Psychedelics and psychotherapy in Canada: Humphry Osmond and Aldous Huxley

Hist Psychol. 2018 Aug;21(3):240-253. doi: 10.1037/hop0000088.


The decade of the 1950s is well known among historians of psychiatry for the unprecedented shift toward psychopharmacological solutions to mental health problems. More psychiatric medications were introduced than ever before or since (Healy, 2002). While psychiatric researchers later credited these drugs, in part, for controlling psychotic, depressive, and anxious symptoms-and subsequently for emptying decaying psychiatric institutions throughout the Western world-psychiatrists also produced a number of other theories that relied on a more delicate and nuanced blending of psychotherapy and psychopharmacology. Canadian-based researchers were at the forefront of experiments combining mescaline, LSD, and psychoactive substances later described as "psychedelics." From a relatively isolated setting on the Canadian prairies, in one of the most notorious mental hospitals in North America, this blending of traditions generated a unique approach. A close look at the correspondence between the psychiatrist Humphry Osmond and his friend, the writer Aldous Huxley, who shared interests in psychoactive substances and their effects on perception, and the stimulation of empathy, gives us an opportunity to explore how they developed their psychedelic approach to therapy in the 1950s. The combination of working in an isolated hospital, far from the main research powers in North America, produced a sense of regional incubation and required Osmond to look for collaborators well beyond his own field of psychiatry. (PsycINFO Database Record

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Hallucinogens / therapeutic use*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Psychiatry / history*
  • Psychotherapy / history*
  • Saskatchewan


  • Hallucinogens

Personal name as subject

  • Humphry Osmond
  • Aldous Huxley