Humphry Osmond

From Academic Kids

Dr. Humphry Fortescue Osmond (July 1, 1917 - February 6, 2004) was a British psychiatrist, known for coining the word psychedelic and his groundbreaking research in using psychedelic drugs in medical research.

Dr. Osmond was born in Surrey. As a young man he worked for an architect and attended Guy's Hospital Medical School of the University of London. During World War II, Dr. Osmond trained to become a psychiatrist, while active a surgeon-lieutenant in the Navy.

Osmond and his colleague John Smythies had perceived a similarity between the effects of LSD and the early stages of schizophrenia. The psychology community in England was then still dominated by Freudians and unsympathetic to such ideas. In 1951 he and Smythies emigrated to Saskatchewan to join the staff of a large custodial mental institution in the remote town of Weyburn, reportedly the largest building between Vancouver and Winnipeg. The average length of patient stay at Weyburn was 20 to 25 years.

At Weyburn, Osmond gathered a group of forward-thinking research psychologists, turned the provincial hospital into a design research laboratory, and conducted a wide variety of patient studies and observations. The best-known is his contribution to psychedelics. In 1952, Osmond related the similarity of mescaline to adrenaline molecules, in a theory which implied that schizophrenia might be a form of self-intoxication caused by one's own body. In 1953 Osmond provided English author Aldous Huxley with a dose of mescaline, and Huxley's enthusiastic book-length trip report called "The Doors of Perception", describing the look of the Hollywood Hills and his reactions to artwork while under the influence, is a popular landmark text in psychedelic drug culture. Osmond is coyly referred to, but not named, in the book.

Osmond first offered the term "psychedelic" at a meeting of the New York Academy of Sciences in 1957. He said the word meant "mind manifesting" and called it "clear, euphonious and uncontaminated by other associations." Huxley had sent Osmond a rhyme containing his own suggested coinage: "To make this trivial world sublime, take half a gram of phanerothyme." (Thymos means soul in Greek.) Rejecting that, Osmond countered: "To fathom Hell or soar angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelic."

Osmond is also known for one study in the late 1950s in which he attempted to cure alcoholics with acute LSD treatment, resulting in a claimed 50% success rate. He also treated Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill W. with LSD with positive results.

Beyond his interest in drugs, Osmond conducted research into the long-term effects of institutionalization, and began a line of research into what he called "socio-architecture" to improve patient settings, coining the terms "sociofugal" and "sociopedal", starting Robert Sommer's career, and making fundamental contributions to environmental psychology almost by accident.

Later, Osmond became director of the Bureau of Research in Neurology and Psychiatry at the New Jersey Psychiatric Institute in Princeton, and then a professor of psychology at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. Dr. Osmond co-wrote eleven books and was widely published throughout his career.

Osmond died of cardiac arrhythmia in 2004.

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