Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) was first synthesised by Swiss chemist, Dr. Albert Hofmann, in 1938. It is the most powerful psychotropic substance ever known, although Hofmann didn’t realise its full potential until five years after its invention when he accidentally ingested the substance himself. Between then and the mid-1960s, it was a legal drug – and Hofmann, who died of a heart attack aged 102 in 2008, was to continue taking LSD hundreds of times.
As he said in a 1984 interview with psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, “Through my LSD experience and my new picture of reality, I became aware of the wonder of creation, the magnificence of nature and of the animal and plant kingdom… I became very sensitive to what will happen to all this and all of us.” It was Hofmann’s view that LSD, when used with respect, could help us form a deeper awareness of our place in nature and help prevent society’s self-destructive treatment of the planet.
It became known as ‘acid’ throughout the 1960s, during a point when American writer Aldous Huxley and psychologist and writer Timothy Leary popularised the drug. The alternative counter-culture scene experimented widely with LSD for psychedelic, spiritual and musical inspiration.
Recreational use then took over, widely influenced by the musicians of the period. It is often said that the music of The Beatles between 1965 and 1968 changed significantly due to the influence of LSD, while The Doors and Pink Floyd similarly intertwined its use with their creativity. As the authorities had not themselves found a place for the drug and saw how the effects of LSD on health and the moral fibre had caught hold with the younger generation, prohibition was swift to follow and LSD was added to The Convention on Psychotropic Substances treaty, established by the United Nations, in 1971.
However, this is not the end of the story for this drug. It has since been argued that it can be of positive use to the community and controlled by governments. The former government drug tsar, Professor David Nutt, has made the claim, as reported by The Independent, that “people are very, very frightened of dying. They see it as the end. On psychedelics, this sense of self begins to break down.”
He continues, “People in the psychedelic trip often experience being at one with the world or even with the universe. It’s as if they’ve gone out to another place. They exist beyond their body. That experience can give them a sense of perpetuity, of permanence, of being part of the cycle of life, which of course we all are.”
Perhaps, therefore, a legal trip on LSD can serve to help those dying enjoy their final days, free from the fear of what the unquestionable end of life will bring.
A recent 2014 study in Switzerland, published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, has already looked at the use of LSD for this purpose. 12 terminally ill participants were given doses of the drug over the course of two months - eight had a full hit, four a smaller dose. A year on, researchers found that those who had the highest dose reported a 20% drop in anxiety levels, while those who had the lower dose found their anxiety levels worsen. After the trial, they were able to have the full dose.
Nutt thinks using LSD in this way should be investigated, and there seems to be significant evidence and personal accounts to suggest the psychological benefits. As he passionately argues, “The way we deal with death is to poison people with opiates so that they can’t think… They’re pain-free but they’re constipated, can’t speak, and are numbed before they die. I think the idea that there might be an alternative strategy is something we should at least explore.”
Words: Martin Brown
Image source: Yayoi Kusama 'Infinity Mirrored Room - Filled with the Brilliance of Life' 2011. Lucy Dawkins / Tate Photography