Abram Hoffer died in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, on May 27, 2009, after a brief illness.
Born November 11, 1917, on a farm in Hoffer, Saskatchewan, he attended a one-room school house and studied on horseback, eventually graduating from the University of Saskatchewan (BSA, MSA), the University of Minnesota (PhD), and the University of Toronto (MD). He specialized in psychiatry and for many years was 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 coauthored research on the genetics of schizophrenia with the renowned geneticist Ernst Mayer. He codiscovered 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 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, 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 in 2001. He is survived by his daughter, Miriam (and her husband Guy Ewing); his son John (and his wife Yehudit Silverman); and four grandchildren: Adam, Megan, Joshua, and Rebecca.
We are immensely grateful to the nurses and physicians on West 2 of the Royal Jubilee Hospital. We are indebted to Dr. James Spence for his thoughtful and compassionate attention. At his request, the funeral will be private. Donations may be sent to the International Schizophrenia Foundation, founded by Abram Hoffer.
International Schizophrenia Foundation
16 Florence Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M2N 1E9 Canada
John Hoffer, MD, PhD