‘M ost human beings live nowadays in big cities, in a dead world. They go to the moon, but don’t even know how to look at a starry sky.” The Swiss scientist who made that remark in a television interview ahead of his 100th birthday last Wednesday certainly did his bit to promote star-gazing — of a sort. Albert Hofmann discovered LSD, the hallucinogenic drug that once had people seeing not just stars but “Lucy in the sky with diamonds,” as John Lennon put it in the song title that he always denied echoed the drug’s initials. This birthday prompts a swirl of memories and reflections.
Dr. Hofmann once called lysergic acid diethylamide, the drug he stumbled upon in a Basel, Switzerland, laboratory in 1938, “medicine for the soul.” And in fact LSD began its checkered history as a respectable medical product — appropriately as the brainchild of a respectable, if obscure, chemist working for a respectable pharmaceutical company, Sandoz (now a part of Novartis).