Speed Reads

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Happy Bicycle Day, the anniversary of Swiss chemist Albert Hoffmann's trailblazing trip on LSD

Psychedelic enthusiasts around the world celebrated Bicycle Day on Tuesday, the anniversary of Swiss chemist Albert Hoffmann's discovery of the psychedelic effects of LSD. The "holiday" gets its name from Hoffman's trippy bicycle trip home after intentionally dosing himself with acid on April 19, 1943.

Hoffman synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide while developing pharmaceuticals for Sandoz Laboratories. On April 16, he began to suspect he had stumbled on something after he absorbed a small amount of the substance through his fingertips.

"At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination ... I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away," Hoffmann wrote in his 1980 book LSD — My Problem Child.

Three days later, Hoffmann decided to take a quarter of a milligram of the drug and document the effects, but he quickly found himself unable to write and asked his laboratory assistant to escort him 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," Hoffmann later wrote. His neighbor brought him milk later that night, but to his altered perception, she "was no longer Mrs. R., but rather a malevolent, insidious witch with a colored mask."

The 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances, which has been ratified by 184 countries, lists LSD as a Schedule I drug with no therapeutic value. Until his death in 2008 at the age of 102, Hoffmann continued to believe the drug could be useful for psychotherapy.