Mystical Experience of Albert Hoffman, Ph.D.

Albert Hoffmann, Ph.D. (1906 – 2008) was a Swiss scientist most well-known for being the first known person to synthesize, ingest, and learn of the psychedelic effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).  He was also the first person to identify psilocybin and psilocin in psychedelic mushrooms.  Hoffman was the author of over 100 scientific articles and many books, including LSD: My Problem Child.

In an interview just before his 100th birthday (in 2006), Hoffman said LSD is “medicine for the soul” and explained his frustration over LSD’s worldwide prohibition. He noted that although the drug is potentially dangerous and had been misused during the counterculture era of the 1960s, LSD had been used “very successfully for ten years in psychoanalysis”.

In recent years, substantial academic interest in research into the medicinal value of psychedelics has returned. One significant example is the 2019 opening of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research (see https://hopkinspsychedelic.org).  According to the Center’s website (as of 6/2020), since 2000, Johns Hopkins’ scientists “have published… groundbreaking studies in more than 60 peer-reviewed articles in respected scientific journals,” and the Center is continuing with a range of new studies.

In the preface to Hoffman’s book, LSD: My Problem Child, Hoffman described his childhood mystical experience as follows:

“There are experiences that most of us are hesitant to speak about, because they do not conform to everyday reality and defy rational explanation. These are not particular external occurrences, but rather events of our inner lives, which are generally dismissed as figments of the imagination and barred from our memory. Suddenly, the familiar view of our surroundings is transformed in a strange, delightful, or alarming way: it appears to us in a new light, takes on a special meaning. Such an experience can be as light and fleeting as a breath of air, or it can imprint itself deeply upon our minds.

One enchantment of that kind, which I experienced in childhood, has remained remarkably vivid in my memory ever since. It happened on a May morning—I have forgotten the year—but I can still point to the exact spot where it occurred, on a forest path on Martinsberg above Baden, Switzerland. As I strolled through the freshly greened woods filled with bird song and lit up by the morning sun, all at once everything appeared in an uncommonly clear light. Was this something I had simply failed to notice before? Was I suddenly discovering the spring forest as it actually looked? It shone with the most beautiful radiance, speaking to the heart, as though it wanted to encompass me in its majesty. I was filled with an indescribable sensation of joy, oneness, and blissful security.

I have no idea how long I stood there spellbound. But I recall the anxious concern I felt as the radiance slowly dissolved and I hiked on: how could a vision that was so real and convincing, so directly and deeply felt—how could it end so soon? And how could I tell anyone about it, as my overflowing joy compelled me to do, since I knew there were no words to describe what I had seen? It seemed strange that I, as a child, had seen something so marvelous, something that adults obviously did not perceive – for I had never heard them mention it.

While still a child, I experienced several more of these deeply euphoric moments on my rambles through forest and meadow. It was these experiences that shaped the main outlines of my world view and convinced me of the existence of a miraculous, powerful, unfathomable reality that was hidden from everyday sight.

I was often troubled in those days, wondering if I would ever, as an adult, be able to communicate these experiences; whether I would have the chance to depict my visions in poetry or paintings. But knowing that I was not cut out to be a poet or artist, I assumed I would have to keep these experiences to myself, important as they were to me.

Unexpectedly—though scarcely by chance—much later, in middle age, a link was established between my profession and these visionary experiences from childhood.

Because I wanted to gain insight into the structure and essence of matter, I became a research chemist. Intrigued by the plant world since early childhood, I chose to specialize in research on the constituents of medicinal plants. In the course of this career I was led to the psychoactive, hallucination-causing substances, which under certain conditions can evoke visionary states similar to the spontaneous experiences just described. The most important of these hallucinogenic substances has come to be known as LSD.”

Quoted from Albert Hoffman’s book, LSD: My Problem Child.

Photo Credit:  Albert Hoffman (2006) by Stefan Pangritz.

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