Dr. Albert A. Kurland, a distinguished research psychiatrist, a former director of the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center at Spring Grove State Hospital and an advocate of LSD therapy, died Sunday of cardiac failure at North Oaks retirement community. He was 94.
Dr. Kurland, the son of Eastern European immigrants, was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. He later was sent to live with relatives in Baltimore, where he graduated from City College in 1932.
He was a 1940 graduate of the University of Maryland Medical School and completed an internship at the old Sinai Hospital in East Baltimore.
Dr. Kurland was drafted into the Army in 1941 and served as an assistant battalion surgeon with Gen. George S. Patton Jr.'s 3rd Army in the Tunisian and Italian campaigns.
In an article that was published in The Evening Sun in 1943, Dr. Kurland wrote that captured records showed that, while the Nazis were "beset with typhus, there were no cases among the American troops who lived under the same conditions."
He wrote that he attributed this to "rigorous training and physical conditioning, along with the use of the most advanced medical practices."
He wrote that the Germans prevented removal of American wounded from the battlefield by maintaining constant fire, and it was only after "nightfall that we could go out and gather them in."
"Many wounded had to stay in foxholes a whole day before we could get to them. However, there were very few cases of shock, and the use of sulfanilamide, which all soldiers carried, was of immeasurable help in cutting down our casualties," Dr. Kurland wrote.
A recipient of the Legion of Merit and discharged with the rank of captain in 1946, Dr. Kurland returned to Baltimore and completed his psychiatric training at Spring Grove State Hospital in Catonsville.
In the late 1940s, Dr. Kurland was appointed director of medical research at Spring Grove.
He was named the first director of the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, which was built on the grounds of Spring Grove by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in 1970.
In 1954, Dr. Kurland told The Sun that Thorazine, then a new drug, "must be considered an important and effective agent in the treatment of chronic, agitated, severe mental cases."
A decade later, Dr. Kurland reported that lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD, was effective in treating alcoholism with "careful and controlled use of LSD in combination with intensive psychotherapy."
From 1963 to 1976, Dr. Kurland led exploratory studies using LSD at Spring Grove, concluding them later at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center.
"He was the world's expert on LSD. He had the idea that it could be used in helping those addicted to alcohol and drugs," said Dr. Irving J. Taylor, a longtime friend and colleague, who in 1939 founded Taylor Manor Hospital, which since 2002 has been Sheppard Pratt at Ellicott City.
"He had used LSD in these cases and found that it gave patients a better quality of life and that it really made a difference in some patients," said Dr. Taylor, who is now retired.
"LSD has two images. The predominant public one is of an evil arising from the tragic consequences of casual use. The little-known one comes from its experimental uses as a therapeutic agent in medicine and specifically psychiatry," Dr. Kurland wrote in a 1979 op-ed article in The Sun. "As yet, however, despite the promise that LSD's unique and dramatic effects have held out, experiments seeking to use the powerful psychological forces of the LSD experience for man's benefit have been engulfed in uncertainty."
Dr. Kurland hoped that future use of LSD and research would lead to "effective therapies that will heal - more quickly and comfortably - the psychic wounds that leave so many people handicapped and alienated," he wrote.
After retiring from the state in the early 1980s, Dr. Kurland joined the staff at Taylor Manor, where worked as a researcher until retiring again in 2002.
"He was a mild-mannered person who had a wonderful, dry sense of humor," Dr. Taylor recalled. "Because he was always excellent when it came to dealing with patients with whom he was very empathetic, they felt comfortable with him."
Substance abuse issues still fascinated Dr. Kurland, who was working on a book at his death, LSD: An Investigational Odyssey.
Dr. Kurland, a longtime resident of the Elmont Condominium on Park Heights Avenue before moving to North Oaks in 2004, was an avid theatergoer and enjoyed attending concerts of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
He was a member of Temple Oheb Shalom.
Services were yesterday.
Dr. Kurland is survived by his wife of 67 years, the former Hannah Fischer; a son, Michael Kurland of Boston; a daughter, Marilyn Rosenstein of Baltimore; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun
December 9, 2008