75 years ago, a Swiss chemist took the world's first acid trip. Since then, everything’s been a little weirder.
Lawrence Schiller/Getty Images
Published April 19, 2018
Published 3 months ago
On April 19, 1943, a Swiss chemist, Albert Hofmann, voluntarily ingested 250 micrograms of lysergic acid diethylamide, aka LSD-25, so called because it was the 25th variation of a chemical substance that Hofmann hoped would become an effective respiratory and circulatory stimulant.
It turned out to be something very different, and in the 75 years since its birth, the most famous hallucinogen of them all has had an immeasurable effect on culture. Below, FOTO chronicles some of the highs and lows of LSD’s long, strange trip with an illustrated timeline. Turn on, tune in, scroll down.
Hulton Deutsch/Corbis via Getty Images1943: Albert Hofmann Takes a TripSupposedly, Hofmann took his first dose of LSD at 4:20 p.m. At 5 p.m., he jotted in his notebook: “Beginning dizziness, anxiety, disturbed vision, paralysis, urge to laugh.” Shortly thereafter, accompanied by his lab assistant Susi Ramstein, he rode home on a bicycle. That, as they say, is when he started to feel it. Hofmann’s ride has gone down in the annals of drug lore as the first acid trip, and April 19th is still celebrated, in some quarters, as Bicycle Day. (Pictured: Hofmann, date unknown.)Weegee(Arthur Fellig)/International Center of Photography/Getty Images1953: Allen Dulles Authorizes MKUltraIn the early years of the Cold War, amid fears of communist brainwashing, newly appointed CIA Director Allen Dulles authorized MKUltra, a sprawling research project that administered LSD and other mind-altering chemicals to countless unwitting subjects for a range of shady purposes. Since coming to light in the 1970s, the story of MKUltra has inspired numerous works of popular culture, including, most recently, “Stranger Things” and “Wormwood.” (Pictured: a distorted view of Allen Dulles, date unknown.)
Bettmann/Bettmann Archive1954: Aldous Huxley Publishes 'The Doors of Perception'Under medical supervision, the author of “Brave New World” tried his first dose of mescaline in 1953. He found the experience so mind-expanding that he wrote a book about it, 1954’s “The Doors of Perception,” which became something of a bible for later generations of mind expanders. In 1955, he went further down the rabbit hole with his first dose of LSD. (Pictured: Huxley in 1946.)Bettmann/Bettmann Archive1956: Humphry Osmond Coins the Word “Psychedelic”A British psychiatrist and LSD researcher, Osmond supervised Huxley’s mescaline trip in 1953, and in 1956 he coined the word “psychedelic,” from the Greek for “mind-manifesting,” to describe drugs like mescaline and LSD. (Previously, they’d been called “psychotomimetics,” because they induced states that seemed to resemble psychosis.) "To fathom hell or soar angelic,” Osmond wrote in a letter to Huxley, “Just take a pinch of psychedelic."Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images1958: Clare Boothe Luce Takes the PlungeAfter conquering Broadway (she wrote the 1936 hit “The Women”) and making her mark on politics (she served two terms in the House of Representatives before acting as U.S. ambassador to Italy), Clare Boothe Luce set out for a new frontier in 1958. She started taking LSD (with a therapist), and enjoyed it so much that she encouraged her husband Henry, the publisher of TIME and LIFE, to try it too — and to cover it in his magazines. (Pictured: the Luces in Spain, 1962.)
John Cohen/Getty Images1959: Allen Ginsberg Tries LSD for the First TimeThe Beat poet, whose plaintive “Howl” (1956) had spoken in part to the anguish of mental illness, discovered a therapy that worked for him when he tried LSD at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto in 1959. Along with Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey, Ginsberg would become one of the drug’s most visible advocates in the 1960s. (Pictured: Ginsberg, circa 1959.)Ted Streshinsky Photographic Archive/Corbis via Getty Images1960: Ken Kesey Gets a Taste of LSDKesey, a former champion wrestler and aspiring novelist, was working as an orderly at the V.A. hospital in Menlo Park, California when he volunteered to be a subject in an LSD study. The orderly work led to his first novel, 1962’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”; The LSD study led to acid tests, a Day-Glo school bus, and some very long, very strange trips. (Pictured: Kesey, circa 1966.)Hulton Archive/Getty Images1960: Timothy Leary Founds the Harvard Psilocybin ProjectA lecturer in the psychology department at Harvard University, Leary sampled hallucinogenic mushrooms in Mexico in the summer of 1960, and when he returned to campus that fall, he established a project to study the mushrooms’ active constituent, psilocybin. After Leary tried LSD for the first time in 1961, the project’s purview expanded. (Pictured: Leary in 1964.)
Alvis Upitis/Getty Images1963: Leary Moves to MillbrookLeary’s “research methods” had begun to draw negative attention by 1962, and in 1963 Harvard opted not to renew his contract. He established a new home base in Millbrook, New York, in a mansion donated to his cause by the wealthy Hitchcock family. The enormous house and vast property became an LSD sanctuary, laboratory, and playground until it was finally raided in 1968. (Pictured: Millbrook, circa 1967.)John Loengard/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images1963: Media BlitzLeary’s departure from Harvard made national headlines, and features on LSD started popping up like mushrooms. In March, a few months ahead of the blitz, LIFE ran a feature on “The Chemical Mind-Changers,” with photos, like the one above, of people taking LSD in experimental settings. The original caption for this picture: “Under the influence of the drug LSD, Barbara Dunlap, a Cambridge, Mass. housewife, sees visions in a lemon seed.”Ted Streshinsky Photographic Archive/Corbis via Getty Images1964: Kesey Goes FurtherFlush with cash from the success of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Kesey purchased a 1939 Harvester school bus, which — after it was named (“Further”), painted, and filled with Kesey’s Merry Band of Pranksters — became a rolling party and a vivid, lasting symbol of the 1960s counterculture.
Alvan Meyerowitz/Getty Images1965: Owsley Stanley Opens a LabA part-time student at Cal in the early 1960s, Augustus Owsley Stanley III, aka “Bear,” took his first hit of acid in 1964. A year later, he had launched the Bear Research Group and, with the help of Melissa Cargill, a Berkeley chemistry major, opened his first LSD lab and factory. “Owsley acid,” which was favored by Ken Kesey and the Grateful Dead, among others, soon became a very hot commodity. (Pictured: Stanley in 1975.)Lawrence Schiller/Getty Images1965: Kesey Hosts the First Acid TestsWith Owsley as a supplier, Kesey began throwing LSD parties on his farm in La Honda, California, 40 miles south of San Francisco. He dubbed the parties, which often featured live music and elaborate scenery as well as copious amounts of hallucinogens, acid tests. (Pictured: an acid test in Los Angeles, 1966.)Ted Streshinsky Photographic Archive/Corbis via Getty Images1966: Stanley Mouse and the Art of the Concert PosterThere were a lot of bands and a lot of concerts in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960s, and — thanks to Mouse and his collaborator, Alton Kelley — there were a lot of psychedelic posters advertising them. (Pictured: Mouse in San Francisco in the 1960s.)
Blank Archives/Getty Images1967: Leary’s Sage AdviceOn January 14, 1967, at the Human Be-In in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, Timothy Leary took the stage and shared a few words to live by: “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” (Pictured: a flyer for the Human Be-In.)Yale Joel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images1967: The Doors Release 'The Doors'Los Angeles band the Doors, who took their name from the title of Aldous Huxley’s book about mescaline, and whose lead singer was rumored to be fond of LSD, released their first album in January 1967. Side 1, Track 1: “Break on Through (To the Other Side).” (Pictured: Jim Morrison, circa 1968.)Michael Ochs Archives1967: Sergeant Pepper Teaches the Band to PlayThe Beatles released “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club” in May 1967, and though Lennon would later “swear to God, or swear to Mao,” that he hadn’t written the album’s third song, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” with LSD in mind, he and the other members of the band undoubtedly dropped a lot of acid while they were working on “Sgt. Pepper’s.” After listening to the album for the first time, Timothy Leary supposedly proclaimed “My work is finished.”
Baron Wolman/Getty Images1967: One Pill Makes You LargerIn June 1967, as the Summer of Love was heating up, San Francisco band Jefferson Airplane released “White Rabbit,” an LSD anthem to rival “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” If you don’t know the song, you can listen to it here. If you do know it, don’t miss this isolated recording of lead singer Grace Slick’s harrowing vocals. (Pictured: Slick, circa 1968.)Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images1967: Roger Corman and Jack Nicholson Present 'The Trip'Back when he was still just a struggling actor looking for a break, Jack Nicholson penned the script for “The Trip,” director Roger Corman’s low-budget exploitation film about LSD. Nicholson got to know the film’s co-stars, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, who gave him the break he was looking for two years later, when they invited him to join the cast of their 1969 film “Easy Rider.”Bill Ray/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images1967: The Beatles Open the Apple BoutiqueSeveral months after “Sgt. Pepper’s,” the Beatles opened a psychedelic fashion emporium at 94 Baker Street in London. Featuring clothes designed by Dutch artists The Fool, the shop was, in Paul McCartney’s words, “a beautiful place where beautiful people [could] buy beautiful things.” Unfortunately, some of the beautiful people were more inclined to shoplift the beautiful things, and the beautiful place folded in less than a year. (Pictured: inside the Apple Boutique, circa 1968.)
Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images1968: ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ Launches a Far-Out Ad CampaignThe marketing team for “2001: A Space Odyssey” designed an appropriately hallucinatory poster for Stanley Kubrick’s trippy space flick.Express/Getty Images1968: ‘Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In’ DebutsThe edgy, rapid-fire sketch comedy series, which boasted prime-time’s most psychedelic set, debuted in January 1968. It ran for 140 episodes and won seven Emmys and two Golden Globes before going off the air in 1973. (Pictured: the set of “Laugh-In,” circa 1970.)Susan Wood/Getty Images/Getty Images1968: Tom Wolfe Publishes ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’In 1966, journalist Tom Wolfe tagged along with Kesey and the Merry Pranksters as they drove their bus across the country for a rendezvous with Leary at Millbrook. Two years later, in August 1968, Wolfe published his celebrated account of that trip. (Pictured: Wolfe talking to a reporter in 1968.)
Warner Bros./Getty Images1969: Warner Bros. Puts Out 'The Big Cube'In the spring of 1969, Warner Bros. tried to capitalize on the LSD craze with a campy thriller starring Lana Turner. “From the ball to the bad trip,” the trailer announced, “this is the LSD scene today, as a psychedelic conspiracy takes over the mind.” (Pictured: a still from "The Big Cube".)Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images1969: Born to Be Wild“The Trip” triumvirate of Fonda, Hopper, and Nicholson reunited for the 1969 biker film and indie classic “Easy Rider,” which, among other things, attempted to answer the burning cinematic question: What is it like to drop acid in a cemetery?Barry Z Levine/Getty Images1969: Half a Million StrongOver the long weekend of August 15–18, 1969, more than 400,000 concertgoers descended on Max Yasgur’s farm near Woodstock, New York, to hear some bands play some music. Famously, attendees were advised against taking any brown acid.
Paul Ryan/Getty Images1970: The Grateful Dead Keep Truckin’The last track on 1970’s “American Beauty,” the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin’” features a verse that’s launched a million knock-offs: “Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me / Other times I can barely see / Lately it occurs to me / What a long, strange trip it’s been.” (Pictured: The Grateful Dead perform at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.)Bill Eppridge/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images1971: Hunter S. Thompson’s Savage Journey to the Heart of the American DreamIn the spring of 1971, gonzo journalist and noted drug enthusiast Hunter S. Thompson drove to Las Vegas to cover a motorcycle race for Sports Illustrated, and he brought “a serious drug collection” including “five sheets of high-powered blotter acid” with him. The acid-fueled excursion yielded “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” Thompson’s hallucinatory elegy to the 1960s, and still his most famous book. (Pictured: the 1971 Mint 400 motorcycle race, which SI sent Thompson to Las Vegas to cover.)Ralph Morse/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images1974: Steve Jobs Goes to IndiaAfter dropping out of Reed College, Steve Jobs traveled to India with his college friend (and psychedelic buddy) Dan Kottke. When Jobs returned from his trip, he started attending meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club, in Palo Alto, where he and Steve Wozniak demoed the Apple I in 1976. Jobs would later say of his rival Bill Gates that “he'd be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger.” (Pictured: Jobs with the Apple II, circa 1977.)
AFP/AFP/Getty Images1985: A New HolidayOn April 19, 1985 (or maybe 1984), a psychology professor at Northern Illinois University, Thomas Roberts, hosted a small gathering in honor of Albert Hofmann and his momentous discovery. Roberts and his co-celebrants were the first observers of “Bicycle Day.” (Pictured: LSD tabs with designs honoring Hofmann and Bicycle Day; these tabs were seized by French Customs in 2008.)UniversalImagesGroup/UIG via Getty Images1987: Phuture’s 'Acid Tracks'It’s hard to pinpoint the appearance of something as amorphous as a musical genre, but for acid house, the release of Chicago electronica group Phuture’s “Acid Tracks” in 1987 is as serviceable a date as any. Acid house and other kinds of electronic dance music provided the soundtrack for the emerging rave scene of the 1980s and ‘90, where it became clear that the basic hippie formula — dark rooms, swirling lights, bright colors, music, dancing, and LSD — was remarkably durable. (Pictured: London's Megatripolis in the 1990s.)Bryan Steffy2015: A$AP Rocky’s Love, Sex, DreamsIn May 2015, New York City rapper A$AP Rocky dropped nouveau acid-track “L$D.” “I ain’t makin’ love songs,” he softly declares, "I’m just rappin’ to this LSD." (Pictured: A$AP Rocky performs in 2015.)
Awakening/Getty Images2017: Ayelet Waldman Has a Really Good DayWith psychedelic therapy enjoying a new vogue among mental health researchers and clinicians, author and lawyer Ayelet Waldman published her LSD memoir, “A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life.” (Pictured: Waldman in 2017.)
Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to Albert Hofmann as a German chemist. Hofmann was Swiss, not German.