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5-Year High: When LSD Was Legal in Switzerland

LSD legal Switzerland
Written by Sarah Friedman
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Switzerland is the birthplace of modern psychedelics, giving us Albert Hofmann, who tripped his way into scientific infamy in 1943. Since that time Switzerland has been a front runner in psychedelics research. And for a short period of time a couple decades ago, LSD was actually legal in Switzerland for five years. Why was this done? And what was the result?

It’s not common knowledge that LSD was legal in Switzerland between 1988-1993, but it was. That policy is not current today, however, psychedelics are quickly moving toward legalization in many places. In the US, psilocybin and MDMA are both getting closer, but for now, are still illegal. The US has many other options though, like the emerging cannabinoid market offering the likes of delta-8 THC, THCV, HHC, and more. Check out our after-holiday deals to get great discounts on all compounds, and start your new year off right.


A little history on LSD and the infamous Albert Hofmann

In 1929, a young Albert Hofmann, who had just graduated from the University of Zurich with a chemistry degree, began working for chemical company Sandoz. Sandoz, for its part, though started in 1886, was only 12 years into its pharmaceutical program. This was spawned by the isolation of the compound aotamine, from ergot, a fungus that is found in tainted rye. Ergot had already been used in history as a part of natural medicine traditions as a way to quicken childbirth and deal with the bleeding subsequent to it. When found in rye, it can be quite dangerous however, causing a person to get very sick.

Aotamine was isolated for its ability to constrict blood vessels to help stop bleeding. This was done by Arthur Stoll in 1917, kicking off Sandoz’s pharmaceutical lab. In the following years, different compounds of ergot were isolated as well, and it was found they all shared the same nucleus, called lysergic acid, or Lysergsaure in German. These compounds were made into medicines which brought in much money for Sandoz.

Albert Hofmann entered the picture in 1929, and began working on a synthetic process to build ergot compounds using their component parts. He successfully synthesized compounds of ergot as well as from other medically relevant plants. He began combining lysergic acid with other compounds to see the effect, and on the 25th combination he mixed lysergic acid with diethylamine, an ammonia derivative. He called this LSD-25, also known as lysergic acid diethylamide.

invention LSD

First acid trips

As it did not meet his needs of stimulating circulation and respiration, it was put on the back burner, however it was noted that lab animals became excitable with its use. It was five years before Hofmann went back to try LSD-25 again, and this time, he himself felt strange in the process. Enough that he left the lab to go home, later writing to his boss, Stoll:

“I was forced to interrupt my work in the laboratory in the middle of the afternoon and proceed home, being 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 steam of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors.”

After ruling out that the reaction came from something like chloroform, Hofmann finally realized that it was likely the LSD-25, even though his only place of exposure was his fingertips. This led to his testing it on April 19th, 1943, a day that went down in history as National Bicycle Day in honor of Hofmann’s experimentation. On that day, without telling anyone but a lab assistant, Hofmann ingested a dissolved 250 millionths of a gram of lysergic acid diethylamide tartrate – the crystalized version, and waited. Within 40 minutes he was experiencing an intense acid trip that led him to be taken home on a bicycle by his lab assistant, which he subsequently described as such:

“Everything in my field of vision wavered and was distorted as if seen in a curved mirror. I also had the sensation of being unable to move from the spot. Nevertheless, my assistant later told me that we had traveled very rapidly. Finally, we arrived at home safe and sound, and I was just barely capable of asking my companion to summon our family doctor and request milk from the neighbors.”

When LSD was legal in Switzerland

Though Switzerland is the home of LSD, and the site for much psychedelics testing, it also illegalized the compound along with much of the world back in the mid-to-late 1900’s. Sandoz had patented LSD, and was selling it as a treatment for anxiety and other psychiatric disorders. By the 1970’s, smear campaigns started in the US as a means of promoting the Vietnam war, and LSD was illegalized nearly everywhere including Switzerland.

Currently, this is still the case, but weirdly, for a five-year period, it was not. In 1988, LSD was made legal in Switzerland for therapy purposes when the Swiss Federal Office for Public Health granted permissions for use to several therapists. This was not far-reaching however, as only five doctors were given the ability to use it, all in private practice. All the doctors were members of the Swiss Medical Society for Psycholytic Therapy, and all used the psycholytic method of combining psychedelics with therapy, also called psychedelic-assisted therapy. Psycholytic is more about smaller dosing, psychedelic-assisted is more about using larger doses.

psycholytic therapy

Of the five doctors given permissions when LSD was legal in Switzerland, three of them prescribed during the entirety of the legalization period: Dr. Marianne Bloch, Dr. Jurai Styk and Dr. Samuel Widmer.

One of the big players in psychedelics research today – Dr. Peter Gasser, was a therapist-in-training at the time, and was able to observe some sessions that took place. Of the whole thing he said, “It was quite surprising for everyone… I think after that, no-one really knew why they got such permission. It was quite free, they could do what they wanted.”

Gasser worked with Dr. Samuel Widmer, one of the five prescribing doctors during this five years of legality. Widmer at that time was able to write prescriptions for both LSD and MDMA. It only lasted five years though, with the government shutting down the program in 1993. Subsequent to it being shut down, Dr. Gasser was charged with evaluating results of this brief experiment on behalf of the Swiss government. Why this entire experiment was done, other than as a manner of research, was not explained.

Afterwards

Though Gasser could report that most patients were happy, one of the failings of the program is that is was only meant for active therapists, not researchers, meaning there was no control group to compare data to. A control is a person who is not be given the drug for the sake of comparison to someone who is given it. This is something Gasser referred to as a “missed opportunity”.

One thing of particular note though, is that of five years of giving prescriptions, and over a hundred case histories, there were no severe incidences with the drugs, or need for hospitalizations. All this started Gasser on a mission of reopening a therapy project by government standards. This took him 10 years to do, and resulted in a 2014 publication Safety and Efficacy of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide-Assisted Psychotherapy for Anxiety Associated With Life-threatening Diseases.

Gasser’s mentor Dr. Widner didn’t leave the world of psychedelic therapy when the government program ended. Instead, he got around laws by running a commune called Kirschblütengemeinschaft, where it is said he lives with two wives and around 200 followers. He offers both psycholytic treatment, and education in administering psycholytic therapy. Swiss newspaper Ages Anzeiger reported at one point that Widner had trained hundreds of doctors in Austria, Switzerland, and Germany. This was confirmed by German journalist Hans-Peter Waldrich who spent time in underground therapy groups.

The word *underground is important here. These groups, and what Dr. Widmer do, do not operate legally, which is why reports are few and far between. One of the things about having it legalized for five years, is that it helped spur on this underground therapy scene, which the government was never able to do anything about. It is often said that its much easier to get acid for recreational purposes in Switzerland, than for a doctor to get it for research. But this means a lot of ability for doctors to administer mind-altering drugs without regulation, and there have been reports of misconduct by some of these doctors.

secret therapy group

Dr. Widner himself has earned some of this dissent, with his protégé Gasser stating: “He’s a talented person. He was, at least, a good therapist. But then he became this guru, and I think he made it very difficult… He left our medical society in 1995. I think this was necessary. He went his own way and we went our own way.”

Conclusion

One of the strange things about the five years when LSD was legal in Switzerland, is that there isn’t a lot written about it, almost like it was shoved back into the underground at the end. Many publications, even about the history of acid, will skip over this part in history, and its actually through research papers that much of this info can be found.

Why so quiet? Hard to say… But Switzerland definitely isn’t advertising that it did this, even now that psychedelics are up for legalization again in many places. Perhaps with enough changing tides, these five years will come back into the spotlight, and hopefully, right along with them, a new legalization measure for psychedelic medicine.

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DisclaimerHi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advise, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.

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