Swiss Psychiatrist Fights Fear with LSD

Nothing's happening, Udo Schulz thought to himself with quiet regret. I must have been given the placebo. He was lying on a mattress in a brightly lit room, waiting for the first real drug experience of his life.

Schulz, 44, is German and suffers from cancer. He is also the first person in more than three decades who has been allowed to consume LSD legally in the context of a scientific study. The goal of the study is to determine whether lysergic acid diethylamide, the notoriousdrug of the hippy era, could be useful in the treatment of certain emotional disorders.

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It was May 13, 2008, and it was quiet, as it usually is, in Solothurn, a small, picturesque Baroque town at the foot of the Jura Mountains in Switzerland. The Aare River, a tributary of the Rhine, flows at a more leisurely pace here than it does in the Swiss capital Bern, past Roman walls, the Krummer Turm ("Crooked Tower") and the imposing Cathedral of St. Ursus. There could hardly be a better spot for a study with such a potentially explosive impact on society than this inconspicuous little Swiss town.

The wall of the treatment room was decorated with a red tapestry, a gong, a drum and a portrait of a smiling Buddha. Peter Gasser, a psychiatrist, and fellow therapist Barbara Speich crouched next to the patient on thin foam rubber mats.

They sat there for at least half an hour, waiting. "Then I finally sensed that something was changing in my psyche," recalls Schulz. "Wow, it was fantastic!"

Transported to a Different World

Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann synthesized, ingested and discovered the effects of LSD in a laboratory at the pharmaceutical company Sandoz in Basel on April 19, 1943. Hofmann had originally intended to develop a circulatory stimulant derived from ergot, a fungus. Instead, he synthesized a highly potent hallucinogen. A single gram of LSD is sufficient to get 20,000 people high for hours.

Of course, the young scientist couldn't have known this on the day of his discovery. As a result, the first LSD trip in history began with a drastic overdose, when Hofmann swallowed 0.25 milligrams of the substance. "I was filled with an overwhelming fear that I would go crazy," he later wrote, describing his experience. "I was transported to a different world, a different time." Hours passed before he gradually became calm again. "Now I gradually began to enjoy the unimaginable play of colors and shapes," he wrote. The next day, he wrote, he was filled with "a feeling of well-being and new life."

Hofmann couldn't have dreamed that LSD would soon become the catalyst of a mass movement, glorified by artists like the Beatles, the Doors, Pink Floyd, the actor Cary Grant and the author Aldous Huxley. Little did he suspect that the CIA would secretly use it in interrogations or that the hallucinogen would send millions of people on spiritual and creative adventures but also drive some to madness and suicide. Nevertheless, he was convinced from the start that LSD had to be suitable for providing "mental relaxation."

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