Humphry Osmond

Humphry Osmond

Infobox Scientist
name = Humphrey Osmond

image_width = 250px
caption = Photographed by BETTMAN/CORBIS
birth_date = birth date|1917|7|1
birth_place =
death_date = death date and age|2004|2|6|1917|7|1
death_place =
residence = UK, Canada, USA
citizenship =

field = Psychiatry & Psychology

known_for = Coining the terms Psychedelic and LSD Therapy, acting as a go-between for the Native American Church and non-Native people

Humphrey Fortescue Osmond (July 1, 1917 - February 6, 2004) was a British psychiatrist, known for inventing the word "psychedelic" and for his groundbreaking research in using psychedelic drugs in medical research. Osmond also explored aspects of the psychology of social environments, in particular how they influenced welfare or recovery within mental institutions.


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

Work with hallucinogens

After the War, LSD was among many new, interesting drugs. 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 those unsympathetic to such ideas. In 1951, Osmond and Smythies emigrated to Saskatchewan, Canada to join the staff of a large custodial mental institution 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, and conducted a wide variety of patient studies and observations. The best-known is his contribution to the study of 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. [Martin, Douglas. Friday, August 22, 2008 "Humphry Osmond, 86, Who Sought Medicinal Value in Psychedelic Drugs, Dies". New York: "New York Times"] 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 reactions to artwork while under the influence. Though Osmond is not named, it is believed that he is referred to 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" (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 'spritedness' in Greek.) Osmond countered with "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, claiming a 50% success rate. [Martin, Douglas. Friday, August 22, 2008 "Humphry Osmond, 86, Who Sought Medicinal Value in Psychedelic Drugs, Dies". New York: "New York Times"] One of his patients was reported to be Bill W., co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Involvement with the Native American Church

Osmond was open-minded, curious, and adventurous enough to participate in a Native American Church ceremony in which he ingested peyote. 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 Native hosts, and his conjecture as to the meaning for them of the experience and of the Native American Church. Osmond wrote appreciatively of the genuine depth of the ceremony for modern Native people.

Other interests

Beyond his interest in drug- and vitamin-assisted therapeutics, 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.


External links

*Obituary: [ BMJ. 2004 Mar 20;328(7441):713.]

*MAPS: [ A Tribute to Dr. Humphry Osmond, Psychiatrist, 1917-2004]

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