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American Women's Club of Hamburg

The Substance-Albert Hoffmann’s LSD


Starts November 16

Original languages: English, German, Czech

This documentary tells the story of the drug LSD. In the year 1943, the Swiss chemist Albert Hoffmann was looking for a drug that stabilizes the circulation. He isolated substances from ergot, a parasitic fungus that grows on rye. By coincidence, and in a self-experiment, he discovered LSD. Amazed by the potency of the substance on the senses, and potentially on consciousness, he sent out samples to research facilities and psychiatrists. From there, LSD starts out as a promising new drug to heal mental illnesses, but is also discovered by the “flower power” generation, who, along with one of its gurus, Timothy Leary, discovers a new mantra: “turn on, tune in, drop out”. Due to its quality to produce “trips”, LSD becomes a forbidden substance in the 1960s. Forty years later, scientists start clinical trials with LSD on cancer patients who are terminally ill, in order to further explore LSD’s potential healing properties.

The Substance was an interesting account about the history of LSD, including footage from famous LSD promoters like Stanislav Groff and Timothy Leary. However, it also felt a little bit like a promotional video in favor of LSD as a healing drug. Apart from all attempts to demonize LSD as a morally corrupt substance, I would have liked to see a little bit more about the other side of the story: trips gone wrong, flashbacks and escapes from reality. It is true, indigenous cultures seem to have used psychoactive drugs in rituals in order to expand their consciousness and communicate with deities for thousands of years unharmed. But what does the drug actually do to people’s lives: just mess with the senses or really expand consciousness? That, this film barely begins to answer. 

Directed by Martin Witz, written by Martin Witz

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