Before becoming the recreational drug associated with Woodstock, the artists of the 1960s and their profusion of psychedelic creations, LSD, a highly hallucinogenic substance born in 1943, was initially an experimental drug, widely used in psychiatry. Until the World Health Organization (WHO) is alarmed at its misuse and calls on governments to take control measures.

Harvard professor shared with his students

LSD, LSD-25, the acronym for the German term "Lysergsäurediethylamid" (lysergic acid diethylamide), was born during work on ergot, a fungus that attacks rye ears, which was used at the time the Sandoz laboratory (now a subsidiary of Novartis), in Basel, to manufacture a medicine against migraine. While manipulating a 25th declination of the molecule to discover all the properties of this alkaloid, Dr. Albert Hofmann (1906-2008), one of the fathers of LSD, is caught in a strange sensation. To be clear, he ingests a large dose and is seized with powerful hallucinations. Arthur Stoll, the head of Sandoz's research, then proposes to his son, a psychiatrist in Zurich, to test him with his patients, before the laboratory decides to distribute it more widely on an experimental basis.

The notice given in the 1950s to doctors who first wanted to try it on themselves explained that this substance triggered a kind of transient artificial psychosis that can help them better understand the thoughts of their patients. For their patients, this miraculous treatment was intended to reduce obsessive anxiety and neurosis. But LSD eventually escaped medicine and spread to the literary and artistic communities, under the influence of, among others, psychology professor Timothy Leary, who had fallen from his post at Harvard for sharing with his students, and for American writer Ken Kesey, the author of Flight over a cuckoo's nest. At the end of the 1960s, LSD was progressively banned in many countries of the world, and ended up being considered a illicit psychotropic by the United Nations in 1971.

LSD to manage the anxieties following the diagnosis of a cancer

"In 2006, a large conference was organized in Basel around Dr. Hofmann for its 100th anniversary," Hannes Mangold, curator of an exhibition at the Swiss National Library in Berne chemist. Researchers around the world then wrote to their government asking for permission to resume their work, particularly to study its effects in the treatment of deep depressions or as support for patients with incurable diseases.

Thanks to improved technologies, scientists have been able to observe the effects of LSD on the brain for the first time in 2016. "Normally our brain is composed of independent networks that separate different specific functions, such as vision, hearing or the movement, explained Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris of Imperial College London. "Under LSD, the separation of these networks breaks down and we obtain a more integrated, more unified brain." A biological phenomenon that would explain the cases of synesthesia (mix of perceptions that leads to hearing colors or seeing sounds for example).

The research that has been authorized since then includes a phase II study, which corresponds to the intermediate stage of clinical trials, conducted by Dr. Peter Gasser, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist based in the small Swiss city of Solothurn. Conducted in 12 patients, this study, funded in part by a California institute, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), aimed to understand how LSD can help patients manage their anxieties after being diagnosed with cancer. advanced stage. "All this is at the beginning but it is conceivable today that LSD can make a return in the form of a drug," said Mr Mangold.

Terrible child or prodigy?

LSD has been blacklisted for medical research for nearly 40 years, much to the regret of Dr. Hofmann, who throughout his life has been tirelessly defending the therapeutic virtues of his discovery. He took the pen to defend his invention. His book LSD: my enfant terrible is "an absolutely fascinating document, halfway between a collection of chemistry and a treatise on metaphysics", commented Mr. Mangold, who found several editions for the exhibition in Berne, pointing that the book is nevertheless marked by a strong bias. Dr. Hofmann "wrote this book with the aim of bringing new arguments into the debate around LSD" and tried, all his life, to give a positive vision, sometimes even to hide some of the criticisms . "If we were to know how to better use, in medical practice in relation to meditation, the abilities of LSD to provoke visionary experiences under certain conditions, then, I think that as a terrible child, he could become a child prodigy" wrote the chemist in his work.

            
          

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