THE SUBSTANCE: ALBERT HOFMANN’S LSD (Martin Witz). 90 minutes. Opens Friday (April 19) at the Big Picture Cinema. See Indie & Rep Film. Rating: NNNN
LSD is 70 years old now, and you'll be surprised to learn what an eventful life it's had. The Substance, a fascinating doc about its history, takes you on a trip through time, from the drug's discovery in 1943 right through to its most modern applications to treat cancer patients' anxiety.
Accidentally formulated by chemist Albert Hofmann, who was researching medicine for blood circulation, LSD played several roles before it was dropped by hippies looking for psychedelic euphoria.
Hofmann, interviewed right before he turned 100, had hoped the drug could be used for psychiatric research, but others had different intentions. The CIA thought it might have a truth serum on its hands. Meanwhile, the Army saw it as an effective chemical weapon: why kill enemy troops when you could just turn them into Jimi Hendrix fans?
Director Martin Witz did his homework. This thoroughly researched doc includes fantastic archival footage, some of it dark (about LSD in psychiatric clinics) and some hilarious (the Army experiments on soldiers who subsequently can't follow commands).
There's plenty of room for giggles even before the hippies enter the picture, though the film never takes its subject lightly. It takes its cues from Hofmann, who looks back on his discovery with dismay as something he wishes he could un-invent.