A GIANT LEAVES US: ABRAM HOFFER, 1917-2009
Abram Hoffer, Canadian orthomolecular psychiatrist and researcher, friend of Linus Pauling, Ph.D, and editor of the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, died in Victoria, British Columbia on Wednesday, May 27 after a brief illness and a long, healthy, productive and brilliant life.
He was 92.
In a release announcing the death of Dr. Hoffer, the Alliance for Natural Health said, "He and his co-workers are credited with discoveries about the therapeutic uses of vitamins, which are the roots of orthomolecular psychiatry and medicine as it is known today. They were also the first doctors in North America to conduct double-blind controlled tests in psychiatry, and were later the first to recognise and to publish its many defects and flaws."
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 in nutrition) and the University of Toronto (MD). He specialized in psychiatry and was, for many years, director of psychiatric research for the Saskatchewan Department of Public Health and associate professor of medicine at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon. In these capacities he carried out groundbreaking research in several areas, ultimately authoring more than 500 peer-reviewed and popular articles and more than 30 academic monographs and popular books.
He challenged the then-dominant view of schizophrenia as a psychological disorder caused by poor mothering, and contributed importantly to the formation of the field of neuropsychopharmacology. He 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. His son Bill died in 1998 and his wife Rose died in 2001.
He is survived by his daughter, Miriam (and her husband Guy Ewing), by his son John (and his wife Yehudit Silverman), and by four grandchildren: Adam, Megan, Joshua and Rebecca. At his request, the funeral will be private. Donations can be sent to the International Schizophrenia Foundation, founded by Abram Hoffer.
Photo and story Credit: Darren Stone, The Victoria Times Colonist