Crowley, Mescalin and Huxley

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Read the story here for the New York Times Obituary of Humphry Osmond, who it is claimed introduced Huxley to Mescalin… Francis King, of course, claimed it was Aleister Crowley – anyone here have any knowledge or opinions?

February 22, 2004 Humphry Osmond, 86, Who Sought Medicinal Value in Psychedelic Drugs, Dies


Humphry Osmond, the psychiatrist who coined the word “psychedelic” for the drugs to which he introduced the writer and essayist Aldous Huxley, died on Feb 6 at his home in Appleton, Wis. He was 86.

The cause was cardiac arrhythmia, said his daughter Euphemia Blackburn of Appleton, where Dr Osmond moved to four years ago.

Dr. Osmond entered the history of the counterculture by supplying hallucinogenic drugs to Huxley, who ascribed mystical significance to them in his playfully thoughtful, widely read book “The Doors of Perception,” from which the rock group the Doors took its name.

But in his own view and in that of some other scientists, Dr. Osmond was most important for inspiring researchers who saw drugs like L.S.D. and mescaline as potential treatments for psychological ailments. By the mid-1960s, medical journals had published more than 1,000 papers on the subject, and Dr. Osmond’s work using L.S.D. to treat alcoholics drew particular interest.

“Osmond was a pioneer,” Dr. Charles Grob, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California School of Medicine, said in an interview. “He published some fascinating data.”

In one study, in the late 1950s, when Dr. Osmond gave L.S.D. to alcoholics in Alcoholics Anonymous who had failed to quit drinking, about half had not had a drink after a year.

“No one has ever duplicated the success rate of that study,” said Dr. John H. Halpern, associate director of substance abuse research at the McLean Hospital Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Center in Belmont, Mass., and an instructor at Harvard.

Dr. Halpern added that no one really tried. Other studies used different methodology, and the combination of flagrant youthful abuse of hallucinogens; the propagation of a flashy, otherworldly drug culture by Timothy Leary; and reports of health dangers from hallucinogens (some of which Dr. Halpern said were wrong or overstated, eventually doomed almost all research into psychedelic drugs.

Research on hallucinogens as a treatment for mental ills has re-emerged in recent years, in small projects at places like the University of Arizona, the University of South Carolina, the University of California, Los Angeles, and Harvard. Though such research was always legal, regulatory, financial and other obstacles had largely ended it.

Huxley’s reading about Dr. Osmond’s research into similarities between schizophrenia and mescaline intoxication led him to volunteer to try the drug. Dr. Osmond agreed, but later wrote that he “did not relish the possibility, however remote, of being the man who drove Aldous Huxley mad.”

So in 1953, a day Dr. Osmond described 12 years later as “delicious May morning,” he dropped a pinch of silvery white mescaline crystals in a glass of water and handed it to Huxley, the author of “Brave New World,” which described a totalitarian society in which people are controlled by drugs.

“Within two and a half hours I could see that it was acting, and after three I could see that all would go well,” Dr. Osmond wrote. He said he felt “much relieved.”

Dr. Osmond first offered his new 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 Dr. Osmond a rhyme with his own word choice: “To make this trivial world sublime, take half a gram of phanerothyme.” (Thymos means soul in Greek.)

Rejecting that, Dr. Osmond replied: “To fathom Hell or soar angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelic.”

Lester Grinspoon and James B. Bakalar in their 1979 book “Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered” pointed out that by the rules for combining Greek roots, the word should have been psychodelic. They also said that even in the late 70's, psychedelic had mostly been replaced by hallucinogenic, a vocabulary shift they said Dr. Osmond himself made.

In addition to his daughter Euphemia, Dr. Osmond is survived by his wife, Jane; a second daughter, Helen Swanson of Surrey, England; a son, Julian, of New Orleans; a sister, Dorothy Gale of Devon, England; and five grandchildren.

Fortescue Osmond was born on July 1, 1917, in Surrey. He intended to be a banker, but attended Guy’s Hospital Medical School of the University of London. In World War II, he was a surgeon-lieutenant in the Navy, where he trained to become a ship’s psychiatrist.

St. George’s Hospital in London, he and a colleague, John R. Smythies, developed the hypothesis that schizophrenia was a form of self-intoxication caused by the body’s mistakenly producing its own L.S.D.-like compounds.

When their theory was not embraced by the British mental health establishment, the two doctors moved to Canada to continue their research at Saskatchewan Hospital in Weyburn. There, they developed the idea, not widely accepted, that no one should treat schizophrenics who had not personally experienced schizophrenia.

“This it is possible to do quite easily by taking mescaline,” they wrote.

Huxley read about this work and volunteered to be studied. The research also directly inspired other scientists, Dr. Halpern said.

“There was a certain point where almost every major psychiatrist wanted to do hallucinogen research,” Dr. Halpern said, adding that in the early 1960s, it was recommended that psychiatric residents take a dose to understand psychosis better.

Perhaps the most famous psychedelic researcher was Dr. Oscar Janiger, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist, who gave L.S.D. to Cary Grant, Jack Nicholson and, again, Huxley.

Dr. Halpern said that today’s understanding of serotonin, a neurotransmitter important in causing and alleviating depression, grew out of research into the effect of L.S.D. on the brain. L.S.D. and serotonin are chemically similar.

Dr. Osmond’s most important work involved alcoholism research, done with Abram Hoffer, a colleague at Weyburn. Originally, they thought L.S.D. would terrify alcoholics by causing symptoms akin to delirium tremens. Instead, they found it opened them to radical personal transformation.

“One conception of psychedelic theory for alcoholics is that L.S.D. can truly accomplish the transcendence that is repeatedly and unsuccessfully sought in drunkenness,” “Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered” suggested in 1979.

Bill Wilson, a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, met Dr. Osmond and took L.S.D. himself, strongly agreeing that it could help many alcoholics.

Canada to become 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. He mainly studied schizophrenia but was disappointed he could not pursue his research into hallucinogens, Mrs. Blackburn, his daughter, said.

“I’m sure he was very saddened by it,” she said. “It could have helped millions of people.”

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