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  LSD — My Problem Child

    Albert Hofmann

        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 in her.
    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 hand.
    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 experience.
    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.

Chapter 11

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