The Passing of a brilliant Giant – wise, courageous and compassionate doctor and scientist.

“If I wanted to be popular, I wouldn’t be doing research.”

                                         Abram Hoffer M.D., Ph.D. 1917-2009  – when told by his chairman of the department of psychiatry in 1951 (when the world was enamored by Freudian analysis) that his research into orthomolecular medicine and his curing people with schizophrenia with niacin and dietary changes was making him “unpopular with his colleagues”.

Abram Hoffer was a mentor – infinite in his compassion, encouragement and inspiration.

It is an oxymoron, breath-taking as it is bewildering, that such a potent and persistent force for health and life has passed on.

I credit so much of what I do well for my patients to this fine doctor – a true scientist and teacher whose successful, innovative orthomolecular practice offended lesser physicians.  Fully deserving of the Nobel Prize in medicine, alas his remedies were natural, not patentable, and his life-transforming work was therefore shunned by the medical industrial complex.  Who will miss this man? The suffering and those who strive to help them.  We can recall the words of the 14th century physician, Paracelsus in reflecting upon the career of Abram Hoffer –  “I pleased only my patients.”  

Abram pleased his patients (and his students and his orthomolecular colleagues) but he terrorized those doctors whose remedies were neither scientific nor beneficial.  Primum non nocere – first, do no harm – described Abram’s work and tens of thousands of lives are more whole and fulfilling, more taxes are paid, because he brought the psychotic back into productive and rewarding life.

 What will we do now without Abram to guide us? Who else stands astride the entire history of modern psychiatry and remembers the relevant old studies which  hold orthomolecular keys to new therapies?  I find some solace in the words of  ee cummings:

 i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear

no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)

i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart  

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Thusly, my every effort in caring for the ill will be accomplished with Abram’s heart in my heart – so indebted am I to his teaching and so inspired am I by his humanity.

And the words of Goethe are a balm for the soul:


“The thought of Death leaves me entirely unmoved;

for I hold the firm conviction that our spirit is something

altogether indestructible in nature, something that lives on from eon to eon, something like unto the sun, which only seems to set to our mortal eyes while indeed never setting, but shining on forever.”

The force of someone of the majesty of Abram Hoffer indeed shines on forever.

Obituary written by John Hoffer, M.D.,  son of Abram Hoffer.

Abram Hoffer died in Victoria on May 27, 2009 after a brief illness and a long, healthy, productive and brilliant life.

Born November 11, 1917 on a farm in Hoffer, Saskatchewan, Abram Hoffer attended a one-room schoolhouse and studied on horseback, eventually graduating from the University of Saskatchewan (BSA, MSA), the University of Minnesota (PhD in nutrition) and the University of Toronto (MD). He specialized in psychiatry and was, for many years, 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 co-authored research on the genetics of schizophrenia with the renowned geneticist, Ernst Mayer. He co-discovered 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 his 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, the 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 died in 2001. He is survived by his daughter, Miriam (and her husband Guy Ewing), by his son John (and his wife Yehudit Silverman), and by four grandchildren: Adam, Megan, Joshua and Rebecca. At his request, the funeral will be private. 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. Donations can be sent to the International Schizophrenia Foundation, founded by Abram Hoffer.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *