Albert Hoffman’s “My Problem Child”

From The Forward, “My Problem Child” by Albert Hoffman

“There are experiences that most of us are hesitant to speak about, because they do not conform to everyday reality and defy rational explanation. These are not particular external occurrences, but rather events of our inner lives, which are generally dismissed as figments of the imagination and barred from our memory. Suddenly, the familiar view of our surroundings is transformed in a strange, delightful, or alarming way: it appears to us in a new light, takes on a special meaning. Such an experience can be as light and fleeting as a breath of air, or it can imprint itself deeply upon our minds. One enchantment of that kind, which I experienced in childhood, has remained remarkably vivid in my memory ever since. It happened on a May morning—I have forgotten the year—but I can still point to the exact spot where it occurred, on a forest path on Martinsberg above Baden, Switzerland. As I strolled through the freshly greened woods filled with bird song and lit up by the morning sun, all at once everything appeared in an uncommonly clear light. Was this something I had simply failed to notice before? Was I suddenly discovering the spring forest as it actually looked? It shone with the most beautiful radiance, speaking to the heart, as though it wanted to encompass me in its majesty. I was filled with an indescribable sensation of joy, oneness, and blissful security. I have no idea how long I stood there spellbound. But I recall the anxious concern I felt as the radiance slowly dissolved and I hiked on: how could a vision that was so real and convincing, so directly and deeply felt—how could it end so soon? And how could I tell anyone about it, as my overflowing joy compelled me to do, since I knew there were no words to describe what I had seen? It seemed strange that I, as a child, had seen something so marvelous, something that adults obviously did not perceive – for I had never heard them mention it. While still a child, I experienced several more of these deeply euphoric moments on my rambles through forest and meadow. It was these experiences that shaped the main outlines of my world view and convinced me of the existence of a miraculous, powerful, unfathomable reality that was hidden from everyday sight.”

This is a remarkable story about a remarkable man who seemed to have come to this life with a purpose. Starting with his career path, he had three job offers out of college. Two involved synthetic chemistry. Albert chose to work with Sandoz Laboratories on natural chemistry. He worked for Professor Stroll, who had already extracted Ergotamine, and had put it on a back-shelf. Albert asked to continue the studies.
The book then goes on to the history of Ergot in the Middle Ages as a cause of outbreaks of mass poisonings. The disease was traced to ergot, a mold that grew on barley. Dr. Stoll had been able to isolate the active principle of the ergot alkaline so that it could be used in therapeutics. Actually, 4 different firms including Sandoz made the discovery at the same time!
Lysergic acid was an unstable subsgance. Albert’s job was to combine it with amines to stabilize it. He produced a great number of lysergic compunds, one being LSD-25. The lab results on animals did not produce results worth pursuing. It was put on the back-shelf. But for some reason Albert had an instinct to return to LSD-25 and he experienced it personally.
Here is Albert’s notes from his first trip (self-experiments chp 1 pg 8:
“Here the notes in my laboratory journal cease. I was able to write the last words only with great effort. By now it was already clear to me that LSD had been the cause of the remarkable experience of the previous Friday, for the altered perceptions were of the same type as before, only much more intense. I had to struggle to speak intelligibly. I asked my laboratory assistant, who was informed of the self-experiment, to escort me home. We went by bicycle, no automobile being available because of wartime restrictions on their use. On the way home, my condition began to assume threatening forms.
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. In spite of my delirious, bewildered condition, I had brief periods of clear and effective thinking—and chose milk as a nonspecific antidote for poisoning. The dizziness and sensation of fainting became so strong at times that I could no longer hold myself erect, and had to lie down on a sofa. My surroundings had now transformed themselves in more terrifying ways. Everything in the room spun around, and the familiar objects and pieces of furniture assumed grotesque, threatening forms. They were in continuous motion, animated, as if driven by an inner restlessness. The lady next door, whom I scarcely recognized, brought me milk—in the course of the evening I drank more than two liters. She was no longer Mrs. R., but rather a malevolent, insidious witch with a colored mask. Even worse than these demonic transformations of the outer world, were the alterations that I perceived in myself, in my inner being. Every exertion of my will, every attempt to put an end to the disintegration of the outer world and the dissolution of my ego, seemed to be wasted effort. A demon had invaded me, had taken possession of my body, mind, and soul. I jumped up and screamed, trying to free myself from him, but then sank down again and lay helpless on the sofa. The substance, with which I had wanted to experiment, had vanquished me. It was the demon that scornfully triumphed over my will. 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? Was this the transition? At times I believed myself to be outside my body, and then perceived clearly, as an outside observer, the complete tragedy of my situation. I had not even taken leave of my family (my wife, with our three children had traveled that day to visit her parents, in Lucerne). Would they ever understand that I had not experimented thoughtlessly, irresponsibly, but rather with the utmost caution, an-d that such a result was in no way foreseeable? My fear and despair intensified, not only because a young family should lose its father, but also because I dreaded leaving my chemical research work, which meant so much to me, unfinished in the midst of fruitful, promising development. Another reflection took shape, an idea full of bitter irony: if I was now forced to leave this world prematurely, it was because of this Iysergic acid diethylamide that I myself had brought forth into the world. By the time the doctor arrived, the climax of my despondent condition had already passed. My laboratory assistant informed him about my self-experiment, as I myself was not yet able to formulate a coherent sentence. He shook his head in perplexity, after my attempts to describe the mortal danger that threatened my body. He could detect no abnormal symptoms other than extremely dilated pupils. Pulse, blood pressure, breathing were all normal. He saw no reason to prescribe any medication. Instead he conveyed me to my bed and stood watch over me. Slowly I came back from a weird, unfamiliar world to reassuring everyday reality. 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, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in colored fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves in constant flux. It was particularly remarkable how every acoustic perception, such as the sound of a door handle or a passing automobile, became transformed into optical perceptions. Every sound generated a vividly changing image, with its own consistent form and color. Late in the evening my wife returned from Lucerne. Someone had informed her by telephone that I was suffering a mysterious breakdown. She had returned home at once, leaving the children behind with her parents. By now, I had recovered myself sufficiently to tell her what had happened. Exhausted, I then slept, to awake next morning refreshed, with a clear head, though still somewhat tired physically. A sensation of well-being and renewed life flowed through me. Breakfast tasted delicious and gave me extraordinary pleasure. When I later walked out into the garden, in which the sun shone now after a spring rain, everything glistened and sparkled in a fresh light. The world was as if newly created. All my senses vibrated in a condition of highest sensitivity, which persisted for the entire day. This self-experiment showed that LSD-25 behaved as a psychoactive substance with extraordinary properties and potency. There was to my knowledge no other known substance that evoked such profound psychic effects in such extremely low doses, that caused such dramatic changes in human consciousness and our experience of the inner and outer world. What seemed even more significant was that I could remember the experience of LSD inebriation in every detail. This could only mean that the conscious recording function was not interrupted, even in the climax of the LSD experience, despite the profound breakdown of the normal world view. For the entire duration of the experiment, I had even been aware of participating in an experiment, but despite this recognition of my condition, I could not, with every exertion of my will, shake off the LSD world. Everything was experienced as completely real, as alarming reality; alarming, because the picture of the other, familiar everyday reality was still fully preserved in the memory for comparison. Another surprising aspect of LSD was its ability to produce such a far-reaching, powerful state of inebriation without leaving a hangover. Quite the contrary, on the day after the LSD experiment I felt myself to be, as already described, in excellent physical and mental condition. I was aware that LSD, a new active compound with such properties, would have to be of use in pharmacology, in neurology, and especially in psychiatry, and that it would attract the interest of concerned specialists. But at that time I had no inkling that the new substance would also come to be used beyond medical science, as an inebriant in the drug scene. Since my self-experiment had revealed LSD in its terrifying, demonic aspect, the last thing I could have expected was that this substance could ever find application as anything approaching a pleasure drug. I failed, moreover, to recognize the meaningful connection between LSD inebriation and spontaneous visionary experience until much later, after further experiments, which were carried out with far lower doses and under different conditions.”
Let’s go to 6.8 Dr Gelpke’s trip and the meaning of life: an excerpt:

A Voyage into the Universe of the Soul with Psilocybin
The relationship between the psychic effects of psilocybin and those of LSD, their visionaryhallucinatory character, is evident in the following report from Antaios, of a psilocybin experiment by Dr. Rudolf Gelpke. He has characterized his experiences with LSD and psilocybin, as already mentioned in a previous chapter, as “travels in the universe of the soul.”

Where Time Stands Still
I found myself behind my closed eyes in a cavity full of brick-red ornaments, and at the same time in the “center of the universe of consummate calm.” I knew everything was good—the cause and origins of everything was good. But at the same moment I also understood the suffering and the loathing, the depression and misunderstanding of ordinary life: there one is never “total,” but instead divided, cut in pieces, and split up into the tiny fragments of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, and years: there one is a slave of Moloch time, which devoured one piecemeal; one is condemned to stammering, bungling, and patchwork; one must drag about with oneself the perfection and absolute, the togetherness of all things; the eternal moment of the golden age, this original ground of being—that indeed nevertheless has always endured and will endure forever—there in the weekday of human existence, as a tormenting thorn buried deeply in the soul, as a memorial of a claim never fulfilled, as a fata morgana of a lost and promised paradise; through this feverish dream “present” to a condemned “past” in a clouded “future.” I understood. This inebriation was a spaceflight, not of the outer but rather of the inner man, and for a moment I experienced reality from a location that lies somewhere beyond the force of gravity of time.
Lots of good stuff with his meeting with Huxley
LSD is good in the field of medicine for 2 things:
Addiction Recovery
Restore suppressed memories
The ligering effects of LSD in the body
Ch 2 pg 3
As the psychic effects of LSD persist even after it can no longer be detected in the organism, we must assume that LSD is not active as such, but that it rather triggers certain biochemical, neurophysiological, and psychic mechanisms that provoke the inebriated condition and continue in the absence of the active principle.
The conclusion of the meeting of the book club on discussing “My Problem Child” by Albert Hoffman is that LSD triggers something that naturally occurs in the brain that brings us past what our senses tell us, a world bound by language and time, into a world outside our bodies where there is no ego. And that it is not a recreational drug. It just opens a door that we can further explore through stopping the inner dialog.

2 thoughts on “Albert Hoffman’s “My Problem Child””

  1. I really enjoyed your summary and thoughts on the book, I am looking forward to reading and discussing the next one. also, if anyone read the above book and wishes to discuss it further, please join us at the next TPS meeting on Saturday, March 25th at 3PM. We will have further discussions directly following the meeting.

    All the best to everyone! Jon

  2. The conclusion of the meeting of the book club on discussing “My Problem Child” by Albert Hoffman is that LSD triggers something that naturally occurs in the brain that brings us past what our senses tell us, a world bound by language and time, into a world outside our bodies where there is no ego. And that it is not a recreational drug. It just opens a door that we can further explore through stopping the inner dialog.

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