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Humphry Osmond

Humphry Osmond
Born (1917-07-01)1 July 1917
Died 6 February 2004(2004-02-06) (aged 86)
Appleton, Wisconsin
Residence UK, Canada, U.S.
Fields Psychiatry and psychology
Known for Psychedelic therapy, Socio-architecture theory
Spouse Jane Roffey Osmond (1924-2009)

Humphry Fortescue Osmond (1 July 1917 – 6 February 2004) was a British psychiatrist known for inventing the word psychedelic and for his research into interesting and useful applications for psychedelic drugs. Osmond also explored aspects of the psychology of social environments, in particular how they influenced welfare or recovery in mental institutions.


  • Biography 1
    • Work with psychedelics 1.1
    • Involvement with the Native American Church 1.2
    • Other interests 1.3
  • See also 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


Osmond was born in Surrey and educated at Haileybury.[1] As a young man, he worked for an architect and attended Guy's Hospital Medical School at King's College London. While active as a surgeon-lieutenant in the Navy during World War II, Osmond trained to become a psychiatrist.

Work with psychedelics

After the war, Osmond and his colleague John Smythies perceived a similarity between the effects of LSD and the early stages of schizophrenia. In 1951, Osmond and Smythies moved to Saskatchewan, Canada to join the staff of the Weyburn Mental Hospital in the southeastern city of Weyburn, Saskatchewan.

At Weyburn, Osmond recruited a group of research psychologists to turn the hospital into a design-research laboratory. There, he conducted a wide variety of patient studies and observations using hallucinogenic drugs, collaborating with Abram Hoffer and others. 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. He collected the biographies of recovered schizophrenics, and he held that psychiatrists can only understand the schizophrenic by understanding the rational way the mind makes sense of distorted perceptions. He pursued this idea with passion, exploring all avenues to gain insight into the shattered perceptions of schizophrenia, holding that the illness arises primarily from distortions of perception. Yet during the same period, Osmond became aware of the potential of psychedelics to foster mind-expanding and mystical experiences.

In 1953, Aldous Huxley was long-since a renowned British-born poet and playwright who, in his twenties had achieved success as a novelist and widely published essayist. He had lived in the U.S. for well over a decade and had some experience with screenwriting for Hollywood films. Huxley had initiated a correspondence with Osmond, and eventually asked him to supply a dose of mescaline.

In May of that year, Osmond traveled to the Los Angeles area for a conference and, while there, provided Huxley with the requested dose of mescaline and supervised the ensuing experience in the author's home neighborhood.[2] As a result of his experience, Huxley produced an enthusiastic book called The Doors of Perception, describing the look of the Hollywood Hills and his responses to artwork while under the influence. Osmond's name appears in four footnotes in the early pages of the book (in references to articles Osmond had written regarding medicinal use of hallucinogenic drugs).

Osmond was respected and trusted enough that in 1955 he was approached by Christopher Mayhew (later, Baron Mayhew), a British politician, and guided Mayhew through a mescaline trip that was filmed for broadcast by the BBC.[3]

Osmond and Abram Hoffer were taught a way to "maximize the LSD experience" by the influential layman Al Hubbard, who came to Weyburn. Thereafter they adopted some of Hubbard's methods.[4]

Humphry Osmond first proposed the term "psychedelic" at a meeting of the New York Academy of Sciences in 1957. He said the word meant "mind manifesting" (from "mind", ψυχή (psyche), and "manifest", δήλος (delos)) and called it "clear, euphonious and uncontaminated by other associations." Huxley had sent Osmond a rhyme containing his own suggested invented word: "To make this trivial world sublime, take half a gram of phanerothyme" (thymos meaning 'spiritedness' in Greek.) Osmond countered with "To fathom Hell or soar angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelic."[5][6]

Osmond is also known for a study in the late 1950s in which he attempted to cure alcoholics with LSD. He claimed to have achieved a fifty-percent success rate. Osmond noticed that some drinkers were only able to give up drinking after an episode of delirium tremens and tried to replicate this state in patients through giving them high doses of the drug. This came to be known as the psychedelic treatment model, contrasted to the psycholytic model that used low doses to help release repressed material from the mind which it was hoped would help the psychotherapeutic process.[7] One of Osmond's patients during this time was Bill W., co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. However, what with the growing reputation for psychedelics' potential for enabling spiritual insight, rather than a delirium tremens type of experience, Bill W. hoped to recapture a mystical state of consciousness that he had experienced, years earlier, without a drug.[8]

Involvement with the Native American Church

Osmond participated in a Native American Church ceremony in which he ingested peyote. His hosts were Plains Indians, members of the Red Pheasant Band, and the all-night ceremony took place near North Battleford (in the region of the South Saskatchewan River). Osmond published his report on the experience in Tomorrow magazine, Spring 1961. He reported details of the ceremony, the environment in which it took place, the effects of the peyote, the courtesy of his hosts, and his conjectures concerning the meaning for them of the experience and of the Native American Church.[9]

Other interests

Peripherally related to his interest in drug-assisted therapeutics, Osmond conducted research on the long-term effects of institutionalization. He had interpreted and described the peyote ceremony he'd experienced, with its tepee setting and its particular social pattern, in terms that drew attention to its contrast with the psychiatric institutions of his day. Osmond began a line of research into what he called "socio-architecture" to improve patient settings, coining the terms "sociofugal" and "sociopetal", starting Robert Sommer's career, and contributing to environmental psychology. (Sociofugal refers to a grouping of people arranged so that each can see and interact with the others, while sociopetal refers to a grouping of people arranged so that each can maintain some privacy from the others.)

Osmond's interests included the application of Jung's Typology of personality to group dynamics. He and Richard Smoke developed refinements of Jung's typology and applied them to analysis of the presidents and other world figures. Osmond had also studied parapsychology.

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.

See also


  1. ^ Humphry Osmond obituary
  2. ^ Martin, Douglas. Friday, 22 August 2008 "Humphry Osmond, 86, Who Sought Medicinal Value in Psychedelic Drugs, Dies". New York: New York Times Retrieved 2014-02-14
  3. ^
  4. ^ Hoffer, Abram."Hoffer on Hubbard" excerpt from an interview with Abram Hoffer, PhD. on YouTube Retrieved 17 June 2014
  5. ^ Tanne, Janice Hopkins 2004 Humphry Osmond. PMC/U.S. National Library of Medicine download date: 09/04/2014
  6. ^ Murray, Nicholas 2003 Aldous Huxley: A Biography. Thomas Dunne ISBN 0312302371
  7. ^ Grob, Charles S. Psychiatric Research with Hallucinogens: What have we learned? Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness, Issue 3, 1994
  8. ^ Novak, Steven J. "LSD before Leary: Sidney Cohen's Critique of 1950s Psychedelic Drug Research." Isis 88 (1997): 87-110. JSTOR. Web. 29 Apr. 2010. .
  9. ^ Aaronson, Bernard, and Osmond, Humphry. Psychedelics: The Uses and Implications of Hallucinogenic Drugs. 1970. Anchor Books. Double Day and Company, Inc. Garden City, New York. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 70-103788.

External links

  • Obituary: BMJ. 2004 Mar 20;328(7441):713.
  • MAPS: A Tribute to Dr. Humphry Osmond, Psychiatrist, 1917-2004
  • Erowid's Section on Osmond
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