Sandoz Pharmaceuticals

Sandoz is an international pharmaceutical company based in Basel, Switzerland, famed as the site of LSD’s discovery in 1938. Founded in 1886, Sandoz originally specialized in manufacturing saccharine and dyes. Today, Sandoz is a subsidiary of Novartis, which originated in 1996 when Sandoz merged with Ciba-Geigy. 

The Sandoz pharmaceutical department opened in 1917 under the directorship of Dr. Arthur Stoll. At that time, Stoll successfully isolated a compound called aotamine from ergot, a toxic fungus in grains. Aotamine was found to have medical value in its ability to induce constriction in muscles and blood vessels, properties which were later harnessed by Stoll’s isolation of ergotamine and ergobasine.

Thus began a lucrative period for Sandoz as ergotamine was sold as an obstetrics treatment to facilitate childbirth, induce abortions, and for other blood staunching applications. Today, it remains prescribed for vascular headaches. The complete structures of ergotamine and related alkaloids were published by Stoll, Albert Hofmann, and Theodor Petrzilka in 1951.1

In 1929, Sandoz hired Albert Hofmann. He and other Sandoz researchers identified lysergic acid as the common chemical basis among all the biologically active ergot compounds.  

Hofmann’s research on other ergot alkaloids deepened in the mid-1930s. According to an obituary for Hofmann in Planta Medica, Hofmann converted ergotamine to ergometrine using lysergic acid as an intermediate.2 Sandoz developed methylergometrine from this synthesis, an improved treatment for postpartum bleeding. Hofmann’s research also found that “dihydro” derivatives were more resistant to light and oxygen degradation, and led to treatments for hypertension, circulatory disorders, and migraines.1 

In 1938, Hofmann synthesized LSD-25 among other ergot compounds and analogs from lysergic acid.3 Manipulation of various lysergic acid derivatives supported the basis of unique pharmaceuticals including dopaminergics, which treat Parkinson’s disease.

Five years later, on April 16, 1943, Hofmann accidentally discovered LSD’s psychedelic effects while experimenting in the Sandoz laboratory. Days later, he took an intentional dose, marking the historic Bicycle Day. Hofmann described his experiences under LSD’s influence in his book LSD- My Problem Child. A Psychedelic Science Review article also summarizes lesser-known facts about Hofmann’s discovery of LSD. Sandoz began clinical trials on the substance at the University Psychiatric Clinic in Zurich in 1947. 

During World War II, Sandoz selectively bred rye plant strains and launched a large-scale production operation of LSD. The company later marketed it under the name “Delysid” to induce psychoses and treat schizophrenia. A 1964 catalog released by Sandoz described Delysid’s use “in analytical psychotherapy to elicit release of repressed material and to provide mental relaxation, particularly in anxiety states and obsessional neuroses.” 4 

Delysid was taken off the market in 1965 after LSD had escaped the labs and fueled the counterculture zeitgeist of the 1960s. According to Oxford University Press, the explosion of interest in LSD generated nearly 10,000 publications on the substance by 1970. 

In 1957, Franz Troxler and Albert Hofmann synthesized ALD-52 (an ergoline relative of LSD) and 2-Bromo-LSD (also a relative of LSD and a serotonin receptor antagonist).5 Two years later,  Troxler and Hofmann synthesized psilocybin and psilocin6 and patented the synthesis methods along with that for psilacetin (4-AcO-DMT) in 1963.7  Sandoz began producing psilocybin pills under the name Indocybin in 1960. 

Long after Hofmann’s retirement, his research in indole alkaloids supported the development of a variety of drugs including pindolol, a beta-blocker, tropisetron, an antiemetic, and tegaserod, an irritable bowel syndrome treatment.1 Over the years Sandoz has manufactured antipsychotics including Clozapine, Mesoridazine, and Thioridazine. The latter two were withdrawn from the market in 2004 and 2005, respectively due to their severe side effects. 

The Sandoz website does not mention its history with psychedelic pharmaceuticals.