some of which are still in use. What he loved the most was methergine, a chemical that makes birthing easier for women. Speaking of his two favourite substances, he said “methergine makes physical birth easier, and the LSD makes spiritual birth easier.” These ergot alkaloids were used in medieval times by midwives to make the birthing process easier. For him, psilocybin wasn’t that interesting. The thing he wanted on his tombstone was “Albert Hofmann, discoverer of LSD.”
Do you think that the messages that can be learned from LSD and other psychedelics can be helpful now in light of the coronavirus crisis?
I don’t know how helpful it can be in this specific crisis, but one of the most important things about LSD is that it can reconnect people with the living creation, with nature. Albert’s biggest gripe with the modern world was our alienation from nature. He was unable to comprehend how people are seduced by materialism, turning a blind eye to the miracle of nature. I think that is what it really can do now to help us is to connect us with the living creation and the wonders of nature. Albert wrote up a summary of his life that he wanted to have read at his funeral ceremony which perfectly summarized how he saw LSD contributing to a better future:
“Nature, the creation, was described by Paracelcus as the book written by the finger of God. In my life, I was fortunate to have this profoundly uplifting and comforting experience. To whomever understands how to read this book, not only with scientific curiosity but with wondering, loving eyes, will be revealed a deeper, more marvellous reality in which we are all secure, and forever united.”
Photo credit: Albert Hofmann in the Dordogne, France, 1990 by François Lagarde
Mystic Chemist is the authoritative biography on arguably the most famous chemist of the 20th century. Authors Hagenbach and Werthmüller, close friends of Hofmann, take us on a journey through the 20th century from his mystical childhood experiences with nature; to his chemistry studies with Nobel Prize winner Paul Karrer in Zurich through his discoveries of both LSD and psilocybin at Sandoz; to his adventurous expeditions and his many years of retirement devoted to philosophy of nature and a rich social life. The authors also reveal a thorough and eventful history of the impact that LSD had on culture and the ensuing struggles between its advocates and opponents, many of which persist today.
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