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Tripping over itself

The best tribute to Albert Hoffman, perhaps, would be to help LSD shed its hippie image and bring it back into mainstream science.

india Updated: May 01, 2008 22:28 IST
Hindustan Times

Your legs are 10 feet long as you step off the bus — on to a street that has suddenly become a waterbed: one of the more benign hallucinations familiar to anyone who’s ever taken an ‘acid trip’ on lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD: the most powerful mood-altering drug in the world. Albert Hoffman, its discoverer, died on Tuesday of a heart attack. Sadly, the legendary Swiss chemist passed away a disillusioned man, unsure if the pharmaceutical vehicle he created for psychedelic generations would ever reclaim its fair name. For he never really wanted his ‘problem child’ to be anything but a powerful medical treatment.

That, alas, never happened and LSD’s real impact has been cultural. Didn’t it combine with flower power in the 1960s to produce the kind of woozy music that came to be known as ‘acid rock’? It was probably no coincidence that The Beatles’ masterpiece, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, hallucinogenically portrayed tangerine trees and marmalade skies in Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, the capitalised letters being dead giveaways. And weren’t defence scientists forever keen to exploit LSD’s unique qualities for their social engineering experiments? Even today, it is used as a ‘truth drug’ for interrogations.

As with any other psychotropic drug, LSD has its benefits and risks. Hoffman always used it as an aid for understanding what he saw as humanity’s oneness with nature. So the best tribute to him, perhaps, would be to help LSD shed its hippie image and bring it back into mainstream science.