On August 16, 1943, Swiss chemist Albert Hoffmann was synthesizing a new compound called lysergic acid diethylamide-25 as part of his search for a drug that could help cure migraines. He accidentally got a couple of drops on his finger. The chemical, later known worldwide as LSD, got absorbed into his system and soon after he experienced an intense state of altered consciousness. On that day Dr Hoffmann became the first person to drop acid.
Intrigued by the experience, Hoffmann set about meticulously experimenting dosed himself with 250 micrograms of LSD and then biked his way home through the streets of Basel.
This documentary traces the discovery of what Hoffmann called ‘medicine for the soul’ and research into its use as a treatment for the mentally ill. All told by the people that were there and did it, including Albert Hoffmann himself, Stanislav Groff, Humphry Osmond, Aldous Huxley and Ram Dass.
Complement with the wonderful documentary Magic Trip. Magic Trip is a real-time documentary, pieced together from 40-year-old film, about a cross-country trek just prior to the whole 60s hippie thing happening.
Ken Kesey was the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest In ’63, he and a few friends were visiting New York City and witnessed the preparations for the following year’s World’s Fair. Kesey, who lived in Oregon, determined on the spot that he’d grab some people and make a trip across America to the fair. The group wound up too big for a station wagon, so an old yellow school bus was procured and customized. The bus was painted in an array of bright, friendly, psychedelic colors. All the various paraphernalia of the various artists aboard came along and so did plenty of cameras and sound recording equipment. Thing was none of them were film makers. As a result the grand plan to make a film of their journey once they got home never happened because they couldn’t piece it together and sync the sound. Then Martin Scorceses’s film foundation stepped in and provided funding for all the footage to be repaired and the separately recorded audio to be synced, the process took over a year.
It’s a fascinating fly on the wall look at the birth of the hippie movement before it was a movement. It’s also notable for having Neal Cassady involved as part of the gang. You’ll know him as the real life Dean Moriaty from Jack Kerouac’s book On The Road. Particularly interesting is the use of LSD of course. Timothy Leary features heavily explaining how he thought it should be used. What’s most interesting is how refreshingly honest it is. The scenes when Ken Kesey’s madcap artistic lot meet Timothy Leary’s lot in their fancy house is great. They were expecting this great meeting of minds but it wasn’t, they were just too different and they didn’t get along. Then there’s the scene when they discover a way to create tie dye in a lake – hilarious.
After watching these documentaries I think about drugs today and I worry about the fact that they are criminalised so we know very little about the new substances that are being developed and used. We know the exact chemical make up of LSD and MDMA, some scientific research was done in the past and more is now starting to be done again (http://www.maps.org). We have even interviewed the scientists who invented the stuff, like Dr Hoffmann. The new stuff is hidden, opaque and potentially dangerous and that can’t be good.