On this day 75 years ago, LSD was discovered in riveting fashion

On this day 75 years ago, LSD was discovered in riveting fashion

VicesApril 19, 2018 By Reilly Capps

Before Instagram, before Snapchat, if you went somewhere awesome and weird like Paris or Tahiti, you didn't take a photo, you wrote a trip report.

When Marco Polo went to Asia, he came back with a trip report. Columbus to the New World? Long trip report. Lewis and Clark to the Pacific? Awesome trip report, including having sex with "Indians."

These written trip reports showed folks back home — who didn't go anywhere, who probably couldn't — what you saw.

That's why a trip report from this date 75 years ago was huge.

On April 19, 1943, Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman (discoverer of LSD) took 200 micrograms without having any idea what it would do. He tripped his face off, rode home on a bicycle, and thought he was going to die.

Today is Bicycle Day, the official LSD holiday. There are parties around the world to celebrate it, including Boulder and Denver, Colorado.   

And Hoffman's trip report — one of the first — was as big as any trip report from any sixteenth century explorer, since Hoffman was the first to see something just as interesting as the Sea of Cortez was to Hernan Cortez when he first saw it.

Here's Hoffman:

"My field of vision wavered. … Had to lie down … My surroundings had transformed themselves … in continuous motion … Was I dying? … not yet able to form a coherent sentence … No abnormal (physical) symptoms other than extremely dilated pupils. Pulse, blood pressure, breathing were all normal. … Slowly I came back from a weird, unfamiliar world to reassuring everyday reality."

Imagine not knowing that world existed! Imagine seeing something no one's ever seen before! It's surprising he didn't name it after himself, and every time anyone gets high, they'd have to call it Going to Hoffmanland.

Hoffman tripped only 15 times. Society has never been so polarized about a molecule. LSD has been demonized as The Thing That Created Dirty Hippies and praised as an entheogen — something that brings god within you. He called LSD his Problem Child.

Whether you think drugs are good or bad, drug trip reports are important because those who haven't been to the the rippling, colorful world of being high need to know whether it's someplace they'd like to go. Would you enjoy seeing the walls melt and the clouds turn to realistic paintings?  If the world went wavy, your pupils turned to dinner plates, and you felt feel like you were dying — would that freak you out?

The first trip report about mushrooms is just as interesting. No Westerner had ever done psychedelic bloomers before September 18, 1914, when a couple of Mainers ate some Panaeolus subbalteatus magic mushrooms. Their trip report, published in the journal Science, is a classic trip report — even though they didn't know it.

"I could not collect my thoughts. … Could not will to arise promptly. … Things began to seem funny. … Objects took on peculiar bright colors. … The tips of (my friend's) fingers seemed to be like the heads of snakes. … irresistible impulse to laugh and joke immoderately, and almost hysterically at times. The laughing could be controlled only with great difficulty. … a very short time seemed long drawn out, and a longer time seemed very short. the wall-paper seemed to have creepy and crawling motions."

There are now hundreds of thousands of trip reports online, in places like Erowid, Reddit, Bluelight, and more. Trip reports can come in the form of Bill Hicks's standup about how mushrooms made him "lay in a field of green grass for four hours going, my god, I love everything," Joe Rogan's podcast about how DMT elves gave him the finger and told him not to take himself seriously.

Taken together, trip reports are like a map that give you the rough outlines of Hoffmanland. But only the outlines. It's beyond words. And out past the edges, well — there be dragons.

[Cover photo from the Psychedelic Club of Denver.]