The Very First Dose of LSD
April 16, 1943 is a day that forever changed the face of Rock-N-Roll and the perspective and political pitch of its faithful fan base. It was the day straight-laced Swiss scientist – soon-to-be acid advocate and cult hero – Albert Hofmann inadvertently dosed himself with lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) while conducting research at his laboratory in Basel. The rest, as they say, is hallucinogenic history.
The counterculture would celebrate the day (like the second coming of Christ). The Establishment would fear and loathe it. The Earth would tilt just a little more on its axis. The sky was yellow, and the sun was blue.
Although Hofmann absorbed only a tiny amount of the acid through his fingertips, the effects, as he documented, would force him to interrupt his research and head home (a very wise move for the first-timer). He described the effects:
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.
Sound familiar? The “condition” intrigued Hofmann, and left him curious about the acid’s mind-expanding effects. Three days later (apparently unable to contain himself any longer), Hofmann ingested 250 micrograms of LSD at the lab (a typical hit of blotter acid is 50-150 micrograms). As the effects of the hallucinogen became overwhelming, he left the sterile confines of the lab to embark on a crazed, psychedelic bike ride home. It was heavy (as we know it can be).
Picture yourself on a bike in Switzerland (or on a boat on a river, according to The Beatles’ “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”), and hold on for a wild ride:
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…
Eventually, Albert would land safely back in our relatively laid-back experiential plane after taking the very first LSD “trip.” Hofmann’s “Bicycle Day,” as it’s known, set off a chain reaction that would ultimately blow up in the San Francisco-Haight Ashbury music scene of the mid-‘60s.
It all started when Sandoz Labs made LSD commercially available in 1947 for an array of psychiatric and therapeutic uses. Ironically enough, it was the CIA and the U.S. Army that introduced LSD to the masses – to study the drug’s potential warfare applications – making it available to servicemen and college students in the ’50s. Ooooops! They’ve been trying to get the genie back in the bottle for decades.
LSD lit up the counterculture in spinning fluorescent tie-dye, picking up ambassadors along the way like renowned author and Merry Prankster Ken Kesey, musicians Jerry Garcia and John Lennon, and Berkley professor and “High Priest of LSD” Timothy Leary, who once called The Beatles “inspired revealers of the great vibration.” Well put, Tim. Lennon’s lyrics leave no doubt in the imagery-filled 1967 classic off Sgt. Pepper’s:
Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes
“Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” says it all
(To listen to more LSD-inspired tracks, tune into SongMango’s kaleidoscopic Electric Kool-Aid Acid Playlist.)
Here’s an animated recreation of Hofmann’s mind-blowing bike ride. Where no man had gone before:
The anti-war, hippie movement began to coalesce on college campuses and at free concerts across the country. Acid quickly became a very big deal. Like Hofmann before, the youth of America was getting its collective mind blown.
Kesey, the tie between the fading Beat Generation of the ‘50s and the emerging hippie movement of the ’60s, would throw a series of face-melting parties – “the Acid Tests” – at his farm in La Honda, CA, in ’65 and ’66. The explorative events featured black lights, fluorescent paint and vats of acid-laced Kool-Aid. California outlawed LSD on October 6, 1966, and sadly, the rest of the United States would soon follow.
“New Journalism” poster-child Tom Wolfe memorialized Kesey’s cultural feasts in his widely acclaimed 1968 nonfiction work, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests. The Grateful Dead sat in as the house band for The Tests, helping to inextricably weave psychedelics into the fabric of Rock-N-Roll. Top-shelf bands – like Cream, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Santana, The Byrds and The Beatles – all implanted aspects of psychedelic Rock into their repertoires, and fans devoured the trippy vibes like so many musical sugar cubes.
Although acid’s popularity has waned in recent years, there are still plenty of sunny spots in our buttoned-up world where wide-eyed rebels dose themselves (and each other), spin under the stars, howl at the moon and stretch out toward the warm expanse of the kaleidoscopic sky.
Albert Hofmann, LSD’s founding father and beloved cult hero, called acid “medicine for the soul,” and we couldn’t agree more. Remember, please dose responsibly, which includes not driving – not even a bicycle.
Check out details on the federal government’s efforts to stamp out LSD use in the ’60s, right here.
Browse the best LSD-infused albums, shirts and books at The Psychedelic Center.