Oscar Janiger, a pioneering Los Angeles psychiatrist best known for “turning on” Hollywood celebrities and well-known literary figures to LSD in the 1950s, died Tuesday of kidney and heart failure at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance. He was 83.
A maverick of the mind, “Oz,” as he was known to friends and associates, was one of the first American researchers to study the psychedelic drugs DMT and LSD. He was especially interested in LSD’s link to creativity and artists’ ability to access a state of crazy consciousness without losing control of their surroundings.
Between 1954 and 1962, he administered almost 3,000 doses of LSD--the now-illegal psychedelic commonly known as acid--to 1,000 volunteers, including Cary Grant, Anais Nin, Andre Previn, Rita Moreno, Jack Nicholson and Aldous Huxley.
A scientist, psychotherapist and author, Janiger maintained the private psychotherapy practice he had established in 1950 until three weeks before his death.
In 1986, he formed the Albert Hofmann Foundation, a clearinghouse for psychedelic research. “A Different Kind of Healing,” a book he co-wrote about traditionally trained doctors and their use of alternative treatments, was published in 1994. Most recently, he was involved with a group that studies dolphins in their natural environment.
Janiger was born in New York City. His interest in psychiatry and the study of consciousness began when he was 7, after repeated walks down a country road in upstate New York, where his family had a farm. Janiger said he sometimes felt menaced and at other times felt filled with joy and pleasure as he walked this “magic road.” His recognition that his perceptions varied even though the landscape stayed the same led him to believe that “I was doing something to these surroundings, and if I was doing it, then I could change it.”
After graduating from medical school, he moved to Los Angeles in 1950, set up a psychiatry practice and taught at the California College of Medicine, which later became UC Irvine. While lecturing there, he met deep-sea diver Paul Bivens, who introduced him to LSD in 1954.
Janiger took LSD 13 times in his life. The drug affected him profoundly, he said. “It really took me out of a state in which I saw the boundaries of myself and the world around me very rigorously prescribed, to a state in which I saw that many, many things were possible.”
Inspired by his own experiences, he devised an experiment “to learn more about the mind” with LSD. He procured the drug from Swiss pharmaceutical manufacturer Sandoz Laboratories and administered it to volunteers at his Wilshire Boulevard office.
Part of his research included a “kachina doll” project. About 70 artists participated by either painting or drawing a kachina before taking LSD and again an hour after ingesting it. In general, the “before” pictures were well-defined. The “after” depictions were blurry because, Janiger said, the artists had attempted to show merely the essence of the object.
Janiger was among the first researchers to investigate LSD’s potential for intellectual and artistic enlightenment and one of a handful of psychotherapists who used psychedelics in treatment sessions.
While his work with hallucinogens predated that of Timothy Leary, and Allen Ginsberg, his cousin, Janiger never gained widespread recognition for it.
“The tragedy about Oscar is he never published his data,” said Rick Strassman, a New Mexico scientist who in 1990 received the first federal funding for psychedelic research since the 1970s.
There are no authorized LSD studies on humans in the United States. Janiger abandoned his research in 1962 after the Food and Drug Administration began investigating researchers and the amount of LSD they were using in their experiments.
In the early 1960s, LSD had made its way out of the controlled setting of the laboratory and into the streets, where impure versions of the drug were manufactured, sold and ingested, giving the drug its reputation as a dangerous hallucinogenic. In 1966, LSD was outlawed.
In the mid-1960s, Janiger turned his attention to academia. He was an associate professor in the psychiatry department at UC Irvine for about 20 years. While there, he made a connection between hormones and premenstrual depression.
But Janiger’s first investigative passion was lifelong. Even after he ended his experiments, he remained an advocate of further LSD research. In the 1970s he was research director for the Homes Center, an organization that granted money to alternative medical research.
A man of diverse interests, Janiger amassed a collection of more than 10,000 books. He also enjoyed gardening, listening to music and entertaining friends at his Santa Monica home.
An avid swimmer, he won a race from Santa Monica to Venice Pier when he was in his 60s and swam regularly in the ocean into his 70s.
As a psychotherapist, Janiger always said he was inspired less by well-known scientists than by artists and writers.
“I get more from what great minds have written about human behavior than any psychiatric text,” he once said in an interview. “Sometimes I feel that I have learned more psychology from Dostoevsky and Conrad than I have from Freud.”
He is survived by his sister, Estelle Rosen, and two sons, David and Robert.