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Synthesising LSD-25 - Bombshock

synthesising lsd-25

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Exploring an Alternate Universe

Noting that it took place at around the same time the Manhattan Project was gearing up to produce the atomic bombs that would be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they reasoned that God or gods had given LSD to humankind so that the turned-out masses would recoil from the nuclear Armageddon.

Albert Hofmann discovers the effects of LSD

Besides, I didn’t need to: like Obelix in the Asterix comic series, the druid Getafix has long since dunked me in the cauldron of magic potion; so that nowadays, even on cold and dull mornings in Basel that seemed to betoken not expanded consciousness but a pitiless shrinkage of all mental faculties, it only took a few pumps on the pedals, a few squints at the pollarded trees along the boulevard — which writhed like the severed limbs of giants — and a couple of whacky conversations with elderly Swiss (“Do you know where I can find the house of Albert Hofmann… y’know… the man who discovered LSD?”) for me to peel away the transfer of my psyche from this cardboard backdrop and begin to fly.

Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) Syntheses - Erowid

Hofmann and his colleagues were conducting research into ergot, a fungus which grows on rye and other grain producing plants, and had caused mass poisoning in the middle ages which were commonly known as “Saint Anthony’s fire”. The symptoms included hallucinations and gangrene in the extremities due to a contraction of the blood vessels, and ergot had been used research was being done to see if this contracting attribute could be useful in modern medicine, in reducing blood loss during childbirth. The alkaloids present in ergot had been isolated in the early thirties, and Hofmann was working on the partial synthesis of ergobasin, one of these alkaloids. The basic group of all the ergot alkaloids is a compound known as lysergic acid, and Hofmann succeeded in synthesising ergobasin (lysergic acid propanolamide) in the lab, which allowed him to produce modified variants of the natural compound. He produced several derivatives of the lysergic acid and tests were done on their effectiveness in contracting blood vessels in the womb. Some of these derivatives proved to be more effective than the natural alkaloid, and were subsequently mass-produced and introduced into general medical practice. Lysergic acid diethlyamide (abbreviated to LSD-25 as it was the 25th modification of the natural alkaloid) was only 70% as effective as ergobasin in controlling blood flow in the uterus, and had no other observable effects, so testing was stopped and the compound was shelved and forgotten. It was not until five years later when Dr. Hofmann decided to conduct further tests on LSD-25 and, by chance, accidentally ingested a microscopic amount of lysergic acid by absorbing it through his skin that its psychedelic properties became known. Dr. Hofmann subsequently carried out a self-experiment to confirm that it was in fact LSD that was the psychoactive compound, and took 250µg (he had no way of knowing this was a large dose - no other chemical had ever been synthesised which produced physical effects at lower doses). This led to his infamous bike ride home heavily under the influences of a full-blown LSD experience. He was able to make it home guided by his assistant, although during the journey he was unsure at times whether he was moving or not. At home, he called a doctor, worrying that he was going mad, or even dying - once friendly faces seemed like grotesque masks, and he was filled with a sense of fear and dread. The doctor examined him, but could find nothing abnormal except for extremely dilated pupils. The horrific nature of the experience slowly waned, to be replaced by pleasant visual hallucinations - intense, alternating colours. The next day, Hoffman awoke feeling refreshed.

Perhaps, he supposed, he had inhaled the fumes of the solvent he was using. In any event, he took himself home and lay down on the sofa. There the world exploded, dissolving into a kaleidoscope of colours, shapes, spirals and light. It seemed to have something to do with lysergic acid diethylamide, LSD-25, the substance he had been working on. He had synthesised it five years before, but had found it “uninteresting” and stopped. Now, like some prince in faery, he had got the stuff on his fingertips, rubbed it into his eyes and seen the secrets of the universe.

Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) Syntheses ..

How unlike this it had been for Hofmann, almost 70 years ago to the day. The then-37-year-old research chemist had been synthesising for the second time a batch of LSD-25. He’d already performed this task five years before— deriving the colourless, odourless salt from ergotamine, a substance which itself derives from a fungus naturally occurring on rye seeds.

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