Monday, May 05, 2008

Albert Hofman, R.I.P.

"I think that in human evolution it has never been as necessary to have this substance LSD. It is just a tool to turn us into what we are supposed to be." Albert Hofman

Hofmann was disappointed when his discovery was removed from commercial distribution. He remained convinced that the drug had the potential to counter the psychological problems induced by "materialism, alienation from nature through industrialisation and increasing urbanisation, lack of satisfaction in professional employment in a mechanised, lifeless working world, ennui and purposelessness in wealthy, saturated society, and lack of a religious, nurturing, and meaningful philosophical foundation of life".

Albert Hofman died last week at the age of 102. Albert Hofman was a Swiss scientist best known for having been the first to synthesize, ingest and learn of the psychedelic effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and became the first person in the world to experience a full-blown "acid trip" – that was on April 19 1943, which became known among aficionados as "Bicycle Day" as it was while cycling home from his laboratory that he experienced the most intense symptoms.

By 1965 more than 2,000 papers had been published offering hope for a range of conditions from drug and alcohol addiction to mental illnesses of various kinds. But the fact that the chemical was cheap and easy to make left it open to abuse, and from the late 1950s onwards, promoted by Dr Timothy Leary and others, LSD became the recreational drug of choice for western youth.

An outbreak of moral panic, combined with a number of accidents involving people jumping to their deaths off high buildings in the belief that they could fly, led governments around the world to ban LSD. Research also showed that the drug, taken in high doses and in inappropriate settings, often caused panic reactions. For certain individuals, a bad trip could be the trigger for full-blown psychosis.

Hofmann was disappointed when his discovery was removed from commercial distribution.
Hofmann laid some of the blame at the door of Dr Timothy Leary. In his autobiography he described meeting Leary in 1971 in the snack bar at Lausanne railway station. Hofmann began by voicing his regret that Leary's experiments had effectively killed off academic research into LSD and took Leary to task for encouraging its recreational use among young people.

Leary was unabashed. "He maintained that I was unjustified in reproaching him for the seduction of immature persons to drug consumption," Hofmann recalled. Leary further insisted that American teenagers "with regard to information and life experience, were comparable to adult Europeans" and were able to make up their own minds.

Canada and LSD:

Shortly after World War II, English psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond began studying the potential use of psychedelic drugs in psychiatry. He found that these drugs antagonized adrenaline receptors, inducing a temporary psychosis, perhaps even a model psychosis. According to Dyck, Osmond was amazed at the drugs’ ability to “suspend his sense of logic and comfort” by altering his perception of reality. If we accept schizophrenia as a distortion of perception, then experiencing drug-induced psychosis could allow psychiatrists great insight into mental illness.

“A doctor often wishes he could enter the illness and see with the madman’s eyes, hear with his ears, and feel with his skin,” explained Osmond at the time. “This may seem an unlikely privilege but it is available to anyone who is prepared to take a…minute amount of…lysergic acid.”

Meanwhile, on another continent, a psychiatrist in Saskatchewan, Abram Hoffer, was examining LSD’s biochemical effects. He discovered that the LSD molecule contains nicotinic acid.

“[Nicotinic acid] blocks the metabolism of certain enzymes…appearing to cause changes in perception, changes in effect, and changes in thinking,” Hoffer explained at the time.

By controlling the levels of this blocking agent, Hoffer controlled these psychosis-like symptoms. These studies eventually lead him to propose treating schizophrenic patients with nicotinic acid, commonly known as niacin or vitamin B3.

An interesting medicinal use for LSD

More than 4 decades after the original studies, Dr. Erika Dyck has exposed some surprising facts about studies conducted with LSD as a treatment for alcoholism.
Dr Erika Dyck of the University of Alberta has recently published her research on LSD treatment for alcoholism studies, performed in Saskatchewan during the 1950’s and 1960’s by Humphry Osmond, Abram Hoffer, Colin Smith, and Sven Jensen. This incredible paper brings to light some fascinating studies, and generates even more questions for those brave enough to ask.
Dr Dyck provides a substantial background on psychiatrist Humphry Osmond, whom she credits with being a pioneer in the acceptance of alcoholism as a disease based on biochemical causes. After moving from England to Weyburn, Saskatchewan, Osmond met Abram Hoffer, who became a close associate in his research efforts with d-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and other hallucinogens like mescaline.
The professor continues on to explain how the researchers came to the idea of treating alcoholism with this drug, based on the similarities between the effects of LSD and alcohol withdrawal delirium tremors (commonly known as the “dt’s”). As trials progressed with alcoholic patients, the researchers realized that there was another aspect to the experience other than physical that they had not considered – that of a personal and sometimes spiritual awakening that was reported during the patient’s LSD session. Follow-up to treatment confirmed that this had a lasting, positive effect on the subjects. The relatively informal first group of studies by Osmond and Hoffer resulted in a roughly 50/50 success rate of abstinence for a follow up period of six months.
The study’s close work with the organization Alcoholics Anonymous is also discussed in Dr. Dyck’s work. In an attempt to follow up with patients and utilize as much feedback as possible, Hoffer and Osmond found local groups helpful and even quite supportive of clinical trials. It is also noted that co-founder Bill Wilson was a proponent of the treatment, especially in regard to its implications regarding the spiritual experience.
Dr. Dyck cites two additional researchers that entered the scene after additional pressure was placed to provide more empirical evidence in favor of the treatment method. The first of these was conducted by psychiatrist Colin Smith in 1955, on two dozen patients. The results of this concluded that half remained about the same, a quarter were improved, and the other quarter had shown significant improvement, classified as exhibiting “complete abstinence from alcohol for the duration of the follow-up period…with changes in lifestyle, including more stable personal relationships and regular employment.”

Obituary in Telegraph.

A couple other of my posts related to this subject:

Farms, Drugs and Mental Health
Lyle Thurston


Underground Baker said...

Great post Candy. I didn't know about the early diagnosis of alcoholism as a disease. And I love the spiritual aspect.
The thing I find interesting is that LSD seemes to create spiritual awareness, where as alcohol seems to deaden it, or maybe perpetuate it.
(Perhaps its just my imagination that alcholics tend to be spiritually flailing)
I wonder if this is why AA has such a strong spiritual aspect to it?

Underground Baker said...

I just read your "why don't poems rhyme" link by Pinsky. I am still laughing at it! A perfect mix of discussing poems and being funny. Gotta love that!

Anonymous said...

The spooks are watching you now!

Candy Minx said...

Underground Baker, glad you enjoyed this post. Well, the thing about alcohol is that it has another name "spirit" and I think that in many wyas the addictive aspect of booze is that it has the "yes facility" people do have a sense of well being from a drink or two. the problem is it is also a pain killer and people who have pain residual from their past are easily relieved by drinking alcohol...and it is easy to get addicted if that is ones history...often abuse or damaged family dynamics left un-recovered.

In AA an alcoholic is sometimes considered a "wounded mystic".

Yes, the poem articel was a lot of fun wasn't it?

Anonymous...what if I am already a spook myself? Regardless there isn't any harm in the history of my posts on healing, mental health, addictions and the agricultural economy that surrounds family dynamic collapse and dysfunction...and the bigger picture of the lack of focus put on the spirit in our industrialized society.

When we realize we no longer need the evolutionary adaptation of the "ego" we will be able to heal such things as conspiracy theories and paranoia, corrupt corporate mindsets and the harm done by the totalitarian agricultural construct preventing us from seeing outside of Plato's Cave.

What I have to say about the disaster of adapting to farming is much more disturbing to our culture than the death of a scientist noted on my blog...

p.s. Hey Anonymous, have a nice day!

Underground Baker said...

Went to a small "celebration of life" on the weekend for Lyle. There was a video of the 50th party. It was so good to have a ritual to let him go in my mind.
It was also good that it was small...I get so easily distracted at the big affairs...all those toasts!

tweetey30 said...

sounds interesting even though you will never catch me taking anything like this...

Martha Elaine Belden said...

interesting post, candy.

definitely know more about LSD now :)

Gardenia said...

Candy, so interesting. I have been through specialized curriculum (years ago) for alcoholism counseling and did not run across any of this - but it seems almost like some puzzle pieces fitting together. I haven't read up on anything recent for years. I can relate that LSD did give me an awakening - it was pretty amazing - it was like a sorting machine that put past experiences in the right place - very hard to put into words. I think, sadly, LSD was put out to pasture before adequate research was done and perhaps the field of mental health was done an injustice.

paul said...

That was a very well written and informative post. I think Albert Hoffman was right to say that LSD is a tool to help us become who we are supposed to be. Gardenia was also right about the mental health field-as a psych nurse I can tell you with some "authority" that the study of the mind/brain would be twenty or maybe a hundred years ahead of where it is now if psychedelics were more thoroughly researched. Thanks for the great post!