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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