The drug discovery behind International Bicycle Day

The drug discovery behind International Bicycle Day

When we think about getting around by bike, we associate it with exercising, breathing in fresh air, and improving our health… Few of us know that International Bicycle Day is related to a drug discovery.

Since it was invented by Germany’s Karl von Drais, people have taken to the bicycle as one of their favorite forms of transportation, whether for daily journeys, recreation, or exercise. There are over a billion bikes around the world today and they are the principal form of transportation in countries including China and India.

The look of bikes has changed visibly over the years. At first they didn’t have a handlebar or pedals, so riders would push off with their feet and handle the bike with a swivel steering system. The wheels have also gone through different phases over time and their sizes have changed significantly. The materials used have been regularly replaced by other, more resistant and lightweight ones. We can’t talk about the ‘final phase’ of the bicycle as it is still evolving. Its use is also changing: for example, a bike dedicated to Olympic competition will be very different from a mountain bike.

Despite these differences, what bikes do have in common is that these days almost  everyoneknows that a bicycle comprises two wheels, a handlebar, a pedal transmission system and aseat. But do you know why 19 April is known as International Bicycle Day? The answer can be summed up in two words: Albert Hofmann.

Hofmann was a Swiss chemist famous around the world for discovering lysergic acid diethylamide, popularly known as LSD. On 16 April 1943 he synthesized and ingested a few drops of LSD while working in his laboratory. To fully check what would happen, three days later he deliberately took a 250mcg dose of LSD and experienced its effects while riding home on a bike.

This trip, which took place on 19 April 1943, was one of the most recorded and commented-on in history, as Hofmann suffered scenes of panic and his mind played tricks on him, making him believe the furniture was moving. The experience made him think he had lost his mind, so he went to the doctor’s, who couldn’t find any abnormal symptom except for extremely dilated pupils.

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