The Story Behind Bicycle Day

Bicycle Day photo

April 19th marks the annual commemoration of Bicycle Day, which is not for sports enthusiasts. If you want to celebrate your passion for bicycling, you can do so on June 3. One of the most brilliant minds, Albert Hofmann, is behind this date in history. The organic chemist worked at Sandoz in Basel, Switzerland.

Dr. Hofmann had been working on the compound lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) since 1938. Seeing no significant value, he set the substance aside for five years and did nothing more with it. On April 16, 1943, he would return to the project and resynthesize it. Hofmann accidentally absorbed the substance.

An articulate writer, he made this notation regarding the effects:

“…affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home, I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dream-like state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After about two hours, this condition faded away.”

Hofmann’s natural curiosity led him to return to the lysergic acid diethylamide. Three days later, on April 19, 1943, he intentionally ingested 0.25 mg in his lab. Within 60 minutes, Hofmann felt perceptually impacted and anxious. He asked an assistant to accompany him as he rode his bicycle home. While heading to his house, he felt as if he was poisoned and possibly going insane. Hofmann was physically okay after calling for a doctor and only had dilated pupils. The anxiety wore off, and he began to feel a pleasant experience.

Over the years, Sandoz studied the drug in clinical settings and found psychiatric value. In 1947, the pharmaceutical company gave it the brand name Delysid. The medication expanded patients’ consciousness. Delysid was adopted early on by two British psychoanalysts. The doctors oversaw patients who were fighting addiction or plagued with negative thought patterns. In 1949, Sandoz introduced the prescription drug to the United States.

During this time, Dr. Hofman continued his scientific research in Switzerland. He and his coworkers developed psilocybin in 1958. The field of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy led to many research studies in the 1950s to early ’60s. Unfortunately like many prescriptions, the drug led to being abused outside of a clinical setting. In 1965, Sandoz stopped shipping Delysid to the United States at the federal government’s request. The drug shortly after became illegal, but the National Institute of Mental Health continued researching it. Funding for such psychiatric studies was cut in 1980.

Hofmann retired from his career as a chemist at Sandoz in 1971. He was able to keep all the documents of his scientific research. Hofmann then devoted his time and authored several books. He still remains one of the most notable geniuses, historically. Dr. Hofmann also had a philosophical side to him. In 1985, his book Insight Outlook was published by Green Dragon Books. Hofmann died at age 102 peacefully of a heart attack in Switzerland. His legacy lives on, and his contributions are celebrated annually on Bicycle Day.