Weyburn Experiments With LSD
Published on Tuesday, 20 Feb 2007
in the Prince Albert Daily Herald (CN SN)
By: Paul Spasoff
The psychedelic era did not begin in New York. Nor did it get its start in London or Paris.
Instead, it began in Saskatchewan – Weyburn, to be exact.
Psychedelic was a term coined by Dr. Humphry F. Osmond from the use of lysergic acid diethylamide – better known as LSD – in medical research in the southern Saskatchewan community. Eventually the word would become synonymous with an entire culture in the 1960s.
Following the Second World War, LSD was among the drugs that interested Osmond and his colleagues in their research into mental illness.
Their studies led them to consider that the mind-altering effects of LSD were similar to those encountered by schizophrenics.
As such, they believed a drug-induced psychosis could provide psychiatrists with a greater insight into the mental illness.
With little support for his efforts in England, Osmond headed overseas in 1951 to continue his work in Canada. After accepting an appointment at the mental hospital in Weyburn, Osmond teamed up with Dr. Abram Hoffer, who was conducting similar research.
By the time Osmond arrived in Weyburn, the facility had already developed a reputation for its mental health care.
The hospital, which was reportedly the largest building in the province when it opened in 1921, was considered to be on the cutting edge in its approach to treatment.
Electric shock therapy and lobotomies were among the treatments employed.
Similar to the studies in England, Osmond, Hoffer and the other members of the research team conducted many personal trials with LSD. Friends, family and members of the surrounding community were also brought in to participate.
Comparing the reports from these participants with accounts from people suffering from schizophrenia, Osmond and Hoffer concluded the experiences were very similar.
From schizophrenia, the doctors soon expanded their work to alcohol dependency.
Research at the time indicated that hallucinations suffered by some alcoholics helped them quit drinking. Osmond and Hoffer reasoned that LSD could help simulate these hallucinations.
From 1953 to 1960, thousands of alcoholics underwent treatment under controlled conditions. The results showed that nearly half of the people treated still abstained from alcohol more than a year later.
Their approach was also endorsed by one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, who had received treatment.
The Central Intelligence Agency and MI-6 – Britain’s secret service – also showed an interest in the work, but for different reasons. They were interested in using LSD as a truth drug on enemy agents.
Around the same time, Osmond brought in the term psychedelic. Not satisfied with the implications of words such as hallucination and psychosis, he came up with psychedelic to describe the full range of effects of mind-altering drugs.
Although their work was endorsed in some circles, it came under attack in others. Similar trials conducted by other groups did not reproduce the results, while the conservative medical community also failed to embrace their findings.
Social unrest ultimately brought an end to the research.
The use of recreational drugs was blamed for many of society’s ills in the 1960s, resulting in laws that restricted access to the drugs – even for research purposes.
Leaving Weyburn behind, Osmond moved on to the New Jersey Psychiatric Institute before becoming a professor at the University of Alabama.
He died in 2004 at the age of 86.
The Prince Albert Daily Herald published an article about the pioneering psychedelic research program at the University of Saskatchewan’s Weyburn Hospital in the 1950s and 60s, led by Dr. Humphrey Osmond.