Trials into psychedelics have started in earnest in many different countries, with new benefits being looked into from help with addictions and mental issues, to use as an anti-inflammatory and with auto-immune disorders. Where did all this come from? Switzerland has been the base of psychedelics research and testing since the early-mid 1900’s, and it certainly isn’t slowing down now.
Switzerland and psychedelics testing go together like peanut butter and jelly, and its exciting that more psychedelic options are coming. If you’re more of a cannabis person than a psychedelics person, that’s okay too. In fact, today, with the expanding cannabinoids market, you can buy everything from delta-8 THC to THCV to HHC, just to try new things. Remember to subscribe to The Psychedelics Weekly Newsletter for more articles like this one. And save big on Delta 8, Delta 9 THC, Delta-10, THCO, THCV, THCP & HHC products by checking out our “Best-of” lists!
Ergot and how it all started
Switzerland and psychedelics testing have gone together for some time. The general story of the modern use of psychedelics began in Basel, Switzerland, at the chemical company Sandoz. Sandoz only established its pharma department in 1917, following the isolation of the compound aotamine from the ergot fungus, which is known to be the cause of tainted rye. Prior to this, Sandoz had no pharmaceutical department since its inception in 1886.
The isolation of ergot was important, as ergot had been used in natural medicine traditions for many years. In smaller doses its known to help bring on childbirth, as well as helping to control the bleeding afterwards. This is separate from its appearance in tainted rye, when if eaten it can cause severe illness. The compound was isolated by Sandoz scientist Arthur Stoll, which was done in an effort to find the molecules responsible for the constriction that helps limit bleeding.
This was accomplished by isolating both ergotamine and ergobasine, without the other ergot compounds. These could then be dosed very precisely. Other compounds thought possibly useful from the ergot fungus were subsequently isolated with their structures drawn out. All of the compounds investigated shared the same nucleus, called Lysergsaure in German, or lysergic acid in English. Sandoz made a lot of money out of these discoveries, launched a pharmaceutical department, and hired a young Albert Hofmann in 1929.
Enter Albert Hofmann
Albert Hoffman was born in Baden, Switzerland in 1906, and eventually attended the University of Zurich. He graduated with a degree in chemistry in 1929, and immediately went to work at Sandoz where he walked into, and participated in, the study of ergot. Hofmann was able to create a process to synthetically produce ergot using its component chemical parts. He was also able to do this with compounds from other plants thought medicinally useful. Part of his research was to combine the newly found lysergic acid, with other compounds to see what would happen.
It was the 25th attempt of this kind that finally resulted in something interesting. For this combination, Hofmann combined lysergic acid with diethylamine, an ammonia derivative, and called the creation LSD-25, or lysergic acid diethylamide. The compound actually didn’t check the boxes it was being investigated for, and was put on the backburner. However, it was noted at the time that it caused excitability during testing in animals.
Hofmann didn’t forget about LSD-25, though, and five years later revisited the compound. This time, upon re-creation, he started feeling very strange himself. So strange that he left the lab to go home, not returning until after the weekend, when he wrote to his boss Stoll, giving the description of the very first acid trip:
“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.”
What happened next?
The thing about what happened to Hofmann, is that he never intentionally ingested the substance, nor was he sure what it was at first which gave him the reaction. He breathed in chloroform fumes to see if this caused the effect, but to no avail. He finally realized it was likely the LSD-25, even though the only exposure had been with his fingertips. Upon making this realization of his unexpected acid trip, Hofmann started purposefully taking acid trips to study the effects of this new compound.
On April 19th, 1943, Hofmann dissolved 250 millionths of a crystalized version of LSD-25, and proceeded to drink it down without telling anyone about this little experiment, but his lab assistant. Within 40 minutes of what he thought was a small dose, Hofmann began a massive acid trip that required his assistant to take him home on a bicycle (due to wartime restrictions), and for which he wrote about an experience where his senses were out of whack, producing visuals and sensations for things that were not happening.
After a doctor confirmed nothing was actually wrong with Hofmann, he began testing the compound in earnest, along with several friends. In the mid-1900’s, he introduced the compound to different practitioners, including psychiatrists Humphrey Osmond and Ronald Sandison, both of whom went on to conduct groundbreaking research into LSD for treatment with alcoholism and psychiatric disorders. Osmond is famous for the Saskatchewan trials in Canada in which 40-45% of alcoholics were able to quit drinking for at least a year after one dose. Sandison, for his part, cured, or helped improve, 34 out of 36 psychoneurotic patients.
And then LSD went global…
The funny thing about the story of the beginning of psychedelics, is that LSD, before large campaigns were waged to illegalize it, actually went global for a little while. Under the brand name Delysid, Sandoz sold LSD-25 to researchers all throughout Europe, and the rest of the world, at the close of World War II. LSD took up quickly and was thought of as somewhat of a cure-all drug, used as a treatment for anxiety, depression, and other psychological issues relating to trauma. It was written about extensively in the medical world, with the Oxford University Press estimating that nearly 10,000 publications were made between 1943-1970.
It was adopted by the CIA during the Cold War in the 1950’s, and tested as a mind-scrambling agent under code name MK-ULTRA. In the end, the compound was considered too unpredictable for wider use in counter intelligence. This didn’t stop its proliferation in the counter culture scene of the 1960’s, or its use by psychiatrists at the time to treat patients.
All this went on until the Vietnam War, when use of the drug (along with other psychedelics and cannabis) was tied to an unwanted group of people, draft-dodgers. I imagine that part of the reason for this was because LSD had become so big outside of the pharmaceutical world that it was obviously being created and sold vivaciously on the black market. And governments never like when a product proliferates on the black market, rather than in an above-board taxable market like the pharmaceutical industry. LSD was formally illegalized in the US in 1968 through the Staggers-Dodd Bill, and in 1973 in the UK through Britain’s 1973 Misuse of Drugs Act.
Switzerland and psychedelics testing today
Study into psychedelics has been amped up in the last few years all over the world, and Switzerland is still a major hub for psychedelics testing today. The University Hospital Basel is the site of several pieces of recent or ongoing research including:
- LSD as Treatment for Cluster Headaches. This double-blind, placebo-controlled study is headed by lead investigator Professor Matthias Liechti, and conducted by Yasmin Schmid, MD. The study is to provide three doses of 100 micrograms within a three week period to patients.
- University Hospital Basel is also the site for a study into LSD Therapy for Major Depression. The lead investigator on this study is Prof. Stefan Borgwardt, with an estimated completion date in 2023. The study is designed so that the treatment group will receive two sessions with LSD – 100 & 200 μg – while the control group will receive two sessions with an active placebo – 25 μg and 50 μg LSD.
- Yet another study being conducted at University Hospital Basel has to do with LSD Treatment for Anxiety in Severe Somatic Diseases. The principal investigator on this study, Peter Gasser, MD, was a trainee to a doctor with prescribing ability when LSD was legal in Switzerland for five years. The study involves using one single dose of LSD – 200 μg, for which study participants with receive that at one time, and a placebo at another.
- This study, Direct Comparison of Altered States of Consciousness Induced by LSD and Psilocybin, is meant to establish a comparison between acute effects of LSD and psilocybin, with use of a placebo as well. It is being conducted by Friederike Holze and Professor Matthias Liechti.
- Yet another one, Effects of Serotonin Transporter Inhibition on the Subjective Response to Psilocybin in Healthy Subjects, looks at psilocybin effects after treatment with antidepressant Escitalopram (Lexapro). All subjects are pretreated with a placebo or Escitalopram. The principal investigator on this study is Professor Matthias Liechti.
- Comparative Acute Effects of LSD, Psilocybin and Mescaline – this study also includes mescaline, and looks at how these compounds effect healthy individuals. This is a double-blind, placebo-controlled, 4-period study also headed by Professor Matthias Liechti.
- In this study, The Effect of MDMA (Serotonin Release) on Fear Extinction, lead investigator Professor Matthias Liechti, is investigating how MDMA can reduce fear in healthy humans.
Switzerland has other psychedelics testing going on at the University of Zurich another major hub in the country. The following recent or ongoing research takes place at this location:
- This university is home to the study, Clinical, Neurocognitive, and Emotional Effects of Psilocybin in Depressed Patients – Proof of Concept. This research into use with depression is headed by Professor Franz X. Vollenweider, and includes one dose of psilocybin or placebo.
- Another study at this location is Clinical and Mechanistic Effects of Psilocybin in Alcohol Addicted Patients. This study looks at psilocybin for alcohol addiction, and is a randomized, placebo controlled, double blind study, being led by Dr. Katrin Peller.
- This one, Beyond the Self and Back: Neuropharmacological Mechanisms Underlying the Dissolution of the Self, involves 140 participants making it one of the larger psychedelics studies currently in play in Europe. The study is designed to investigate neural signatures, as well as behavioral and phenomenological expressions of self-related processes.
- Yet another, Characterization of Altered Waking States of Consciousness in Healthy Humans, looks to measure levels of consciousness when in a pharmacologically altered state of consciousness, while using psilocybin. This study is being led by Professor Franz X. Vollenweider.
Though study into these compounds has been taken up again worldwide, Switzerland still remains a general hub for psychedelics testing, providing some of the most interesting research of today. This isn’t a surprise considering Switzerland’s rich history with these compounds, and it being the birthplace of LSD and modern psychedelics use.
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Disclaimer: Hi, 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.