Acid Again

As LSD does a slow fade, a Fort Lauderdale researcher keeps the science trip going

"He was very interested in what was happening to his discovery," Lyttle continues. "After all, it's influenced Western culture in so many different ways."

Hoffman took Lyttle and Demarest on a stroll through his alpine garden. While walking down a path, Lyttle noticed a small chapel literally embedded in the mountainside; the only way to access it was through a series of ladders that rose almost 1,000 feet from the valley below.

A miracle had occurred there, Hoffman explained. Years earlier, a young child was climbing and fell from the mountain. As the legend went, the Virgin Mary appeared, caught the boy in midair, and deposited him safely on a ledge where he could be rescued. The church had been built at precisely that location.

Thomas Lyttle

"I asked him, 'What do you really think happened?'" Lyttle recalls. "'You think that the Virgin Mary actually appeared?' He just said, 'All that is important is that the child was saved. '"

Lyttle and Demarest had many questions for Hoffman, but Hoffman had curiosities of his own to satisfy.

"One of the first things he asked me about was Charles Manson," Lyttle recalls. "He asked me if I knew if it was true that Manson had used LSD to brainwash his cult members and whether they actually committed murders while they were tripping on LSD. I told him it was absolutely false. The Manson family members, most of the time, had used datura and other drugs used for zombie preparations in Haitian voudoo."

This was a great relief to Hoffman, who in his books has repeatedly referred to LSD as "my problem child."

In the late 1930s, the chemist was working for Sandoz Pharmaceutical in Basel, searching for a migraine reliever. He was working with compounds derived from ergot, a fungus that infects rye. First synthesized in 1938, the 25th such derivative of lysergic acid diethylamide was studied and abandoned until, on a whim, Hoffman decided to brew up a batch in the spring of 1943 and renew tests.

Somehow, he accidentally ingested a tiny amount of the LSD-25, probably through his skin. Feeling decidedly strange and aware that ergot compounds were known to be toxic, Hoffman left the lab, went home, and lay down. "I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors," he later wrote. "After some two hours, this condition faded away."

Intrigued, Hoffman returned to work a few days later and decided on a self-experiment: He dosed himself with what, by any measure, should have been a minuscule quantity -- .25 milligrams, or one-quarter of a thousandth of a gram. To put that in perspective, common LSD dosages from the 1960s through the 1990s varied from 20 to 100 millionths of a gram.

Within two hours, Hoffman was hallucinating so ferociously that he barely managed to bicycle back to his chalet. Convinced he had been poisoned, was near death, and "unable to form a coherent sentence," he summoned his personal physician. Eventually, Hoffman came down from his trip.

By the next morning, he reported, "a sensation of well-being and renewed life flowed through me. The world was as if newly created. All my senses vibrated in a condition of highest sensitivity, which persisted for the entire day."

To his knowledge, no other substance known to man was capable of "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."

Hoffman had stumbled upon the world's most powerful hallucinogen -- LSD is 100 times more potent than psilocybin (the active ingredient in "magic mushrooms") and 5,000 times stronger than mescaline (derived from peyote). The first acid trip so intrigued Hoffman's colleagues at Sandoz that they too tried LSD. From there, the international pharmaceutical community took notice. Soon, Hoffman's discovery would belong to the world.

As LSD blew minds, it opened up pathways between emotion and creativity. Many of the visual aspects of the acid trip -- the colorful trails and tracers, the animated patterns seen in the sky and behind closed eyes -- began to manifest themselves on artists' canvases. These images inspired psychedelic music and fanciful album-cover art. In turn, this artistic reform helped generate the insignias and logos that became an integral part of blotter acid.

Those with no interest in reading articles about the synthesis of alkaloids in the amanita muscaria mushroom or the neurocognitive effects of ibogaine can certainly groove to the trippy designs and pop-cultural significance of blotter art. Lyttle and Wollman are two instigators of the fascinating field of collecting perforated sheets of acid, the most popular delivery vehicle for the drug.

By 1970, sugar cubes were no longer the standard substrate for LSD. Absorbent paper, perforated to look like a sheet of stamps, was dipped in the drug -- after being printed with colorfully whimsical designs. In fact, the art soon became the main way of referring to the drug, since LSD itself is invisible, odorless, and tasteless. "Did you get the purple dragon? Or the globe stuff?" was how psychonauts differentiated what variety they'd bought.

Users would purchase a few of the stamps -- "hits" -- at a time, but at a wholesale level, the entire sheet, which was often 10 by 10 inches, was made up of as many as 1,000 squares.

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