Hofmann’s Potion: 2002 Documentary Revisits the History of LSD

A few years ago, we post­ed this 1978 inter­view with Tim­o­thy Leary, in which the charis­mat­ic LSD cham­pi­on, pris­on­er, and future Ron Paul sup­port­er speaks pas­sion­ate­ly about the ben­e­fits of tak­ing acid. But for a more bal­anced per­spec­tive on the con­tro­ver­sial drug, we rec­om­mend the 2002 film Hof­man­n’s Potion, by Cana­di­an film­mak­er Con­nie Lit­tle­feld.

Lit­tle­field struc­tures her nar­ra­tive chrono­log­i­cal­ly, begin­ning with Swiss sci­en­tist Albert Hof­man­n’s first syn­the­sis of the com­pound in 1938, and its ear­ly exper­i­men­tal use in the treat­ment of schiz­o­phren­ics and alco­holics. She then traces LSD’s rise to promi­nence when it became the drug of choice dur­ing the 60’s coun­ter­cul­ture, fol­lowed by the drug’s ulti­mate vil­i­fi­ca­tion and crim­i­nal­iza­tion.

The 56-minute doc­u­men­tary fea­tures new and archival footage of dis­cus­sions with Hof­mann, Aldous Hux­ley, Stanislav Grof, Abram Hof­fer and oth­er ear­ly fig­ures in the drug’s brief but tur­bu­lent his­to­ry. The inter­view with Leary’s Har­vard col­league Richard Alpert — now known as Ram Dass — at minute 43:37 is par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing, as is the film’s ulti­mate con­clu­sion that the cor­rect realm for eval­u­at­ing the val­ue of LSD is nei­ther med­ical nor recre­ation­al, but spir­i­tu­al.

After watch­ing the Lit­tle­field doc­u­men­tary, take a look at this dis­turb­ing 10-minute dis­cus­sion of Project MKULTRA, a decades-long CIA pro­gram which exposed Amer­i­can cit­i­zens to LSD and oth­er drugs for study, often with­out their knowl­edge or per­mis­sion.

Also worth a read, a new book by Don Lat­tin called The Har­vard Psy­che­del­ic Club: How Tim­o­thy Leary, Ram Dass, Hus­ton Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ush­ered in a New Age for Amer­i­ca.

Sheer­ly Avni is a San Fran­cis­co-based arts and cul­ture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Week­ly, Moth­er Jones, and many oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low her on twit­ter at @sheerly.

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