Albert Hofmann Biography

Albert Hofmann, a Swiss scientist known as “The Father of LSD,” was deeply intrigued by nature and dedicated his career to chemistry. Working at Sandoz Laboratories, he achieved great success in converting various plants into useful substances through his research. Hofmann gained fame for being the first person to produce and taste lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), discovering its hallucinogenic effects. He believed that LSD could be used not only for psychiatry but also to promote awareness of humanity’s connection to nature. However, he was disappointed by the careless use of his discovery as a recreational drug. In addition to his scientific experiments, Hofmann authored numerous books and over 100 scientific articles. His contributions earned him a place on The Telegraph newspaper’s list of the 100 greatest living geniuses in 2007.

Quick Facts

  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Anita Hofmann
    • Father: Adolf Hofmann
    • Mother: Elisabeth Schenk
    • Children: Andreas, Beatrice, Dieter, Gaby
  • Occupation: Chemist
  • Nationality: Swiss
  • Date of Death: April 29, 2008
  • Place of Death: Berg
  • Education: University of Zurich

Childhood & Early Life

Albert Hofmann was born in Baden, Switzerland, on January 11, 1906. He was the eldest of four children. His father was a poor toolmaker in a factory and they lived in a rented apartment. He spent much of his childhood outdoors, and grew up with a very deep connection with nature.

He had mind-blowing experiences in childhood, wherein nature was changed in magical ways that he didn’t understand. These experiences provoked questions in his mind, and chemistry was the scientific field which allowed him to understand them.

He studied chemistry at Zurich University, his main interest being the chemistry of plants and animals. At 23, he earned his PhD with honors.

Career

He took a job with Sandoz Laboratories; he was attracted by their program to produce pharmacological compounds from medicinally important plants.

He first synthesized LSD on November 16, 1938 with an aim to obtain a respiratory and circulatory stimulant. The research was set aside for five years.

He stumbled on LSD again when he was working on the ergot fungus on April 16 1943. He accidentally ate a trace of the compound and came to know about its powerful effects.

On April 19, 1943, he deliberately swallowed a dose of LSD and rode his bicycle home as the effects of the drug engulfed him. That day was remembered by LSD enthusiasts as “bicycle day.”

In 1958, Hofmann discovered ‘ethacetin’, which is an ‘intoxicating tryptamine.’

He became director of the natural products department at Sandoz Laboratories. He continued studying hallucinogenic substances found in Mexican mushrooms and other plants. He produced ‘psilocybin’, the active agent of many ‘magic mushrooms.’

He also became interested in the seeds of the Mexican morning glory and found that the active compound ‘ergine’ (LSA, ‘lysergic acid amide’), has a distinct likeness to LSD.

Hofmann also produced other important drugs like ‘methergine’, for treating postpartum hemorrhaging, which was the leading cause of death from childbirth.

In 1962, he and his wife Anita Hofmann went to Mexico to search for the plant ‘Ska Maria Pastora’ to identify its active compound. However, he was not able to identify it at that time. It was later identified as the ‘diterpenoid salvinorin A’.

In 1963, he attended the annual convention of the ‘World Academy of Arts and Sciences’ (WAAS) in Stockholm.

He stayed with Sandoz Laboratories as head of the research department for natural medicines until he retired in 1971.

He delivered a speech at the 1996 Worlds of Consciousness Conference in Heidelberg, Germany.

In an interview before he turned 100, Hoffman called LSD “medicine for the soul.” He was disappointed that it was prohibited worldwide, knowing that it has been very successful in psychoanalysis. However, he acknowledged that it could be dangerous if misused, especially if given to a first-time user without supervision from a doctor.

Major Works

He was the first person to produce, consume, and know the mind-altering effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).

Awards & Achievements

Albert Hofmann received the title D.Sc. (honoris causa) in 1969 from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

In 1971, the Swedish Pharmaceutical Association (Sveriges Farmacevtförbund) gave him the Scheele Award. It’s an award which commemorates the achievements of Carl Wilhelm Scheele, the Swedish Pomeranian chemist and pharmacist.

In a list of the 100 greatest living geniuses published by The Telegraph newspaper in 2007, he shared first place, together with Tim Berners-Lee.

Personal Life & Legacy

Albert Hofmann was married to Anita and the couple had four children. His wife died in 2007 and one of his children also predeceased him.

He died on April 29, 2008, at the age of 102, due to a heart attack.

Trivia

After his retirement he served as a member of the Nobel Prize Committee.

Leave a Comment