(Editor's Note: Dr.
Hoffer (1917-2009) was my mentor, coauthor and friend.
I was born on a farm in Southern
Saskatchewan in 1917 in our first wooden house. My three older
siblings were born in a sod shack. Public and high school education was
completed in single room schools.
I combined my new interest in
biochemistry with my original interest in agriculture by taking a Masters
degree in agricultural chemistry in 1940 at the University
of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. On a graduate scholarship I
studied for the following year at the St. Paul
campus of the University of Minnesota, and then worked at a flour laboratory in
developing chemical assay methods for thiamine in flour and other wheat products,
and running the control analysis to ensure that the correct quantity of
vitamins was added to the flour. I did my research toward my Ph.D. in this
laboratory and received my degree in 1944.
By then I had become interested in
human nutrition and enrolled in medicine at the University of Saskatchewan
in 1945. For a few days before I finally registered I was shaken by an offer
by Dr. T. Thorvaldson, Head Department of
Chemistry, to accept a job as Professor of Agricultural Chemistry at a salary
of $2700 per year. The salary was acceptable, but as my plans had already
been made I maintained my resolution to take medicine.
I married Rose Miller in 1942. Bill
was born in 1944. While I was interning in 1950 I was offered the position of
Professor of Biochemistry at the same University. After two preclinical years
at this university, and two clinical years at University of Toronto,
I earned my M.D. in 1949. John was born in 1947 and Miriam in 1949.
Entering Psychiatric Research
I interned for one year at City Hospital
planning on going into general practice, but hoping that I could eventually
enter research. While interning I became interested in psychiatry, especially
psychosomatic medicine. Toward the end of the year I applied for a position
with Psychiatric Services Branch, Department of Public Health at Regina, Sask.
I had discussed with the chief, Dr. D. G. McKerracher,
my interest in combining my interests in medicine, chemistry and psychiatry
in a research position. I joined him in July 1, 1951. I was given three
missions: (1) to master psychiatry in preparation for qualifying for the
specialty; I was fully qualified in 1954, and a few years later became a
Fellow in the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons (Canada). (2)
To be consultant in biochemistry to the general hospital at Regina and, (3) to initiate a program of
research into psychiatry.
January and February 1951, my wife
and I toured the few research centers in psychiatry in Canada and the United States for six weeks. This
proved very valuable when later we decided which research program we would
start. The three most memorial visits were with Dr. Nolan D. C. Lewis, at the
Psychiatric Institute in New York, Dr. H. Kluver,
Culver Hall, University of Chicago, and Dr. Franz Alexander, at a
psychoanalytic institute which he directed. Lewis and Kluver
introduced me to the fascinating possibilities of the hallucinogens,
especially mescaline, and from Dr. Alexander's luncheon clinic I learned that
psychosomatic medicine had no basis in fact.
Dr. H. Osmond joined us in Saskatchewan in the
fall of 1952. We soon were good friends and close colleagues. We organized
and directed the research program until he left in 1960, and I went into
private practice in 1967.
We decided to tackle the most
important single problem, schizophrenia. Half of our mental hospital beds
were occupied by these patients, and one quarter of all hospital beds in Canada were
these patients. But there were very few tangible leads. Psychoanalysis was
sweeping into North American psychiatry, and the biological psychiatrists
were facing imminent defeat in their views about the nature of this
Dr. Osmond and Dr. J. Smythies had discovered that the mescaline experience
resembled the schizophrenic experience, and he and Smythies
postulated that there might be a substance in the body with the properties of
mescaline and related to adrenalin. Dr. Osmond and I developed this idea,
which became known as the adrenochrome hypothesis of schizophrenia.
In 1954 we received a very large
grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to continue this investigation. Before
I could get the grant I was to travel to Europe
and visit the research centers there. By the time I left research we had a
very large well established research group, a truly cross-fertilized group in
which psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, and social workers all worked
Arising from this research are the
following discoveries: (1) That adrenochrome is an
hallucinogen, (2) that it could be made in the body. It is now known to be
present and easily measured. (3) That megadoses of vitamin B-3 and ascorbic
acid were therapeutic for schizophrenia. This was one of the roots of
orthomolecular psychiatry and medicine as it is known today. (4) That niacin
lowers cholesterol levels. This vitamin is now one of the world's standard
materials for doing so. It also extends life and does not increase deaths
from violent acts as some of the other compounds which lower cholesterol do.
(5) The HOD (Hoffer-Osmond Diagnostic) and EWI tests for assisting in the
diagnosis of schizophrenia. This is an excellent test, hardly known to the
In pursuing this research we were
the first psychiatrists in America
to conduct double blind controlled tests, and we were later the first to
recognize and to publish its many defects and flaws. Our discovery that
niacin lowers cholesterol, published in 1955, is credited with the initiation
of the new paradigm in nutritional medicine, i.e. the use of vitamins for
treatment and not just for prevention of deficiency disease.
I gave up my two positions,
Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Director of Psychiatric Research,
because my freedom to publish and discuss our therapeutic trials using vitamins
was being severely restricted by my two main employers, the University of Saskatchewan
and the Department of Public Health. The psychiatric establishment was
violently opposed to our work, which did not have the support of the drug
companies who were promoting their own products, the tranquilizers. Not a
single attempt was made to repeat our double blind controlled studies (five),
nor to examine our claims clinically. I decided I
could be more effective free of any of these adverse influences.
Since then I have been happily
working with thousands of patients, applying what we had discovered in those
early years in Saskatchewan.
I have published many hundreds of reports in the medical and psychiatric
literature, but after our views became widely known the establishment
literature would no longer accept any and our reports went to the alternative
literature instead. I have authored many books.
I have been active in the International
Schizophrenia Foundation, now (2006) in its 38th year, and was one
of the organizers of the former Huxley Institute of Biosocial Research. I am
editor of the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, http://orthomolecular.org/library/jom/index.shtml
which was the first medical journal to bring
attention to many important new treatments in medicine such as the yeast
syndrome, the toxicity of mercury from amalgams, the orthomolecular treatment
of the schizophrenias and many other conditions.
My main interest since 1967 in Saskatoon, and in Victoria,
B.C., after 1976, has been to promote the principles of orthomolecular
medicine and psychiatry. In medicine the move into nutrition or
orthomolecular medicine is well underway, and will sweep into most of the
medical schools within the next five years. The move into psychiatry has been
dismally slow. Psychiatrists can not untrack
themselves from the influence of the tranquilizers, which are helpful, but
when used alone hardly ever restore a schizophrenic patient to normal. My
definition of a normal person is one who is free of signs and symptoms, gets
on well with family, gets on well with the community, and pays income tax. Up
to 90% of early patients, not yet badly damaged by the illness and the way it
was treated, will achieve this. With chronic patients most will achieve this
after 6 or 7 years of treatment. The treatment has been described many times.
I am pleased with my medical
colleagues who are quickly moving into this modern paradigm, and am very
frustrated by the massive inertia of my psychiatric colleagues who are still
waiting for the Holy Grail, that new tranquilizer which appears every year,
which will do for schizophrenia what insulin does for diabetes. The number of
homeless chronic schizophrenics in the streets of all large American and
Canadian cities is evidence of their inability to do more them than we could
do in 1950 before we had any tranquilizers. But at least then we had
hospitals which provided shelter and food and some care. Today the downtown
slums have become the surrogate mental hospital beds for the chronic patients
whose treatment has been wholly tranquilizers.
About thirty years ago I predicted
that it would take at least forty years before megavitamin treatment would be
accepted. After all, Moses walked his Israelite followers in circles in the
desert for 40 years before initiating the invasion of the Holy
Land. He realized that two generations of people born and raised
in slavery would have to die before he could depend upon them to have enough
fighting spirit and spunk to attempt the invasion. Do we have to wait for
more than two generations of psychiatrists bred in the analytic and
tranquilizer era to die before their offspring can begin to think about
orthomolecular treatment of schizophrenic patients? Our first megavitamin
treatment paper was published in 1957.
Reprinted with permission
of the author.