Lehmann, Heinz Edgar

   A pioneer of international psychopharmacology, Lehmann was born in Berlin, his father a general surgeon and Jewish, his mother non-Jewish. After gaining his M.D. from the University of Berlin in 1935, he sensed which way the wind was blowing and in 1937 emigrated to Canada. In Montreal, he became a staff physician at the Verdun Protestant Hospital (later Douglas Hospital), a large asylum where he saw patients for the next 60 years. In 1948, he was appointed lecturer in psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal and remained actively involved in teaching, becoming chair in 1970. It was his scientific curiosity plus his ability to read European languages that led Lehmann to two achievements.
   The first was chlorpromazine. Sometime in 1952 or 1953, a sales representative of the Rhône-Poulenc company left at Lehmann’s office some promotional literature in French on the firm’s new drug, chlorpromazine. Lehmann, perusing the pamphlets at home in his bathtub, found his curiosity arrested and conducted with his resident Gorman Edward Hanrahan (1925–) one of the first North American trials of the drug—in fact, the first to be published—appearing in the AMA Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry in 1954. The authors found that the drug was not just a conventional sedative but that it "selectively inhibits drive." "The drug is of unique value," they wrote, "in the symptomatic control of almost any kind of severe excitement." Lehmann’s service lay in communicating the value of chlorpromazine to North American psychiatry.
   His second achievement was introducing the antidepressant drug imipramine to North America. Able of course to read German fluently, in 1957 Lehmann discovered in the Swiss Medical Weekly (Schweizer Medizinische Wochenschrift) Roland Kuhn’s report of the efficacy of imipramine (Tofranil) in the treatment of vital depression. He immediately requested a supply from the Geigy company and conducted a double-blind study at the hospital, together with Charles Cahn (1921–), who also had been born in Berlin, and Roger Louis de Verteuil (1919–), publishing the results in October 1958 in the Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal. They found that it had "definite anti-depressive properties." During the years, Lehmann and his co-workers conducted many drug trials and developed psychometric test batteries to help lay the basis of the budding science of psychopharmacology. Yet, it is interesting that Lehmann, who had discovered Freud as a schoolboy in Berlin, remained convinced of the value of psychoanalysis and all his life adopted a deeply humanistic approach to the care of his patients, making hospital rounds for example on Christmas Day and shaking hands with all of them.
   Under Lehmann, the Douglas Hospital was involved in a large number of clinical investigations of drugs, especially under the ECDEU program of the National Institute of Mental Health. His team of workers played an important role in the genesis of modern psychopharmacology.

Edward Shorter. 2014.

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