In the realm of scientific observation, luck
is granted only to those who are prepared.
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 mind.
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
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
First Chemical Explorations
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 distiction."
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 production.
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
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
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 compounds.
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 largely unknown.
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
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 patients.
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
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
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 gound
that ventilation by gas flame had sufficed in Willstatter's laboratory.
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
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
Lysergic Acid and Its Derivatives
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 in
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
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 discontinued.
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
Discovery of the Psyhic Effects of LSD
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
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
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 self-experiment.
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.
4/19/43 16:20: 0.5 cc of 1/2 promil aqueous solution of diethylamide
tartrate orally = 0.25 mg tartrate. Taken diluted with about 10 cc
17:00: Beginning dizziness, feeling of anxiety, visual distortions,
symptoms of paralysis, desire to laugh.
Supplement of 4/21: Home by bicycle. From 18:00- ca.20:00 most severe
crisis. (See special report.)
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
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, an-d 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
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 mental condition.
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 Rothlin.
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
fractionof-a-milligram doses. An active compound of such potency seemed almost
Professor Rothlin himself and two of his colleagues were the first to repeat
my experiment, with only onethird 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 laboratories.
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 made.
How Toxic Is LSD?
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 LD50 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.
Pharmacological Properties of 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 brain.
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
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 functions.
3. 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
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 and Dihydergot.
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 discovery.
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 research.
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,
4. Use of LSD in Psychiatry
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 group].
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 activity.
First Self-Experiment by a Psychiatrist
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 predominated.
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 in
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
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
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
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 prevailed.
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
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
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 and loops.
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 commits
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 experiment.
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 reality.
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 Psychic Effects of 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
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 mescaline.
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 tartrate
Sugar-coated tablets containing 0.025 mg. (25 mircog.)
Ampoules of 1 ml. containing 0.1 mg. (100 microg.) for
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
METHOD OF ADMINISTRATION
For oral administration the contents of 1 ampoule of Delysid
are diluted with distilled water, a 1(null)olution 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 refrigerator.
INDICATIONS AND DOSAGE
a) Analytical psychotherapy, to elicit release of repressed material
and provide mental relaxation, particularly in anxiety states and
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.
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 orn 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
In LSD inebriation the accustomed world view 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.
Another significant, 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 psychotherapeutic treatment.
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 and experience.
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 peace.
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
5. From 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.
Nonmedical Use of LSD
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
This nonmedicinal 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.
Either 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 conversely.
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
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
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 medicines.
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.
Sandoz Stops LSD Distribution
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 discovey 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 financial support.
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 research institutes.
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
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
Dangers of Nomnedicinal LSD Experiments
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
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 -20!C (-4!F) and had to be prevented by
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
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 nonmedicinal 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
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
LSD from the Black Market
Nonmedicinal LSD 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
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
The Case of Dr. Leary
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 employed.
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 the deposit.
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
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 Foundation.
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 abbreviation "LSD."
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.
Meeting with Timothy Leary
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
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 years.
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.
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
Travels in the Universe of the Soul
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 evaluated.
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
The first two of the following research records are taken from the previously
cited report by Rudolf Gelpke in Antaios.
Dance of the Spirits in the Wind
(0.075 mg LSD on 23 June 1961, 13:00 hours)
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 that.
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
masklike. 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.
In 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 similarprocess
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 don't know!).
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 omn sent 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 his victim.
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
"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 agonizing thoughts.
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 never end.
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
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
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 came next.
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 flowerI 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, reedlike 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
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
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 severely ill.
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.
6. The Mexican Relatives of LSD
The Sacred Mushroom Teonanacatl
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 hallucinations.
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
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
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
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
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 solumn 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 "sacred mushroom."
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
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 years old.
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 Africa.
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
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
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 forth.
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-a-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.
Psilocybin and Psilocin
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
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
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 the mushrooms.
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.
A 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 1961, 10:20)
After ca. 20 minutes, beginning effects:
serenity, speechlessness, mild but pleasant dizzy sensation, and
"pleasureful deep breathing."
10:50 Strong! dizziness, can no longer concentrate .
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 experiment:
Nothing 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
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
The "Magic Morning Glory" Ololiuhqui
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, 1963.]
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 potion."
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
Plantarum, 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 form.
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
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 observation.
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 solution.
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
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
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. H. Solms.
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
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
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 accessible.
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 circle closed.
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
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.
Ride through the Sierra Mazateca
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
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 1/2 weeks.
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 bags.
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 counter.
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
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 sleeping bags.
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
continued. The curandera lit the candles, moved them from the "altar table"
onto the floor, sang and spoke prayers or magic formulas, placed the candles
again under the images of the saints-then again silence and darkness.
Thereupon the true consultation began. Consuela asked for our request. Gordon
inquired after the health of his daughter, who immediately before his
departure from New York had to be admitted prematurely to the hospital in
expectation of a baby. He received the comforting information that mother and
child were well. Then again came singing and prayer and manipulations with the
candles on the "altar table" and on the floor, over the smoking basin.
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 sides.
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
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.
A Mushroom Ceremony
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
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
After the drug was apportioned and the candle on the " altar" was
extinguished, we awaited the effects in the darkness.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
7. Radiance 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 vision.
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
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
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
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
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 lecteur.
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
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 folioDe 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
attention 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
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 nonmedical 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 Hett.
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 copiously.
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 storyBesuch 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
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
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
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
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
>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
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 concerned.
Ambivalence of Drug Use
Fundamental questions of drug problems were dealt with in the following
Bottmingen, 16 December 1961
Dear Mr. Junger,
On the one hand, I would have the great desire, besides the natural-
scientific, chemicalpharmacological 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 in matter,
How could matter disturb the mind."
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
A further disquieting tht)ught, 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 world view 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 egg.
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,
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
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 become significant....
An Experiment with Psilocybin
Such theoretical 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 twothirds
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, thin, mysterious.
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
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 morning.
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
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 curtain.
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 close.
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 preceding report.
Another LSD Session
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
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 blessed approach.
8. Meeting 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
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 of creation.
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
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
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.
9. 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.
I 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 conversation.
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 interest you....
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
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 testament 1969 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. Albert Hofmann Beginning of Spring 1971
Burg i.L., 29 March 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 eats....
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
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 activity).
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
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,
Of 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
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 Marti. . . .
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
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 . . .
10. Various Visitors
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 original LSD.
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 world view. 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
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
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 youn 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 hospital there.
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
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 deeply happy.
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.
11. LSD Experience and Reality
Was kann ein Mensch im Leben mehr
Als dass sich Gott-Natur ihm offenbare?
What more can a person gain in life
Than that God-Nature reveals himself to
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
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 located.
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, 1957).]
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 further writes:
. . . 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, self-encompassing reality.
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.
Mystery and Myth
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
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 better hope."
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
DemeterPersephone 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
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 them:
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.
I 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
At that day ye shatl know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in
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 reality, God.
Ecclesiastical Christianity, 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
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
I see the true importance of LSD in the possibitity 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.
Through my LSD experience and my new picture of reality, I became aware of the wonder of creation,
the magnificence of nature and of the animal and plant kingdom. I became very sensitive to what will
happen to all this and all of us."
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