GENEVA — There are those few rare researchers through the ages so devoted to science that they have used their own bodies as a laboratory for their experiments. After inventing the hallucinogenic substance LSD, the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann unintentionally, and then intentionally, took doses of the drug.
In his autobiography published in 1980, Hofmann recounts the first intentional LSD trip on April 19, 1943. On that day, the young chemist ingested the new substance that he'd synthesized in his laboratory at Sandoz, of which the full effects were still unknown to him."I could not speak intelligibly. I asked my laboratory assistant to escort me to my house. On the way, my state began to assume worrying proportions. Everything that entered my field of vision shook and was distorted as if in a curved mirror. I felt like I was not moving forward. However, the lab tech later told me that we were moving very quickly."
Arriving at his home after his bike ride, he switched into a parallel universe.
He then rode his bike back home. He embarked on the first LSD "trip" in the history, paving the way for many other psychedelic and scientific experiments.
Hofmann had isolated lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in 1938 from a parasitic crop fungus, rye ergot. Initially, he dismissed the potential of this substance, not seeing its full potential. In April 1943, he returned to it. He first absorbed a tiny amount of it inadvertently, probably by rubbing his eyes. The strange sensations he was seized with would ultimately lead him to try the substance again.
Animated short of Hofmann's first LSD trip in 1943 — Video: rolie1982 on YouTube
Without knowing the strength of LSD's hallucinogenic effects, Hofmann took what he thought was a small amount, 0.25 milligrams. This is actually a massive dose. Arriving at his home after his bike ride, he switched into a parallel universe. The nice neighbor who occasionally visited him was instead transformed into "a malicious witch with a colorful mask." He struggled in vain against the altered perceptions imposed on him. "All of my attempts to put an end to the disintegration of the outside world and the dissolution of my ego seemed like lost pain," he wrote in his autobiography. Finally, the effects faded and by the next day, the chemist had returned to a nearly normal state.
Exploring the soul
A few years later, a patent on LSD was filed by Sandoz pharmaceuticals, which set out to market the substance. Its therapeutic effects were the subject of multiple scientific studies, but it was within the American counter-culture that LSD really had the most effect, starting first with the Beat Generation, then the hippies. Psychology professor and activist Timothy Leary encouraged widespread consumption, believing that LSD can help everyone achieve a higher level of consciousness. But the substance had by then acquired a troublesome reputation linked to the bad trips it can cause, and eventually was criminalized throughout the West in the late 1960s.
He dropped acid for the last time at the age of 97.
Albert Hofmann deplored the mass use of "his' drug, which he considered risky. But, all of his life, he remained convinced of the use of the LSD as a tool to not only explore the human soul, and a means to relieve the blues. This latter use is still being pursued today by a few scientists, including Solothurn psychiatrist Peter Gasser. In 2007, he studied the benefit of taking small doses of LSD to reduce anxiety brought on by fatal illness. His main intention, before evaluating the benefits of this therapeutic approach, was to show that it could be carried out safely in the practice.
As for the inventor of LSD, he does not seem to have suffered from his own psychedelic experiences. Albert Hofmann passed away at the ripe age of 102 in 2008. Two years earlier, when he celebrated his 100th birthday in Basel at a LSD conference, he announced that he dropped acid for the last time at the age of 97.
Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.
Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.
But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."
Criticism of any 'royal project'
The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.
In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
Freedom of speech at stake
"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."
The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.
The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.
Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.
Shift to social media
While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.
The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.
Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".
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