Today we celebrate Bicycle Day, a modern semi-holiday (unrecognized by official governmental agencies yet observed by psychedelic enthusiasts across the globe) that commemorates Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman’s bike ride home from his lab on April 19th, 1943, after ingesting 250 micrograms of lysergic acid diethlymide, and in the process creating the world's first recorded intentional LSD trip. When Hoffman originally synthesized the compound in 1938, in the Sandoz Pharmeacuticals laboratory in Basel, he had deemed it next to useless, and put it up on the shelf to be forgotten — but five years later, something within him told him to take a second look. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today’s Voices of Esalen episode is a treasure drawn from our extensive archives — an interview with Albert Hoffman himself, conducted by none other than Stanislav Grof, sometimes known as the godfather of LSD psychotherapy. Grof was a Czechoslovakian psychoanalyst who was enormously influenced by Hoffman’s discovery of LSD; in his research in Czechoslovakia he oversaw tens of thousands of supervised therapeutic LSD trips. Grof would emigrate to the United States in the late 1960’s, a move precipitated by the Soviet invasion of his country. Grof spent more than ten years as a teacher in residence at the Esalen Institute during the 1970’s and 80’s, where he developed the practice of holotropic breath work and became one of the founders of the school of transpersonal psychology.
In this interview, Grof and Hoffman explore a host of topics, including Hoffman’s discovery of LSD and how on his first trip, Hoffman freaked out and thought he was going insane, then thought he was dying; how Hoffman then became aware that his new discovery would have immense significance to the field of psychiatry; why Hoffman believed LSD could be used as a model psychosis and a way to study schizophrenia; how Hoffman collaborated with amateur mycologist R. Gordon Wasson to create a synthetic version of so-called magic mushrooms, which would be known as psilocybin; how Hoffman traveled to Mexico to deliver this modern version of mushrooms to the famed curandera Maria Sabina, who had introduced Wasson to the mushrooms in the first place, and more. They end this interview by speaking about Hoffman’s reaction to the way LSD escaped the laboratory and infiltrated culture during the turbulent 1960s.
This interview was conducted at Esalen Institute in 1984 — just one part of the ever evolving and complex tapestry of history that unfolded here in Big Sur.