Do you know what Bicycle Day is? Hint: It’s got little to do with actual bicycles. 78 years ago, Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann went on the world’s first LSD trip. He had synthesised the substance five years earlier at Sandoz Chemicals while working on a drug to control postpartum haemorrhage. On April 19, 1943, Hofmann ingested 250 micrograms of lysergic acid diethylamide 25 or LSD, but soon realised the eight-kilometre trip back home was going to be intense. He asked his assistant to help him get home, and the assistant helped him up on his bicycle as wartime restrictions prohibited cars on the streets of Basel. While cycling back home, Hofmann’s world shimmered.
But it wasn’t a fun trip.
Hofmann described this acid-laced bike ride as: “A demon had invaded me, taken possession of my body, mind and soul,” in his book, LSD My Problem Child: Reflections on Sacred Drugs, Mysticism and Science. He would criticise the use of LSD for entertainment, maintaining that the drug should be used the way indigenous communities use it, with spiritual and sacred intent. He called it “medicine for the soul”. Hofmann continued to take minute doses of LSD until the age of 96 and died at the age of 102 in 2008.
Decades after the first historic trip, 12 Indian artists are here with their work centred around LSD. The works will be printed on perforated blotting paper as a homage to the medium through which the substance is consumed. The artwork is not laced with LSD, but the art itself might take you on a visual psychedelic trip. “This isn’t a stance on anything, but it’s an acknowledgment of a specific moment in history,” says Sahil Arora, founder and curator of Method gallery in Mumbai, where the art will be physically showcased once the virus stops ravaging this hotspot. “This was a scientific discovery that did change the world in its own way.”
India has a tricky relationship with psychedelics. They are illegal in India, but the country has also been home to psychedelic raves since the 1970s. In the past year, drugs have washed up on Indian shores, dealers have moved large quantities of drugs, and cops have busted LSD worth Rs 250,000 ($3,339) found wrapped in a page from Hitler’s biography.
This Bicycle Day, regardless of whether you can replicate what happened 78 years ago, check out this art to take a different kind of trip.