In the circles where LSD eventually thrived, the moment of its discovery was more cherished than even the famous intersection of a fine English apple with Isaac Newton’s inquiring mind, the comic cosmic instant that gave us gravity. According to legend, Dr. Albert Hofmann, a research chemist at the Sandoz pharmaceutical company, fell from his bicycle in April 1943 on his way home through the streets of Basel, Switzerland, after accidentally dosing himself with LSD at the laboratory. The story presented another example of enlightenment as trickster. As a narrative it was very fondly regarded because so many of us imagined a clueless botanist pedaling over the cobblestones with the clockwork Helvetian order dissolving under him.
At Sandoz, Hofmann specialized in the investigation of naturally occurring compounds that might make useful medicines. Among these was a rye fungus called ergot, known principally as the cause of a grim disease called St. Anthony’s Fire, which resulted in gangrene and convulsions. Ergot had one positive effect: in appropriate doses it facilitated childbirth. Hofmann set out to find whether there might be further therapeutic applications for ergot derivatives. Indeed, he discovered some for Sandoz, including Hydergine, a medication that, among other things, enhances memory function in the elderly. Most famously, of course, Hofmann’s ergot experiments synthesized D-lysergic acid diethylamide tartrate, LSD. On April 16, 1943, he apparently absorbed a minuscule amount of the lysergic acid he was synthesizing through his fingertips. He went home (he doesn’t say how) and subsequently submitted a report to Sandoz.
More information on this fascinating substance can also be found in the always informative Vaults of Erowid.
It's tragic that the American government remains so irrationally hostile to this drug. Yes, there is potential for abuse, but that's true of almost everything. Perhaps someday a more rational drug policy can be established that will allow further scientific, artistic, and spiritual experimentation with LSD.