Dr. Abram Hoffer and Orthomolecular Psychiatry
Born November 11, 1917 on a farm in Hoffer, Saskatchewan, Abram Hoffer attended a one-room schoolhouse and studied on horseback, eventually graduating from the University of Saskatchewan (BSA, MSA), the University of Minnesota (PhD) and the University of Toronto (MD).
Dr. Hoffer specialized in psychiatry, was director of psychiatric research for the Saskatchewan Department of Public Health and associate professor of medicine at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon. During this time he carried out groundbreaking research and authored more than 500 peer-reviewed and popular articles, and more than 30 academic monographs and popular books. He challenged the then-dominant view that schizophrenia was as a psychological disorder caused by poor upbringing, and contributed importantly to the formation of the field of neuropsychopharmacology.
Dr. Hoffer co-authored research on the genetics of schizophrenia with the renowned geneticist, Ernst Mayer. He co-discovered the first effective lipid-lowering agent, the B vitamin niacin. He developed a controversial treatment for acute schizophrenia based on the principles of respect, shelter, sound nutrition, appropriate medication and the administration of large doses of certain water-soluble vitamins, in the process carrying out among the first controlled clinical trials in psychiatry. He advanced a plausible biochemical hypothesis to explain the cause of schizophrenia and how niacin and vitamin C could eliminate its symptoms and prevent relapses.
Intrigued by the concept of metabolic “models of madness,” he and his research colleagues, notably his close collaborator Humphry Osmond, studied the properties of the hallucinogens and pioneered the use of LSD, which in conjunction with skilled compassionate psychotherapy, was found to be an effective treatment for alcoholism. His work with alcoholism led to a close friendship with Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. He organized a self-help organization for people with schizophrenia, Schizophrenics Anonymous. Participants at SA meetings occasionally exchanged the friendly greeting, “Salutations and hallucinations!” His colleague and friend, the American chemist Linus Pauling, championed the biochemical model for treating schizophrenia that was developed in Saskatchewan and provided a conceptual underpinning for the notion that large doses of certain naturally occurring substances can favorably alter disordered brain biochemistry, coining the term “orthomolecular psychiatry.”
Abram Hoffer moved to Victoria in 1976 where he practiced psychiatry for many years, becoming a founding member and president of the Senior Physicians Association of British Columbia. Sometimes criticized from afar for his controversial views, he was beloved by his many patients and close colleagues. He devoted his life to the goal of curing – not palliating – schizophrenia.
Abram Hoffer died in Victoria, BC on May 27, 2009 after a brief illness.
by John Hoffer, MD, PhD