Monday, August 04, 2014

Who was Dr. Harold A. Abramson?

H. A. Abramson was one of the most prevalent LSD researchers of the 20th century.

Abramson received training to become a medical doctor, and he had a strong interest in the actions of LSD. He did studies involving human subjects, LSD, and psilocybin, and he pioneered the LSD fish surfacing reaction. He was involved in research with LSD analogs including methysergide and BOL-148, and he studied cross-tolerance between LSD and these drugs in human subjects. He wrote a series of 40 papers about "Lysergic acid diethylamide."

At a conference on LSD in 1959, when asked about the mechanism of action of LSD, Abramson said,
"If I were to say what LSD does, I would refer to experimental work I have done on the Siamese fighting fish, where 1 ug/kg of potassium cyanide (a cytochrome oxidase inhibitor) and sodium azide and LSD will act in very much the same fashion: The fish will be in a nose-up, tail-down stupor, lasting for days in the case of sodium azide, and for a shorter period in the case of potassium cyanide, because it is more rapidly oxidized. We can produce the same effect with hypoxia." (Abramson,H.A. 1959)
Early in his career, Abramson acquired skills in basic immunology, human physiology and pharmacology. He spoke about his transition to LSD studies from private practice at a conference in 1959.
"About 30 years ago, Dr. Fremont-Smith and I were tutors together at Harvard in the Division of Biochemical Sciences. My main interests originally were physical chemistry and immunology. About 1935, I began the private practice of medicine in New York. Though I had been teaching immunology, I found that conventional treatment yielded very poor results in the many cases of eczema and asthma which I met in practice. It was Dr. Fremont-Smith, by this time in New York, who made me realize that I knew a lot about allergy, but very little about patients. In going over my cases with him, I learned how to appraise an illness, not only in terms of the organic factors, but from the standpoint of the individual as a whole. Soon, I was practicing some psychiatry under his guidance. Realizing that my interests lay in psychiatry and psychotherapy, I proceeded to get training in these areas. But one of my difficulties was being unable to bring the laboratory into the area of psychiatry in the way in which I had been accustomed. I had been working with mathematics and surface chemistry and was really very concerned about the lack of contact between psychiatry, as I knew it then, and the laboratory. Then I saw some papers on LSD. These studies seemed to me to bring the laboratory and psychiatry together. I began to work with LSD in 1951, work which has given me great satisfaction, because it involves my interests in psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, enzyme reactions, and surface chemistry, as well as biochemistry and pharmacology." (Abramson,H.A. 1959)

Abramson frequently wrote about the usefulness of LSD and methysergide to treat "allergic" phenomena.  He was familiar with the controversy surrounding the use of LSD and seemed to believe that it could be used therapeutically by the medical community. 
"The discoveries of Hofmann have opened new routes to medical progress." (Abramson,H.A. 1965)
In fact, Abramson cited the huge disservice done to the medical community by associating LSD with brain damage, when successful uses of LSD to treat migraine and alcoholism had been identified.
“It seems important to stress at this time that many derivatives of LSD play a most important role in medical treatment. To label any one of these derivatives as the cause of “chronic brain damage” without direct evidence, validated statistically, constitutes a disservice to science and to the practice of medicine… Let us hope that the anxieties of a small group will be replaced by a more hardy spirit of inquiry and scientific investigation.” (Abramson,H.A. 1964)
Towards the end of his research career, Abramson began to have some interesting ideas about the relation between electronic desaturation of certain molecules and drug psychosis-producing ability. In certain hypnotic drugs, he pointed out that if a double bond is present in an unsaturated hydrocarbon, the unsaturated compound is more active than the saturated analog.
"The study of derivatives of arachidonic acid might be another part of the still undisclosed chemical mechanisms which produce mental illness in man.” (Abramson,H.A. 1979)


Abramson H. A. The use of LSD in psychotherapy. Transactions of a conference on d-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD-25). Madison, New Jersey, Madison Printing Company, 1959.

ABRAMSON H. A. (1964). Antiserotonin Action of Lsd-25 and Other Lysergic Acid Derivatives: Fact and Fiction. The Journal of asthma research 15, 207-211.

Abramson H. A. and A. Rolo (1965). Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD-25). 38. Comparison with action of methysergide and psilocybin on test subjects. The Journal of asthma research 3, 81-96.

Abramson H. A. and H. H. Gettner (1979). Double bonds, aliphatic chains, and hallucinogens, updated. The Journal of asthma research 16, 120.

original publish date: October 21, 2012