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Well-known among LSD lovers: Bicycle day

Well-known among LSD lovers: Bicycle day

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/Simone Golob

Albert Hofmann inspires Vera Schrauwen-Hinderling

It is not really a book that is popular among teenagers, but Vera Schrauwen (42), born in Zurich, became fascinated by it at the age of fifteen: LSD - Mein Sorgenkind (1979) by the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann. It is also written in a style that is dry as dust, says the lecturer at Radiology. The subject itself, however, is interesting enough: the discovery of LSD.

Schrauwen, who has worked in the Netherlands since 2000: “From a young age, I have been fascinated by science and especially by natural science. I wanted to understand the way things were, I was searching for the truth.”

Hofmann (1906-2008) was the first to make synthetic, or imitated, LSD in 1938 in the lab. The active ingredient comes from a fungus that settles on rye or wheat bread; midwives used it at some stage to induce contractions in pregnant women. On one particular Friday afternoon, Hofmann accidentally ingested some of the stuff and had a psychotomimetic experience. After the weekend, on Monday, he purposely took a dose and while cycling home he completely lost his bearings. Among LSD fans, this day is known as ‘Bicycle day’.

“In his book, he describes how he administered the substance to see what happened. Funnily enough, he was so far gone at some stage that he couldn’t make any more notes.”

Schrauwen finds Hofmann’s scientific openness charming. “Something landed on his path and he embraced it. Some time ago, we experienced something similar, albeit in a more trivial form. The substance acetylcarnitine, which is found in muscles among other places, was thought to be impossible to measure with the so-called magnetic resonance spectroscopy technique. Yet a master’s student [Lucas Lindeboom, now a lecturer] at some stage observed a surprising peak while measuring. Then what do you do? Just leave it and consider it to be a coincidental peak, or investigate to find out what is going on? We studied it and discovered that acetylcholine can indeed be measured using MR. And it appeared to have already been described in the literature, but it was never applied in diabetes research. We recently published about it in a well-known journal.”

Hofmann initially hoped that LSD would have a favourable outcome on cardiovascular diseases, but that was disappointing. But at least this “medicine for the soul”, as Hofmann described it, had advantages in psychiatry. Patients would be able to relax during therapy and in doing so make better contact with the person treating them. Moreover, suppressed traumas would be able to reach consciousness more easily.

It is similar to the practices of Dutch psychiatrist Jan Bastiaans, who used LSD in the treatment of war victims until the nineteen-eighties – resistance fighters and survivors of the German concentration camps.

Hofmann, who used the drug hundreds of times, became spiritually spellbound by it. He once said to a psychiatrist in the nineteen-eighties: “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.”

At any rate, it did not have a negative effect his health, because he lived to be 102 years old.

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