Drug discovery doesn’t happen in a vacuum. So much of the world’s geopolitical activities affect what happens both inside and outside of the lab. Lysergic Acid Diethylamide was such a curious drug that there were seemingly no limits to how and when it would be tested. Episode three of PsychedeRx kicks off with an LSD-laden military training exercise. Don’t laugh. It really did happen and we have the tapes to prove it. All in the name of science, right?

We bring back Mike Jay from Episode Two to bring some of the highlights from the lab of Albert Hoffman and how his cult-favorite bicycle “trip.” A day now celebrated around the world. We’ll see how Sandoz, the Swiss pharmaceutical company, passed out LSD to psychiatrists around the world in an attempt to find out just what the heck this chemical could really be used for – including as a possible cure for alcoholism.
As always, we want you to listen in and ask the hard questions. Were these incidents that shaped the reputation and the future of these substances use or misuse? Were they inherently bad, or was it their handling that earned the demonized notoriety?


Episode 3: The Doors are blown open

Sunny Cyprus, and the year is 1955. It was around the same time as we saw in the last episode where Aldous Huxley took the dose of crystalline mescaline. 

So following on from Heffter’s self-experimentation in 1897, mescaline had entered society. Mescaline, through the studies of German Psychologist, Thomas Berenger had been shown to be producing psychosis. 

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the world was going through a tumultuous political change after the second world war. Colonialism was gradually winding down. Let’s take one example.  Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston or EOKA, A Greek-Cypriot nationalistic organization, was engaged in armed conflict with British Army as part of their fight for independence. The Suez Canal, built by the British in the previous century, was going to be engulfed in a crisis, potentially impacting goods transit. 

During the Suez Canal Crisis, the British seemed to be losing steam and giving up colonies. There was also an interesting experiment that went on in an army barrack that was televised by British Pathe films. An interesting sub-plot followed. 

British military commanders devised a training exercise that, by today’s standards, would be considered outrageous, immoral, and entirely unbelievable. It was labeled as a training exercise, but was, in fact, one of the first scaled experiments using psychedelics on military personnel. 

Up to this point, mescaline was the O-G; the original gangsta. But all of that was about to change.  

This is PsychedeRx. A Skraps original podcast exploring the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. An enthralling story of an improbable drug class, banned into exile, yet comes back soaring back like a phoenix from the ashes to save mankind’s affliction with mental health disorders. 


Before we go any further, let us take stock of what was happening in the rest of the world at this time.  

World War II had ended, just a decade ago. The United Nations had been set up ten years prior and the world seemed to have slowly embraced a period of peace. The Cold War was starting to make waves, but it was still its early days. The British were losing parts of their Commonwealth to anti-colonial freedom struggles. Egypt, and the concurrent threat to the Suez, seemed to be the first one. India was inspired by Egypt’s independence and their freedom struggle was reaching a crescendo in the Indian subcontinent. In 1947, almost 25 years after Egypt’s successful bid for sovereignty, India and Pakistan gained Independence. 

Now, let’s fast forward eight years to 1955,  back to Sunny Cyprus! 

Forty British marine volunteers were recruited for a training session to weed out terrorists. As with any good psychological experiment, the subjects were unaware of the real purpose of the exercise. This was not a counterinsurgency training exercise; it was scientific research being conducted by the military. 

During the exercise, each section was led by a commander over the course of several days. A day of operations separated by days of rest in between. In order to provide controlled conditions, the troops were given the same quantity of water to drink before each day’s exercise. Unknown to the participating soldiers, the drug was added to the water on the second day. For the sake of safety, the troops were not given any live ammunition during the exercise. So, one day without, then one day with, and then, for the sake of scientific rigor, a third day – with the same amount of water, but no drugs. 

On day 2 of the trial, the soldiers consumed their drug-spiked water at 11 AM. The troop commander was subsequently advised that about half a dozen terrorists were thought to be in the area. 

The troops moved to capture the first group of terrorists and proceeded through the open jungle. They made their way through the terrain and everything seemed normal. 

Let’s listen to what happened. 

“At 1140. The first effects of the drug make their appearance to Marines are reported to the troop commander for insubordination. No one realising that their behaviour was due to the first effect of the drug, the drug is also beginning to affect the other men, they no longer take cover, they relax and begin to giggle. At this time, one man is more severely affected than the others losing all contact with reality, dropping his rifle and becoming unable to take any further part in the operation. In fact, he has to be withdrawn from the exercise A few minutes later. Meanwhile, to Section starts to advance to read word, the troops have lost their air of urgency, and many men are laughing.”

Laughing while in the middle of a serious training session, that’s very un-army like! Let’s take a listen to what else happened. 

“At this point 45 minutes after administration of the drug. These men, although becoming more and more detached from the reality of their environment, are still capable of effective response to any sudden stimulus. However, their responses for limited periods only, after which they again become indecisive and lethargic in their movements.” 

The troops weren’t listening to or obeying their commander’s orders. The operation chief declared that the  radio operator was killed by the enemy to inject some urgency. 

While these incidents are taking place, the troop commander is still trying to direct the action in spite of feeling nauseated and being disturbed by the mental effects produced by the drug.  But 17 minutes after the administration of the drug, with one man climbing a tree, the troop commander gives up saying, “I cannot do anything about this, I cannot control the man and I can take no action myself, I am wiped out as an attacking force.”

90 minutes into the training operation, it was decided that these men are unfit to carry out an operation and transport was called in to take them to the headquarters. But the soldiers were having none of this, reality had become so distorted for some of them, that they became unwilling and even afraid to enter the ambulance and other vehicles. They arrive in the hospital at 1 PM. Two hours later, at three o’clock, the effects of the drug are beginning to wear off. In the hospital ward, some of the men lie on their beds. Most of them are still laughing as they talk about their symptoms and the day’s exercise.

At the same time, the troop commander, although feeling more capable of thinking and acting normally is in fact, still experiencing one of the characteristic effects of the drug. Everything he looks at appears to be patent. We’re looking at the white ceiling. He describes geometrical patterns which are coloured and three dimensional. They appear to move in and out of each other. By the following morning, they were all capable of carrying out their normal duties. These final scenes take them 48 hours after the administration of the drug. Show them on the third day’s exercise when all the objectives were achieved in only three hours

What was happening here? What fiendish drug were they given? 

All of this was classified until a parliamentary hearing committee heard the details in 1995. The questions were focused primarily on the safety of the troops. MPs questioned the military officers during the select committee hearing about what follow-up was made in regards to the soldiers and was there any harm detected. 

The army officer reported that everything was fine by the end of Day 2 and no long term follow up was needed. This was Operation Moneybags, where british troops were dosed without their knowledge with a drug called Lysergic Acid Di-ethyl-amide. What were they trying to achieve by drugging their own soldiers or by experimenting with dissolving LSD in water? It is hard to say. 

Now, let’s rewind a few years back to the year 1939. A young Swiss Chemist, was working industriously in his laboratory. His boss, Arthur Stoll was one of the first people to isolate a group of compounds called indole alkaloids from plants; he had isolated the compounds from rye plants that produce grains like wheat and barley. This was a time in history when plant alkaloids were being discovered and extensively tested. So Arthur Stoll, knew that rye plants had alkaloids in them but was unsure what the function of these alkaloids were.   We will come to those plants soon, but stay with me here for a bit. 

If you are unsure what an indole structure is, don’t worry. We got you covered. Indole is special heterocyclic compound with two rings – one formed by benzene with another pyrrole ring, a five vertice structure that has nitrogen at one of the elements instead of carbon. Tryptophan, the essential amino acid has an indole structure and is considered an indole derivative. . And tryptophan, forms serotonin. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that controls your mood. 

Now, back to this young swiss chemist,  Arthur Stoll had tasked this young scientist, Albert Hoffman, with isolating the alkaloids in order to develop a drug for pain. There was a reason why Sandoz was chasing pain as an indication to target. 

There was already a drug in the market that was a di-ethyl-amide. He just had to chemically engineer these indole alkaloids and figure out if he could make a different molecule with an alternate side-chain or bonding. This is fairly standard. He isolated a number of compounds and he industriously labeled them numerically. He isolated a fair bit of molecules and he labels them as LSD -19, 20, so and so forth. 

I am not sure if you know this, but even today, pharmaceutical companies do not name their chemical molecules as the brand names we hear in constant rotation in cable tv commercials. In fact, naming a drug only happens when a drug enters Phase 3 or what everyone knows of as pivotal trials. Until then, it is always the company name and the number, which signifies the order of synthesis. 

The chemist, Albert Hoffman locks up the molecule as it didn’t have any impact on tests he conducted. He archives the compound and goes about his work for another 6 years. So first, I am going to tell you a story that the world celebrates. You ready? 

Switzerland was largely unaffected during World War II. So in 1943, while trying to work on something else, Hoffman opens a vial and while running his tests, spills some. It sticks to the surface of the counter and while moving about carrying on his work, he accidentally ingests the drug, LSD-25. 

Everything seems fine for a bit, but soon he starts feeling uneasy. His heart rate speeds up, and he decides that he can’t take it anymore and jumps on his bicycle accompanied by his friend. 

What follows is the legendary bicycle trip that is widely known and even has a cult following where every year, Bicycle day is celebrated on 19th   April. Hoffman’s cycle ride home was unlike any other that he had taken before. The road and everything around him was transformed into a panorama of colours and geometric shapes and the 10 minute cycle ride seemed to go on for hours. Now, you know where the word – “trip” came from to describe the psychedelic experience. 

Hoffman,like Heffter, was taken aback by the experience. But Heffter was at least prepared. Remember the first time he thought he was going to die, but the second time we locked himself in a dark room, where he could control the colours and the vision by when he could open or close his eyes,  only to be disturbed by a knock at the door. Hoffman wasn’t prepared and he did not know what had hit him .

This was the world’s first trip that happened with Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, LSD or Acid as it is referred to, on the street. The tiger to douse the pussycat has entered our story. 

<Hoffman describing the world in his words> 

That was the Swiss Chemist, Albert Hoffman describing his LSD experience in his own words for a Canadian documentary. 

But can I tell you a different version of the story, the one that is not part of the urban legend and one that did not involve the storybook – “Eureka” moment. 

This story is well and truly documented in the archives of the National Library of Switzerland and stems from the personal archives of Albert Hoffman. Renowned drug historian, Mike Jay who has researched the archives paints a very different picture. In fact, Mike has a fantastic way with words. Let me read it out to you –

 “The image of the scientist on his bicycle, pedalling unsteadily into the technicolour future, has been printed on hundreds of thousands of acid blotters and is commemorated annually on 19 April, ‘Bicycle Day’, with parades, parties and day-glo cycle rides through cities around the globe. Beyond the psychedelic subculture, it’s become one of the best known ‘eureka moments’ in the history of science.‘Eureka moments’ in science, however, have a tendency to compress a protracted process of discovery into a single image. Hofmann’s personal archive, which has now been acquired by Bern University, reveals a more complex story. “

Mike dug into the archives of Hoffman’s personal notes that now reside with Bern University and it includes a written report filed three days after his acclaimed bicycle trip. 

On the morning of 19th April 1943, Hoffman made 0.5ml of the compound LSD 25 and dissolved it in 10 ml of water. And at 4.20 PM, he ingested 250 micrograms of the drug. In his mind, Hoffman was taking the smallest dose that he could think of. In 40 minutes, he started feeling dizzy. And then, on the bicycle ride home, he reports the following: “I had great difficulty in speaking clearly and my field of vision fluctuated and swam like an image in a distorted mirror’. 

Hoffman thought that he was moving in slow motion, but his colleague recounted that they were cycling fairly fast.

 Hoffman recounts dizziness, visual disturbance, the faces of those present seemed vividly coloured and grimacing; powerful motor disturbances, alternating with paralysis; his head, body and limbs all felt heavy, as if filled with metal; cramps in the calves, hands cold and without sensation; a metallic taste on the tongue; dry and constricted throat; a feeling of suffocation; confusion alternating with clear recognition of his     situation, in which he felt outside himself as a neutral observer as he half-crazily cried or muttered indistinctly. He came home and called his neighbour for help, who called the local physician, Walter Schilling, came in to check Hoffman and guess what he said – “I was struck by Hofmann’s ‘motor disturbances and anxious mood’ but could find anything seriously wrong with him. ‘Objectively his heart action was regular…his pulse was average, his breathing calm and deep.’

Ok, if you read Hoffman’s memoir – “LSD – My problem child in 1979, you might remember a different recount. Hoffman wrote – “‘Now, little by little, I could begin to enjoy the unprecedented colours and plays of shapes that persisted behind my closed eyes’. This then moved into kaleidoscopic patterns and coloured fountains that enveloped my gaze” 

But there’s little detail of this trip in the original report, which instead mentions ‘sensory distortions’ but described the visions as ‘unpleasant, predominantly toxic-green and blue tones’. The 1943 report from Hoffman to his boss, Arthur Stoll concludes that the symptoms felt like an overdose of an amphetamine-like compound that was marketed in Germany at the time, called Pervitin. 

 If you feel betrayed, a bit, <In a smiling voice> I am sorry, scientists can be romantics too. The next morning, Hoffman described a sense of well being and felt that the world was newly created.  

What followed is even more amazing and I think we need to thank Mike Jay for it. We are going to read you an excerpt from the article by Mike Jay and is available on his website. 

In the next few months, Hoffman took LSD- 25 three more times, at lower doses than the full-throttle dose of 250 microgram he ingested on that colorful mid-april day.  On 29th September, Hoffman while being posted in the army near the italian border, took 20 micrograms of LSD-25. Everything seemed normal. He drank coffee and grappa (a swiss brandy), played foosball and billiards.  As the effect started kicking in, Hoffman writes in his report that ‘I withdrew almost completely into myself, my own thoughts’, and went to bed with images playing across his closed eyes and ‘warm comfortable feelings’

On 2nd october, Hoffman took another 20 micrograms of LSD-25 and settled down in the bed. Hoffman recounts and Mike presents in the article where the experience this time was not that pleasant. 

“I had disturbing dreams of a crazy mutilated woman with her arms cut off and burned out eyes. My companions thought I was insane and I was unable to convince them that I wasn’t. 

And on Halloween day in 1943, which was a sunday and a day off for Hoffman, he took 30 micrograms and settled down for a siesta. 

 I felt a slight daze, shivers, nausea, a faint metallic taste in my mouth’ and returned to bed, feeling the need to lie still, along with some ‘stimulation in the genital region’.  I entered  ‘a dozy state’, in which ‘disturbing, uncanny phantasms, partly sensual visions’ flitted through my mind. At 10pm I got up for a biscuit and some chocolate.

Finally, three years later, around his birthday in January 1946, Hoffman took 30 micrograms of LSD and described that experience in his journal as the following. 

I was struck by the beautiful colours of the tabletop…wonderful warm tones that changed from orange to blood-red to purple’ as the electric lamp brightened and dimmed. I had ‘great fun with Rorschach images’, the inkblot personality-test cards, spending around half an hour absorbed in studying their abstract shapes.

So now, Hoffman had convinced himself and had written the report which he maintained in his journal. After reading Hoffman’s reports, His boss Arthur Stoll was far from convinced. Arthur’s son, Werner Stoll, was a psychiatrist in Zurich. So Arthur Stoll shipped some compound to his son. And what did Werner do? He took it, of course.  

Werner took 30 micrograms. As Mike Jay writes and was mesmerised by dazzling, dancing abstract shapes and patterns: ‘a profusion of circles, vortices, sparks, showers, crosses and spirals in constant, racing flux’. Gradually, ‘more highly organised visions also appeared: arches, rows of arches, a sea of roofs, desert landscapes, terraces, flickering fire, starry skies of unbelievable splendour’. 

In fact, Werner Stoll described what he felt as consciously euphoric. He published a report titled – Lysergic Acid Diethylamide – A phantasticum from the ergot group in the journal Swiss Psychiatry. He wrote in the report  that terms like Kaleidoscopes and fireworks are largely inadequate to describe the effects of LSD-25. 

And guess who coined the term – Phantasticum. It was Louis Lewin, the very same pharmacy professor who had a scientific feud with Arthur Heffter. Louis Lewin, if you remember, was a very influential chemist and pharmacologist, who used the term phantasticum to describe vision producing plants like datura, cannabis, ayahuasca, fly agaric, and particularly the compound mescaline. 

Interesting, how the tales are intertwined, aren’t they? 

LSD like mescaline, has an ancient correlate. I am currently looking at a picture of a painting that has the inscriptions “ploutos enatos demeter (Pronounced “Thimeetir) eleusis”. It is said that this was a painting of the Eleusinian Mysteries where a picture of what looks like a Greek Individual is leaning and taking something out of a vase, carried by another person. We know that these events happened because it is immortalized in the poems of Homer roughly translated in English as “Hymns to Demeter”. (pronounced Thimeetir)

What’s in the vase makes it really interesting, one might ask?.  It is wheat stems. There are many different versions of this story. Some say that Greeks from 3000 years ago, went to this location called Eleussis, a few miles outside Athens. At this location,  there was  the congregation of the learned and the noble, and here, they drank a drink as a collective group. Historical recounts describe that the drink, Kykeon (Ky-kee-un), seems to have properties resembling the drink in the Hindu scriptures called Soma. Kykeon was supposed to have made of wheat, barley, laced with wine. But what is really interesting was that the wheat used in this drink had gotten mildly damp and potentially housed a fungus called ergot. 

The location Eleusis and what happened there is considered part of sacred Greek ritual. And No one spoke of this. It almost sounds like it was like the fight club of the ancient world. If you remember the movie, Fight Club, what is the first rule of the fight club? 

Recording of “You don’t talk about the fight club?”

It is interesting at how little is known about what happened at Eleusis and most of it is passed down through the generations.  Seemed like this lasted for a long time from 1500 BC to fourth century AD. Many of the best and brightest Greeks and Romans like Plato, Sophocles, Cicero and Marcus Aurelius were part of this exclusive club. Initiates would arrive, drink a potion, have this vision of a goddess and all claim to have immortality. But in turn they gave the world some of the most amazing things that are in vogue even today – science, arts, literature, geometry, political system and heck, even democracy. . 

But why did we go from Hoffman’s discovery to ancient Greece? It is because the very use of the fungi infested kykeon, was also the reason how the condition ergotism got coined.

Let me tell you about my own personal experience.  I had my first experience when as a child, I was given wheat washed and sun-dried in the terrace of our home in India. My grandmother would then put this in  a stainless steel    bucket with a lid and send me off to the mill shop at the end of the street where the man would pour these wheat grains into the machine and the machine would ground and pound and pulverise it into wheat flour. This was  late 1980s in India. And my grandmother also taught me one interesting thing. She said that rice and wheat grains grow in the fields and can get damp and can get infested with fungus. And the symptoms of it resembled indigestion and mild anxiety. She lovingly said – you don’t want either as a child. This has stuck to me, to this very day. 

These if ingested in food could cause nausea and seizures. Mind you, this was my 65 year old grandmother. She taught me how to wash them and that;’s how I learnt the fungus infested grains of rice or wheat would float while the good ones would sink. So the classic signs of ergotism caused by ergot toxicity was of two types – seizures and gangrenes. 

Both are caused by massive increase in adrenergic tone that are mediated by the alkaloids that the fungus makes. 

And there is also another historical event that took place that described the psychedelic effect. The dancing plague of 1518 in Austria where it wasn’t a case of plague but a dancing mania that erupted in Strasbourg where around 400 people were said to be euphoric, laughing and danced for days. 

History is littered with such examples of mind altering substances but none were bad. If fact, no harm was caused by anything. Of course, as with ingesting of any fungus, food poisoning happens but none that would cause alarm. So why, oh why then did LSD get banned? 

Sandoz, the Swiss Pharmaceutical company had no clue what to do with this molecule. Hoffman had only described the visual hallucinations and Werner Stoll substantiated it. So typical of a pharmaceutical company of the time, they did what they could do best. I don’t think this would ever fly today, both due to regulations and due to ethics. Sandoz put out feelers for any psychiatrists who might want to experiment with such a substance and in return for their research proposals, shipped them LSD-25 that they had formulated into an injection and called as Delysid. Can we go back to one statement from Hoffman’s 1979 memoir where he said – “ the last thing I could have anticipated was that this substance should ever come to be used as anything like a pleasure drug” 

Well, its time to dwelve deeper, don’t you think? 

Ok, so let’s leave the visual experience of psychedelic molecules like mescaline and LSD. Can you focus on one additional piece? Let’s listen to Albert Hoffman describing his LSD experience to a documentary aired on Canadian National Television. 

<HOFFMAN’s audio of how he felt> 

This was revelatory. How can a chemical molecule manifest in such a way that made Albert Hoffman look at the world in a completely new light? It wasn’t as if he abandoned what he was doing but he started appreciating what was around him more. 

Let us take a listen to another psychiatrist at the time, this time all the way on the other side of the Atlantic at Harvard University 

<Timothy Leary’s audio outlining psychedelics as a microscope> 

Ok. so we can figure out two things. One, it was not a sedative and two Hoffman saw geometric shapes and colorful patterns just like Arthur Heffter did when he ingested mescaline. But unlike Heffter, Hoffman described a profound way in which he was changed. 

Around this time, Schizophrenia was a prevalent psychiatric disorder. It is still a scourge today. Understanding and treating Schizophrenia was   critical. Remember Kirk Berenger’s work on mescaline. He had mentioned that mescaline induced a type of psychotic experience and therefore used mescaline ingestion as a model for psychosis in healthy individuals, or so he thought. Humphry Osmond, Abram Hoffer and John Smythies also worked on this hypothesis but had a different perspective. Rather than saying that these substances caused psychosis, they used the manifestation of symptoms as an acute, in the moment surrogate to understand schizophrenic symptoms. As we alluded to in the last episode, the hallucinatory impact of these psychedelic substances was starting to be questioned. First in the 1930s and 40s,  the same time that   Kirk Berenger proposed that these substances caused psychosis. Heinrich Kluwer, via his studies  on visual acuity and the optic nerve in monkeys showed that modified colour perceptions that resulted in kaleidoscopic display under mescaline was not a imagined effect; but something that happened in reality and was experienced by the ingester of mescaline. And Albert Hoffman’s experience, along with what Heffter felt 50 years before him confirmed Kluwer’s hypothesis. 

Like Parke Davis and its shipping of peyote buttons and peyote tincture, Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, shipped its ampoules of LSD injections to psychiatrists world over and many once again, used LSD as a drug to understand psychosis and schizophrenia. 

Let’s take a look at what happens in Schizophrenia, shall we? 

Symptoms of schizophrenia include: 

  • hallucinations – hearing or seeing things that do not exist outside of the mind
  • delusions – unusual beliefs not based on reality
  • muddled thoughts based on hallucinations or delusions
  • losing interest in everyday activities
  • not caring about your personal hygiene
  • wanting to avoid people, including friends

Contrary to popular belief, Schizophrenia does not cause someone to be violent and people with schizophrenia do not have a split personality. 

<Insert Hoffman’s audio on lack of hallucinations with LSD> 

That was Albert Hoffman again describing why LSD does not produce hallucinations. So contrary to that view, small studies with few patients showed the beneficial impact of LSD in patients with alchohol addiction, substance abuse and other mental disorders. Sandoz Pharmaceuticals is said to have funded the majority of these studies or provided LSD as the drug was still under patent. 

Even interesting was the fact that some health care practitioners and psychiatrists started self-administering LSD  to enable them in their words – “have and demonstrate higher empathy for schizophrenic patients?” A lot of this work was pioneered by three psychiatrists in Saskachetuwan, Canada by Humphry Osmond, Abram Hoffer and Duncan Blewett. 

<Audio from Humphry Osmond and Abram Hoffer at 15:32> 

Seemed like a noble thought but should they have? …….

Also what made LSD more appealing was the following revelation that happened with Humphry Osmond with a patient who was being treated by him for alchoholism

In an interview for a documentary on Canadian National Television, Abram Hoffer shared some interesting information in a . He said that over time, they had treated around 500  patients with alcoholism. They chose alcoholism because  it is often easier to know judge outcomes.  The original idea was to use it as a drug. Give them  them LSD,  give them a terrible time. And hope that they would therefore, not want to drink anymore, but it didn’t work that way at all.

Hoffer and Osmond gave LSD TO Alcoholics a few times – 5 or 6 times according to their recollections and noticed that it stopped working or so they thought. What happened then was a remarkable revelation.  

Osmond was said to have said at the time.   – “we can’t give them this terrible time they’re supposed to have.  What they discovered was that, LSD triggered a self-reflective psychedelic experience. Let’s listen to Humphry Osmond himself ” 

<HUMPHRY OSMOND’s AUDIO> under lsd some sometimes we get the idea that they really were mistreating their own kin and that’s a powerful incentive to do something about it it’s not thought to be a good idea to persecute your family like it and presumably if they took a dim view of your drinking they didn’t like it     

Was a problem brewing? Should a pharmaceutical company fund studies that explored the use of the drug as a model for psychosis and also, as a treatment? Or was it a case of one hypothesis of psychosis being disproved to give way to a hypothesis exploring LSD as a treatment? I will let you mull that over. Despite all this and a lack of formal clinical trials, Sandoz could not figure out a clinical case for the drug, so gave it all away for research. But there are some bits of information that makes us question why Sandoz was doing it. Let me share with you that information. 

Remember, we told you that ergot fungus is like a blight on the crops, so farmers try their best to not have these fungi on their crops. But in the Emmenthal valley in Switzerland, where it is slightly more humid than the rest of the country, the fungi thrived. In the 1940s,Sandoz was trying to systematise the production of ergot with new agricultural techniques. It is said that Sandoz cultivated 5000 rye plants and selected the five most promising strains and supplied these strains to the farmers. Sandoz had kept a tight control. The farmers, it is said, had to sign a contract that prohibited them from using these grains or spores for personal use. Sandoz is in fact, thought to have designed a multi-needle gun to infect the rye plants with ergot fungi. And the project was approved by Swiss Government under war time protocols for secrecy. But you might wonder why. I’ll tell you why. It wasn’t so much for LSD synthesis. LSD synthesis was a by-product of other drugs that Sandoz made. If you remember, ergotamine was the primary alkaloid that caused the adrenaline like symptoms and was used by German physicians at childbirth to cause uterine contractions and reduce bleeding. 

Sandoz used the ergot fungus to create two drugs that became best-sellers. A drug called methergine which was used to slow down bleeding during childbirth and second hydergine, which improved  circulation and brain function in the elderly. 

Knowing that, Isn’t it contradictory that the same drug that was said to be docile yet transformative? Let us explore another parallel story  that was occurring around this time in Canada. Humphry Osmond was once contacted by someone who had deep pockets and was a famous pioneer in North America among the political circles. The person we are talking about is Alfred M Hubbard. According to historylink.org which chronicles history of the Seattle-Washington area and is a non-profit organization. Hubbard was born in a poor Kentucky family and his family moved from Kentucky to idaho where young Hubbard took immense fascination for the machinery that was being used at his dad’s mining factory. Inspired by Nikola Tesla, the inventor, Hubbard claimed to have invented a fuelless engine that drew energy from Earth’s atmosphere. On Dec 17, 1919, A picture of young Hubbard using his fuelless engine to power a light bulb was published. NOt being a reputed scientist, he approached a Professor of Physics at Seattle College to check his invention and provide evidence to the world. He thought a validation of a credible source like a professor would provide credence to his claim that his discovery, I quote, “promises to revolutionize the world”. 

 The professor , Rev. Smith (who was also a pastor) testifiied that the contraption would “advance the whole theory and practice of electricity beyond the dreams of scientists”. Hubbard was a devout christian and is said to have used his spiritual influence on Rev. Smith.

Talk about using Star Power to mobilize, Hubbard was a pioneer of this marketing strategy.

 There are varying accounts of what happened including Hubbard using his engine to successfully power a boats to a speed of 22 mph. But there are also accounts where people including investors who rode on the boat with him were not impressed including an account that said – “It’s all bosh! Another keeley motor. He’s a faker!”. It seems like he got some investors to invest in his company but it didn’t go well. Hubbard seemed to have jumped to his next interest, making an X-ray Machine, based on Wilhelm Roentgen’s discovery in the previous decade. 

Hubbard, a few years later seems to have moved from Seattle to Pittsburgh and worked for Radium Chemical COmpany. Here, working on radioactive elements, Hubbard started his next journey in innovation. He filed a patent US 1,723,422) claiming that he had invented a spark plug made of Polonium which has a half-life of 138 days to be present in the spark plug and this was claimed to “improve engine efficiency”. It is said that this spark plug technology was licensed and a product was made by one company. 

Middle-aged Hubbard, now after a few years in Pittsburgh returned back to Seattle to work on radio technology. This is where, the story gets more colourful. Hubbard was introduced to ROy Olmstead, who some of you know from history was referred to as “King of Bootleggers” during the alcohol prohibition period. Hubbard is said to aided Olmstead in building a radio communication station and technology to aid smuggling of alcohol. But in 1926, it came to public knowledged that Hubbard was in fact, an FBI agent and was asked to work with Olmstead undercover as an inventor and this was halfway through his employment for Olmstead. So Hubbard also seemed like an informant for FBI and is thought to have bargained for legal immunity in exchange for him ratting out Olmstead. 

But why are we talking of internal combustion engines and an inventor/engineer with colourful history on a podcast about Psychedelics? Well, this is where the twists get deeper. 

Hubbard around the Second World War, was recruited by Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to what is now known as CIA. He was asked to move to British Columbia and asked to take a spy on an activity. According to historylink.org, It was to understand what was happening in British Columbia.  US ships were being smuggled to Vancouver in British COlumbia, where they were refitted and sent to England to be used as destroyers in the British Navy. And Hubbard would use his inventor star power to spy for Office of Strategic Services. The second world war had made Hubbard a millionaire. 

A few years after the war, Hubbard had his own fleet of aeroplanes, yachts and was a regular member of the yacht club in various Canadian cities. It was around 1950 that Hubbard had some across a journal called as the HIbbard Journal – an European science journal that published an article about Hoffman and LSD. The same journal also had an article by Humphry Osmond who had used mescaline, still legal at the time in clinical studies. Hubbard’s interest in the topic grew. He was hooked about these mind altering substances. What if it gave him, a staunch Chirtsian  and devout spiritual man a new experience. Its actually more than that. 

“He had a religious vision that he was working on behalf of the Virgin Mother. And you giving people the key to the religious universe. And you only have to leave it in shelf. He was the most unlikely man to be on religious mission that you could possibly imagine.”

He contacted Humphry Osmond and had invited him over to the yacht club in Saskatchewan. Middle-aged Humphry was blown away by the star power of the man he was meeting, over-awed by the posh surroundings which were stark contrast to his role as the director of a mental hospital. Hubbard is said to instantly hooked Osmond and is said to have been Osmond’s subject when he guided him through an LSD experience. The two became instant friends. And HUbabrd was keen to be a psychedelic Researcher. 

Here is Humphry Osmond’s recount on a documentary made for Canadian National Television- “He was interested in extremely objective evidence he was interested in the evidence he liked, which is a human and understandable. “

Duncan Blewett, the third psychiatrist who worked with Osmond and Hoffer has a slightly frank view. 

“He lacked any any sort of creedence because he didn’t have that customary training. And people had just sort of poo pooed him as a wild man, but he he was some wild man.”

Hubbard had asked Osmond to order more LSD and introduced the drug through his foundation based in Menlo Park, California to a number of famous personalities. Osmond and Hoffer served on the foundation’s board of directors; whose mission it was to further LSD therapy. 

 It is also said that at this time, Hubbard traveled to Sandoz Laboratories in Basel and purchased over 10,000 doses of LSD and brought it back to the United States. We will come to what happened to these doses, in a bit! 

Hubbard was said to be a close friend of Bill Wilson, who founded Alchoholics Anonymous. He is said to have informed Bill about the studies that Osmond and Hoffer had conducted in alcohol addiction. Hubbard invested heavily in Osmond and Hoffer and wanted to help them open psychedelic clinics. He saw himself as a “psychedelic researcher” and sought to develop clinics to train other psychiatrists in LSD therapy for treating alcoholism and psychological trauma. They, through Hubbard’s foundation in Menlo Park, provided the drug to a number of psychiatrists who in turn provided it to their celebrity patients in California.

Are you ready for the list? 

The list included Cary Grant, Jack Nicholson, Stanley Kubrick, Myron Stolaroff.  So Hubbard is politely and colloquially referred to as “the Johnny Appleseed of LSD”. WHile you might recognize the other names, Myron Stolaroff was an executive of Ampex Corporation, an early Silicon valley company. From here, LSD is said to have become the creative tool and was entrenched as the mind-opening method employed by many in Silicon valley including, Steve Jobs. 

It wasnt just these. Remember, Aldous Huxley, the poet and writer, the brother of Andrew Huxley – the Nobel prize winner. Aldous was introduced to Osmond via Hubbard and here is a recount from Aldous Huxley’s wife – Laura Archera Huxley. 

<“I only met him once. It was very amusing. He came for lunch. Very, a very busy man. And he came with some apparatus, the apparatus was to  give himself some CO2, I think. And after lunch, he took his dosage of co2. And then he was happy and then he left.  That the only time I met him, very exuberant type. Aldous would be fascinated by a person like that. Oh, Yes>


Johnny Appleseed of LSD had successfully converted the state of California and knowingly or unknowingly, a few knowledgeable psychiatrists had a role in that. In 1959, the drug LSD came off-patent and therefore could be more readily made. LSD became a street drug and it wasn’t until 1967 when Lyndon Johnson signed the Drug control act that made LSD a schedule I substance that LSD started going underground. But why was LSD made a schedule I susbtance? Was it the war in Vietnam at the same time, that had spurred use of marijuana and LSD among soldiers? Or was it the use of LSD by members of the 1960’s counter culture that led to anti-war demonstrations? Or was there something more sinister that involved the clandestine  operations and spies?

Well, the story just gets deeper and darker! 



You have been listening to PsychedeRx. PsychedeRx is a SKRAPS Original podcast produced and narrated by Arun Sridhar and JoJo Platt. 

SKRAPS is a volunteer run organization created by Arun Sridhar and JoJo Platt to disseminate factful stories of science, scientists and innovators as a service to the world.

Select research for this podcast series was performed by Sharena Rice.  The producers thank Clara Burtenshaw for her invaluable input. Multimedia services were provided by Dr. Romeo Racz. The scripts were written and edited by Arun Sridhar and JoJo Platt.  Financial support to cover the production costs was from Cybin, Inc and a kind donor, BB. 

Recordings were done at Caprino Studios in the UK and Slightly Red Studio in San Francisco. Swaminathan Thiru Gnana Sambandham performed the mixing and mastering. All recordings including interviews are properties of the producers and should not be reproduced without permission. The show notes, transcripts and useful links pertaining to the episode are located at the podcast website –  www.PsychedeRx.com