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A Brief History Of LSD Ahead Of The 75th-Anniversary Bicycle Day Tour

This year, Bicycle Day will be celebrating its 75th anniversary, and the folks at Euphonic Conceptions and Legion of Bloom Music have something really special cooked up to mark the landmark year. In years past, the two promoters have brought their psychedelic celebration to San Francisco, California, for one of the largest Bicycle Day parties in the world. However, this year, Euphonic Conception and Legion of Bloom Music’s, in honor of the standout anniversary, will take their event—featuring musicians Shpongle (Simon Posford live) and CharlestheFirst and legendary visual artists Alex and Allyson Grey—on the road.

For those unfamiliar, Bicycle Day is an annual celebration of Swiss scientist Albert Hoffman’s first intentional ingestion of the chemical compound LSD-25 on April 19th, 1943, following his discovery of the compound’s mind-altering properties three days earlier. Bicycle Day takes its name from Hoffman’s trippy bike ride home, a fateful trip (in both senses of the word) whose impact still permeates both mainstream and counterculture today. After Hoffman’s discovery, psychologists clinically researched the drug throughout the 40s, 50s, and 60s, with the Swiss company Sandoz Pharmaceuticals distributing free samples of the chemical for research purposes. Alfred Hubbard read a report discussing the hallucinogenic effects of the then-obscure drug and tried it in 1951. He became known as the first true proponent for LSD outside of the research world after realizing that it could be used to explore the depths of the human psyche. He began researching and distributing the compound, eventually swapping his LSD for psilocybin, the psychoactive chemical in certain mushrooms, being studied by a Harvard psychologist, Dr. Timothy Leary.

Leary went on to become the most high-profile researcher and proponent of the drug, eventually losing his position at Harvard for the controversial nature of his advocacy. He published The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead with Richard Alpert in 1964, a work that compared the nature of tripping to the spiritual experience of birth and rebirth detailed in the Tibetan tome. He advocated for students to “Turn on, tune in, and drop out,” a message that was picked up by the counterculture and perpetuated with the rising prevalence of acid parties.

Ken Kesey served as a medical guinea pig testing LSD and other psychoactive drugs in the 1950’s (at the time, the CIA was also testing LSD as a weapon as part of its MKUltra program, thinking that it could be used as “truth sermon” or to incapacitate enemy forces). After publishing One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest in 1962, a book detailing his experiences during the research project, the financial success of the book allowed him to move to California, where he began hosting a series of “Acid Tests” in San Francisco along with his gang of Merry Pranksters. Enter the Grateful Dead, then known as The Warlocks, who served as the house band for these tests, during which attendees dropped acid and explored LSD’s mind-altering effects. After LSD was made illegal in 1968, there were few chemists who could successfully create the illegal compound. Owsley Stanley was one such chemist who nailed down how to synthesize the drug, serving as the supplier for Kesey’s acid tests as well as the sound technician for the Grateful Dead. 

With the Grateful Dead—declassified government documents reveal that the FBI cited the archetypal jam band as the country’s introduction to LSD—and other psychedelic rock juggernauts like Jimi HendrixPink FloydThe Beatles, and Jefferson Airplane at the helm of the counterculture revolution of the 60s and beyond, increasingly, the government became worried about the use of the drug, associating it with the anti-war sentiment and viewing it as a threat to American middle class, traditional values. After Dr. Sidney Cohen, a doctor who tested the psychoanalytical capabilities of the compound, testified before Congress in 1966 and declared that the drug was dangerous in the wrong hands, LSD was made illegal in 1967.

While the counterculture raged on, with time the popularity of LSD subsided in the 80s, as other drugs became en vogue. However, as the turn of the new millennium approached, so did the youth’s interest in the psychedelic compound, with the drug reemerging in popularity in the 90’s and into the 2000’s through to now.

Considering LSD’s rich 75-year history, its no wonder that some of the most exciting artists in modern psychedelia are gearing up for a celebration. On Bicycle Day proper, April 19th, the event will return to its home at The Midway in San Francisco, the larger venue that the event moved to last year. The following day, on April 20th—which has become a holiday for users of a different (sometimes) illegal substance—the party will move south and take over The Mayan in Los Angeles. Rounding out the weekend, the Bicycle Day tour will hit New Orleans for a performance at the Joy Theater on April 21st. Tickets for the various stops on the Bicycle Day 75th Anniversary tour are currently on sale. For the 4/19 San Francisco show, head here. For the 4/20 Los Angeles show, click here. For the 4/21 New Orleans show, head here.