A Sprinkle in Time

Image Credit: Unsplash: eberhard grossgasteiger

From riding a bicycle to building a billion dollar company, is there anything an LSD enhanced individual can’t do? Vanshika Dhyani delves into the realm of psychedelics and their promise of a better tomorrow.

Psychedelics have come a long way since they were first discovered in 1943. Albert Hofmann, a Swedish Chemist was studying Drimia maritima or squill (a remedial plant) when he stumbled upon LSD-25, a Serotonergic psychedelic. Hofmann first synthesized LSD on 16 November 1938,  while researching lysergic acid derivatives. He was working on the synthesis of an analeptic, a central nervous system stimulant that did not affect the uterus. He attempted to do this by attaching a functional group to lysergic acid in order to alter the chemistry of the compound. LSD-25 was left in the dark for half a decade before Hofmann decided to take another look at it. On 16 April 1943, the scientist accidently ingested the psychedelic by absorbing a small amount of the drug through his fingertips. 

He described his experience-

“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 dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away.”

Fadiman describes a stereotypical microdoser as an “übersmart twentysomething” individual, who chooses to replace their limited productivity for a dose of superhuman creativity.

Three days later, on April 19, 1943, Hofmann calculatedly ingested 0.25 milligrams of LSD, an anticipated limen dose of the substance (the actual dosage is 0.02 milligrams). 

Within an hour, he experienced a sudden shift in consciousness as his cognition deteriorated and he began to struggle with feelings of anxiety and fright. Hysteria latched onto him as he became certain that his next-door neighbor was a witch and that he was going insane. He was convinced that the LSD had poisoned him. Before frenzy could devour him, Hofmann was escorted home by his laboratory assistant on a bicycle. And so came to be the celebration of “Bicycle Day” inspired by the exalted events of the very first LSD trip. Hofmann later wrote...

"... 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 ..."

Pollan speculates the possibility of employing methods of microdosing date back to the 1950s. He conjectures that engineers manipulated their consciousness by inducing  hallucinogenic effects to visualise new concepts like computer chips.

The scientific discovery was the aftermath of this incident. Once the effect of the drug wore off, Hofmann realised that he had pioneered a psychotropic drug with tremendous puissance, and the ability to alter states of consciousness. Hofmann believed that his ‘sacred drug’ would transform the way mental illness was treated. In an interview, days before his hundredth birthday Hofman referred to LSD as a "medicine for the soul".  During his lifetime, Hofmann displayed discontentment towards the worldwide prohibition of its usage. "It was used very successfully for ten years in psychoanalysis," he said in the same interview, and went on to comment on the misuse of the drug by the counterculture of the 60s. He maintained that LSD was criticized unjustly by the political establishment of the day.  Shortly before his death in 2008, Hofmann addressed a letter to Steve Jobs that read “I understand from media accounts that you feel LSD helped you creatively in your development of Apple Computers and your personal spiritual quest. I'm interested in learning more about how LSD was useful to you.” It is not known if Jobs wrote back. 

The consumption of small quantities of psychedelics is called microdosing. The practice is allegedly linked to elevated moods, magnified productivity, and a surge in creativity. Extremely low dosage of a psychedelic substance such as LSD, psilocybin or mescaline can reportedly amplify connections and invigorate empathy without causing hallucinations and other side effects. By all accounts the positive effects of microdosing are often said to be analogous to those produced by meditation or a cup of coffee. A recent study conducted by the University of California examined the effects of the practice on rats. It was concluded that microdosing helped rats vanquish a "fear response" in a test considered to be a model of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in humans. "Our study demonstrates that psychedelics can produce beneficial behavioral effects without drastically altering perception, which is a critical step towards producing viable medicines inspired by these compounds." commented David Olson, the lead researcher and assistant professor of Chemistry, Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine at UC Davis. No concrete research has been conducted to study the risks of microdosing, although analysis of higher doses of psychedelics indicate that these substances are comparatively  safe. Universally, psychedelic drugs are not addictive and are generally taken in an intermittent fashion.

James Fadiman, author of ‘The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide’, introduced the practice of microdosing at a conference on psychedelic research in 2011. Soon after a Rolling Stone article shed light on the drug-inclusive work culture of San Francisco. Fadiman believes that there has been a uniform and continual increase in the number of people adopting the practice in the San Francisco area. Fadiman describes a stereotypical microdoser as an “übersmart twentysomething” individual, who chooses to replace their limited productivity for a dose of superhuman creativity. Another book about experimenting with psychedelics is ‘How to Change Your Mind’ by Michael Pollan. In his book, Pollan speculates that the possibility of employing methods of microdosing date back to the 1950s. He conjectures that engineers manipulated their consciousness by inducing a hallucinogenic effect to visualise new concepts like computer chips. “The biggest misconception people have about psychedelics is that these are drugs that make you crazy. We now have evidence that that does happen sometimes—but in many more cases, these are drugs that can make you sane.”