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 1943

LSD

Principal discoverer
Albert Hofmann, chemist

Birth year
1906

Native language
German

Source of drug
Mold fungus

Key moment
Spring 1943

Key Research Funding
Rockefeller Institute, USA

Perfected in
Wester Europe (Basel)

Cures syphilis
No
Penicillin

Principal discoverer
Ernst Chain, biochemist

Birth year
1906

Native language
German

Source of drug
Mold fungus

Key moment
Spring 1943

Key Research Funding
Rockefeller Foundation, USA

Perfected in
Western Europe (Oxford)

Cures syphilis
Yes
The Year That Changed Everything


The Scottish physician and biologist Alexander Fleming observed at the end of the 1920s that a certain bacteria could be destroyed by a mold fungus called Penicillium notatum, but thought nothing more of the discovery at the time. A decade later, a team of scientists, galvanized by World War Two to develop an anti-infection drug to save sick and wounded Allied soldiers, perfected, refined, tested, and finally — in early 1943 — managed to convince drug companies to mass-produce penicillin, the first antibiotic drug.
The lead biochemist on the team was a German refugee named Ernst Chain. Penicillin was called the first wonder drug, a miracle, a magic bullet that saved millions of lives and changed the world.
    Meanwhile, in his lab at the Sandoz pharmaceutical company in Basel, Switzerland, in the late 1930s, a chemist named Albert Hofmann first synthesized LSD, lysergic acid diethylamide-25, from a derivative of a mold fungus called Claviceps purpurea, or ergot. He thought nothing much of the discovery at the time, but in early 1943, Hofmann decided to synthesize a new batch of LSD, and on the afternoon of April 19 to swallow a dose himself. “Beginning dizziness,” he noted in his lab journal, “feeling of anxiety, visual distortions, symptoms of paralysis, desire to laugh.”
Later he recalled, “I had to struggle to speak intelligibly… The lady next door, whom I scarcely recognized… was no longer Mrs. R., but rather a malevolent, insidious witch with a colored mask.” Hofmann’s drug saved no lives — and unlike Fleming and Chain, he won no Nobel Prize — but its effects on consciousness were, for better or worse, wondrous, miraculous, magic.
    And coincidentally (or not), in 1943 Carl Gustav Jung became professor of medical psychology at the University of Basel, where he refined his influential notion of “synchronicity,” or meaningful coincidences.


ILLUSTRATION: oversoul, oil on linen, alex grey

PHOTO: Fungal spores of Penicillium — the source of the antibiotic penicillin
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