Albert Hoffman (and child)

I missed this a few days ago: Albert Hoffman, the chemist who invented (or synthesized or discovered) LSD, died a few days ago. The guy lived to 102. Must be something in the water in Switzerland.

It reminded me of this article I read years ago in Slate, about how a 2000 bust by the DEA basically wiped out LSD as a recreational drug. It is evidently very difficult to make — no bargain-basement LSD labs in the small towns of Middle America à la the ones that grace us with crystal meth — and these two fellows in Kansas were the only ones left with the means and the know-how to do it, at least on such a scale. Not to rhapsodize about an illicit chemical that does some seriously hazardous shit to your head, but the idea of LSD disappearing because it’s too difficult to make can’t help but put me in mind of other products of craft and ingenuity rendered obsolete by quicker, cheaper or baser alternatives.

I am old enough to have actually studied penmanship in school, though not old enough to have retained much of it; I can only recall cursive letters with great effort, and my hand balks at shaping them. I don’t know of any grammar-school age child who studies handwriting the way my classmates and I used to; in today’s world, it would be like teaching a child to shoe a horse. Why spend the time learning to write well when no one writes letters and every other document we touch is created electronically?

So LSD, which some genuinely intelligent people once believed might actually change the way people live, is vanishing; researchers rarely study it, and cheaper, easier and more lucrative substitutes have crowded it off the map. I wonder if Dr. Hoffman imagined he would live long enough to witness it, the slow passing of his “problem child.”