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The Birth of LSD

Bicycle day is the term used to describe the day on which LSD was first 'discovered' by Albert Hofmann, a chemist for Sandoz ( the pharmaceutical company he worked for). 

Hoffman was experimenting with the ergot fungus. All in all, he created 24 lysergic acid combinations. The 25th, combining lysergic acid with diethylamine, was dubbed LSD-25

The purpose of his research was to find something that could stimulate circulation and respiration. On that front, it was not a success. After the drug was dismissed by Sandoz execs,  Hoffman started experimenting with it on himself. 

Five years after LSD-25 was initially rejected,  Hofmann synthesized it again. The day was April 16 1943, in Basel, Switzerland. 

During the process he suddenly felt strange to the point that he had to leave work and go home. When he returned to the lab on Monday, he wrote a memo to his boss explaining what had happened:

"I was forced to interrupt my work in the laboratory in the middle of the afternoon and proceed home, being affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dream-like state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted steam of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors."

He concluded he must have accidentally somehow ingested a small amount. How, he did not know. But he was intrigued. Hofmann decided there was only one course of action: self-experimentation.

Bicycle day

At 4:20 in the afternoon of April 19, Hofmann dissolved 250 millionths of a gram of lysergic acid diethylamide and drank it. He expected it to do nothing.

Remember, the recommended dosage for LSD is between 50 – 150 µg (micrograms), and 200+ µg in highly supportive settings. Hoffman had no idea he'd taken what would later be described as a heroic dose. 

But 40 minutes after that dose, he wrote the one and only entry in his lab journal:

17:00: Beginning dizziness, feeling of anxiety, visual distortions, symptoms of paralysis, desire to laugh.

Hofmann promptly asked his lab assistant to escort him home.  Automobile usage was restricted because of the war,  so they both took bicycles.


On the way he experienced all the hallucinationic effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) that (some of us) know so well today.   He recounts the journey in his memoir: 

“Everything in my field of vision wavered and was distorted as if seen in a curved mirror. I also had the sensation of being unable to move from the spot. Nevertheless, my assistant later told me that we had traveled very rapidly. Finally, we arrived at home safe and sound, and I was just barely capable of asking my companion to summon our family doctor and request milk from the neighbors.”

Remember, Hoffman had no idea what would happen, and he expected nothing when he took the dose. So these powerful effects were frightening. 

He wrote of the following once he got home: 

"A demon had invaded me, had taken possession of my body, mind, and soul … I was seized by the dreadful fear of going insane. I was taken to another world, another place, another time. My body seemed to be without sensation, lifeless, strange. Was I dying?"

He summoned a doctor who confirmed that (aside from dilated pupils) no physical problems could be detected, confirming the impacts had been psychological. All he could do was He sat with him as the trip continued. 

Eventually things started to improve: 

"The horror softened and gave way to a feeling of good fortune and gratitude, the more normal perceptions and thoughts returned, and I became more confident that the danger of insanity was conclusively past. Now, little by little, I could begin to enjoy the unprecedented colors and plays of shapes that persisted behind my closed eyes. Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me …"

After the trip, Hofmann knew he'd discovered something big. He had many more psychedelic experiences and avidly followed the field he helped create until his eventually death at the ripe old age or 102. 

The Man who Catalyzed the Psychedelic Era

LSD quickly became known for its powerful psychoactive effects, and the rest is history.  While Hofmann’s famous trip happened in 1945, Bicycle Day didn’t launch for another four decades. 

The first Bicycle Day was organized and celebrated by Thomas B. Roberts, a Professor at Northern Illinois University, starting out as nothing more than a small house party. 

It steadily grew in popularity at a rapid rate in the early years of online interactions thanks to students spreading the word on forums and other internet platforms.

Bicycle day has since gone global. A celebrated date among LSD users and psychedelic communities. Many people drop acid on this day to commemorate Hofmann's discovery and celebrate LSD and its potential to change our perception of the world. He literally catalyzed the psychedelic era. 

But it's not just for LSD fans and deadheads. Given the importance of scientific discovery, and its direct impact on further discoveries, Bicycle Day was / is an important day for all humanity. 

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