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Chemical Revolutionaries: Saskatchewan's Psychedelic-Related Experiments and the Work of Abram Hof

Chemical Revolutionaries: Saskatchewan's Psychedelic-Related Experiments and the Work of Abram Hof

  1. Calliope
    Masters Thesis, University of Regina, 2006.

    Barber, Patrick.

    For many years, the subject of Saskatchewan's experiments with psychedelic drugs (1951-61) has been the focus of popular lore. To this day, it remains a source of both curiosity and controversy. Much the same can be said of the related work of psychiatrists Humphry Osmond and Abram Hoffer and psychologist Duncan Blewett, who played a principal role in this research. Within a historical context, however, little has been provided in the way of in-depth analyses. Widespread questions and misconceptions still persist when it comes to addressing how these particular experiments originated, what types of findings they produced and the kind of response they generated within and outside of the scientific community. The goal of this thesis is to rectify this present situation.

    Through the use of the scientific literature that exists on the topic as well as the personal papers of Hoffer, Osmond and Blewett and interviews with many of the people involved, this thesis reaches a number of conclusions. It suggests that these experiments made extensive contributions to the study of psychedelic drugs and led to radical innovations in other areas like mental health. From the use of hallucinogens like mescaline and LSD as model psychoses, to the formulation of biochemical hypotheses for schizophrenia and the adoption of drugs as therapeutic adjuncts in the treatment of alcoholism, Hoffer, Osmond and Blewett broke new ground. On the other hand, critics argued that their research produced little of value outside of a few intriguing theories. Unfortunately, many of the questions that were raised by the experiments have never been fully answered. Although this thesis cannot claim to reach any definitive conclusions on the scientific findings, it can provide insight as to how the experiments evolved and why they were, and continue to be, controversial. This thesis maintains that the work of Hoffer, Osmond and Blewett resulted in some very significant accomplishments. It also attempts to show that their research can be viewed as revolutionary, both in the sense that it added to our understanding of mental illness and the human mind in general and in the way it challenged the predominant modes of scientific research.