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Bicycle Day marks an unofficial commemoration of the first use of LSD

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Today, April 19, is the unofficial anniversary of the first ever recorded use of LSD.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Bicycle Day marks a hallucinogenic ride that's considered the birth of the modern psychedelic movement.

FADEL: Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann first synthesized what became known as LSD in the 1930s. In 1943, he took what he thought was a mild dose and biked home.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALBERT HOFMANN: I was taken to another world, another place, another time. My body seemed to be without sensation. Lifeless. Strange.

MARTÍNEZ: At a conference in San Francisco in 1978, Hofmann said he still felt it the day after.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HOFMANN: All my senses vibrated in a condition of highest sensitivity that persisted for the entire day.

FADEL: Hofmann said he believed it was the beginning of something big.

MARTÍNEZ: Decades of medical research into psychedelic therapy, some of it promising, would follow. But Hofmann later wrote that his biggest discovery became his, quote, "problem child" when LSD came to be linked with 1960s counterculture.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIMOTHY LEARY: Turn on, tune in and drop out.

FADEL: That's from a recording made by Timothy Leary, a psychologist who lost his teaching job at Harvard after becoming a psychedelic evangelist. His words became a mantra for a movement that consumed popular culture and music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PURPLE HAZE")

JIMI HENDRIX: (Singing) Purple haze all in my brain.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GO ASK ALICE")

JEFFERSON AIRPLANE: (Singing) Go ask Alice. I think she'll know.

MARTÍNEZ: In 1968, though, laws against the manufacture and sale of LSD were strengthened and possession was criminalized. Research came to a halt.

FADEL: But some drugs, like LSD, are now being decriminalized in some places, and new research is underway.

MONNICA WILLIAMS: At my clinic, we do ketamine-assisted psychotherapy for major depressive disorder and PTSD.

FADEL: Monnica Williams is at the University of Ottawa.

WILLIAMS: Research done with MDMA, for example, has shown excellent results with, I would say, over two-thirds of people with PTSD not having PTSD anymore at follow up.

MARTÍNEZ: Williams says securing research funding is difficult, but she and others who observe Bicycle Day hope psychedelic therapies will one day be accessible for all.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.