BRATTLEBORO — A documentary exploring the history and future of LSD will become available Monday through Epsilon Spires.
The downtown arts organization will screen the film “The Substance: Albert Hofmann’s LSD” as part of its Virtual Cinema series.
April 19 is known amongst psychedelic enthusiasts as “Bicycle Day” in honor of the first time that Hofmann, then a young chemist at a Swiss pharmaceutical company, ingested a dose of a new compound he had discovered while studying ergot, a fungus that occurs on rye: diethylamide of d-lysergic acid, also known as LSD.
Initially, Hofmann felt no effects from the drug, but as he rode his bicycle home from work on that early spring evening in 1943, he began to experience a “marked desire to laugh” and see objects that “appeared distorted like the images in curved mirrors.” These observations, which he recorded later in his laboratory notebook, describe the very first LSD trip—one that would be followed by millions more in the coming decades as Hofmann’s discovery fomented a cultural revolution.
“The Substance” is a captivating exploration of the varied ways that LSD has been used — and abused — over the past 80 years. Through striking, often never-before-seen footage, the film traces the journey that LSD has made from a clinical tool embraced by psychiatrists in the 1950s to a potential chemical weapon tested by the United States military on its own soldiers.
One of the primary tensions in the film arises when LSD is adopted by the self-styled acid guru Timothy Leary, who promoted the drug for widespread recreational use in the 1960s. Hofmann believed that LSD was a powerful therapeutic substance that needed further study before being introduced to the general public. This study was made impossible when LSD was outlawed in 1966, largely as a result of Leary’s campaign to encourage an entire generation to “turn on, tune in, drop out.”
The use of LSD comes full-circle in “The Substance,” which culminates in a deeply moving exploration of its current applications in palliative medicine. Through poignant interviews with doctors and terminal cancer patients using guided LSD trips to process their feelings about death, “The Substance” makes a compelling argument for the medicinal legalization of psychedelics.
In 2019, Epsilon Spires screened the documentary “From Shock to Awe,” which examines the use of psychedelics to treat PTSD in soldiers returning from war.
“We’re excited to celebrate Albert Hofmann’s breakthrough on April 19, which has been shown in films like ‘The Substance’ and ‘From Shock to Awe’ to have incredible potential in the realms of psychological healing and spiritual discovery,” Jamie Mohr, director of Epsilon Spires, said.
The viewing period for The Substance will last until May 2. Tickets are available for $8 at epsilonspires.org.