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Humphry Osmond

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 18 March 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:713

Psychiatrist who investigated LSD, “turned on” Aldous Huxley, and coined the word “psychedelic”

Humphry Osmond was at the cutting edge of psychiatric research in the 1950s. He believed that hallucinogenic drugs might be useful in treating mental illness and he studied the effects of LSD on people with alcohol dependency. His investigations led to his association with the novelist Aldous Huxley and to involvement with the CIA and MI6, which were interested in LSD as a possible “truth drug” to make enemy agents reveal secrets.

Was Osmond ahead of his time? His work was cut short by the 1960s drugs backlash, and only now is his work with hallucinogens being looked at with new interest.

Humphry Osmond was born in Surrey in 1917 and graduated from Guy's Hospital Medical School. During the second world war he served in the navy as a ship's psychiatrist. After the war, at St George's Hospital, he and Dr John Smythies learnt of the chemist Albert Hofmann's work with the hallucinogenic drug LSD-25 in Switzerland. They thought schizophrenia might be caused by metabolic aberrations producing symptoms …

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