Sigmund Freud's cocaine problem
Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, was once one of cocaine’s leading medical advocates.
July 22nd, 2011
03:32 PM ET

Sigmund Freud's cocaine problem

Editor's note: Nearly 130 years ago, cocaine was the world’s newest wonder drug - touted as a cure for everything from morphine addiction to tuberculosis. And its biggest supporter was Sigmund Freud. Dr. Sanjay Gupta has the fascinating history and what it means for us today on "Sanjay Gupta M.D." at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday and Sunday.

Whenever Big Pharma unfurls its latest “blockbuster” drug, I am carried back to the era when the biggest wonder drug on the market was cocaine. Yes, cocaine!

In the early 1880s, pharmaceutical houses touted it as a cure for everything from morphine addiction and depression to dyspepsia and fatigue. It was widely available in tonics, powders, wines and soft drinks before its mass consumption created a cadre of raging addicts demanding medical attention.

One of cocaine’s leading medical advocates was a struggling Viennese neurologist named Sigmund Freud. He began studying cocaine’s effects in 1884, and his clinical notebooks amply demonstrate that his favorite experimental subject was himself.

The evolution of the once 'wonder drug'

Initially, Sigmund was eager to employ cocaine as an antidote for his best friend’s morphine addiction. Ernst Fleischl-Marxow was a brilliant physiologist who injured his thumb while dissecting a cadaver, resulting in chronic pain tamed only by large doses of morphine.

Substituting one addictive drug for another was a common means of treating substance abuse in the late 19th century. What all these well-intentioned games of medical musical chairs did most reliably was to create “new and improved” addicts.

Freud, in essence, transformed his highly functioning, albeit opiate-dependent, friend into an addled cocaine and morphine addict who was dead seven years later at age 45.

One would think that this episode would have soured Freud on the drug. Yet like most humans ensnared by cocaine’s addictive grip, for the next 12 years, he continued to sing its praises and consumed a great deal of cocaine to quell his physical aches and mental anxieties. In a perverse way, Freud loved how cocaine made him talk endlessly about memories and experiences he previously thought were locked in his brain for no one to hear, let alone judge.

Freud’s most haunting encounter with the drug occurred in 1895 after he and a colleague named Wilhelm Fleiss nearly killed a patient named Emma Eckstein with a botched operation and too much cocaine. Several nights later, he had a disturbing dream about a party where Eckstein blamed Freud for his gross negligence.

Today, Eckstein is better known as “Irma," the pseudonym Freud gave her in his masterpiece, "The Interpretation of Dreams." When writing about his dream, Freud glossed over his obvious malpractice, an act that today would have resulted in disgrace, loss of medical license, lawsuits and even jail time.

Instead, Freud explained the dream meant he was a caring doctor who was, if anything, overly concerned about his patient, “Irma."

Like so many others, Freud suffered from the most maddening symptom of addiction: the stealthy process by which the addict’s mind conspires to convince that nothing, nothing at all, is askew or dangerous about something that most decidedly is.

Indeed, if one set out to design addiction as an implacable disease, he would be hard pressed to come up with a more diabolical symptom than denial, the need to lead a double life - feeding the addiction in private while struggling to starve, or at least conceal, it in public for long periods of time.

Until, that is, the addiction completely takes over with disastrous results and public masquerade is no longer possible.

One assumes that his clinical experiences with Eckstein, if not Fleischl-Marxow, taught him that cocaine was far too dangerous for any therapeutic application. In the fall of 1896, the day after his father’s funeral, Freud claimed to have put his “cocaine brush” aside. No documentary evidence exists to refute his testimony.

But for the remaining days of his life, Freud had far greater difficulty in fully comprehending the dangerous consequences of his substance abuse. He decidedly, and repeatedly, misinterpreted his famous dream of cocaine. Instead, he chose to elaborate a far more flattering and positive analysis that epitomizes an addiction’s power of subterfuge.

The man who invented psychoanalysis, a revolutionary pursuit for self-truth, succumbed to the same “big lie” most every practicing addict tells himself every day.

Dr. Howard Markel, a professor of the history of medicine at the University of Michigan, is the author of "An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine" (Pantheon).

Follow @CNNHealth on Twitter

Watch Sanjay Gupta MD Saturday at 4:30pm and Sunday at 7:30am ET. For the latest from Sanjay Gupta MD click here.

soundoff (998 Responses)
  1. Tritreviewifind

    cialis cost where to order tadalafil tablets cost of cialis tadalafil without a doctor prescription https://tadalafilww.com/ – best price usa tadalafil

    May 26, 2021 at 01:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. RV Roof Orange County


    May 26, 2021 at 01:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Tritreviewifind

    tadalafil without a doctor prescription cheap cialis pills for sale cost tadalafil generic where to get tadalafil https://tadacipetadalafil.com/

    May 26, 2021 at 02:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. rv water leak repair

    Hi there, I do think your website might be having internet browser compatibility problems. Whenever I look at your web site in Safari, it looks fine however when opening in IE, it has some overlapping issues. I merely wanted to provide you with a quick heads up! Other than that, wonderful blog!


    May 26, 2021 at 02:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. สล็อต

    Both of these games are games that you can play in the slotxo camp itself, which I must say. You should never miss out on playing this game. And if you want to make a profit, it's not difficult at all. Just go to the jokerxoth website and apply for membership and receive free credit. Let's go.


    May 26, 2021 at 05:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Unitmerienepeft

    cialis without prescription https://tadalafilol.com/ – tadalafil price walmart tadalafil price walmart tadalafil liquid tadalafil drug

    May 26, 2021 at 06:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Tembepteriope

    what is tadalafil cheap generic cialis for sale generic cialis online fast shipping where to buy cialis without prescription https://apcalisetadalafil.com/ – tadalafil drug

    May 26, 2021 at 06:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Joker123

    Don't be too busy playing. This formula requires you to try and count the money. All the time when you play slot games Because of this game, you will have to press continuously. And maybe you are not interested in the money you have made enough. Your money is reduced that much.


    May 26, 2021 at 06:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. rv dealers in riverside county ca

    I like looking through a post that can make men and women think. Also, thanks for allowing for me to comment!


    May 26, 2021 at 08:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. RV Refrigerator California


    May 26, 2021 at 08:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. globes

    Wonderful website you have here but I was curious if you knew of any
    user discussion forums that cover the same topics discussed here?
    I'd really like to be a part of online community where I can get opinions from other experienced people that share the same interest.
    If you have any recommendations, please let
    me know. Many thanks!

    May 26, 2021 at 12:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. RV Generator Los Angeles


    May 26, 2021 at 15:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. rv door repair

    An intriguing discussion is definitely worth comment. I do think that you ought to publish more on this topic, it might not be a taboo subject but usually people do not talk about these subjects. To the next! Many thanks!!


    May 26, 2021 at 16:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Content Marketing Firms


    May 26, 2021 at 17:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Video Marketing Companies Near Me

    Great info. Lucky me I found your website by chance (stumbleupon). I've saved as a favorite for later!


    May 26, 2021 at 17:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. progressive photo inspection near me

    Howdy! I just want to offer you a huge thumbs up for the great info you have here on this post. I will be returning to your web site for more soon.


    May 26, 2021 at 21:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. RV Plumbing Los Angeles

    Spot on with this write-up, I really feel this amazing site needs far more attention. I’ll probably be back again to see more, thanks for the information!


    May 26, 2021 at 22:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. brimonidine

    brimonidine use combigan cost

    May 27, 2021 at 01:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. camper body repair

    Hi, I do think this is a great site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I may revisit once again since I saved as a favorite it. Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to guide others.


    May 27, 2021 at 01:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. RV Lighting Riverside

    Pretty! This has been an incredibly wonderful post. Many thanks for supplying this info.


    May 27, 2021 at 02:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Tritreviewifind

    generic cialis tadalafil https://tadacipetadalafil.com/ – tadalafil liquid tadalafil order online no prescription cialis without a prescription best price usa tadalafil

    May 27, 2021 at 03:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. orange county rv

    This website definitely has all of the information I needed concerning this subject and didn’t know who to ask.


    May 27, 2021 at 04:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. RV Upgrades Near Me


    May 27, 2021 at 09:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. rv entertainment system upgrade


    May 27, 2021 at 12:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. RV Alignment California


    May 27, 2021 at 12:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. travel trailer remodeling companies

    It’s hard to find well-informed people about this topic, however, you seem like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks


    May 27, 2021 at 14:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. RV Driver Seats Orange County

    Very nice blog post. I absolutely appreciate this site. Keep it up!


    May 27, 2021 at 18:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Soosteemocush

    tadalafil price walmart https://tadacipetadalafil.com/ cialis without a prescription cost of cialis tadalafil cost in canada

    May 27, 2021 at 18:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Soosteemocush

    https://cttadalafil.com/ side effects of tadalafil tadalafil goodrx tadalafil blood pressure cost tadalafil generic

    May 27, 2021 at 18:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Social Media Marketing Company

    I could not refrain from commenting. Perfectly written!


    May 27, 2021 at 20:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. oc rv storage


    May 27, 2021 at 23:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Google Marketing Companies

    Spot on with this write-up, I really feel this website needs far more attention. I’ll probably be returning to see more, thanks for the advice!


    May 28, 2021 at 01:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. RV Parts Near Me

    You ought to be a part of a contest for one of the greatest websites online. I'm going to recommend this site!


    May 28, 2021 at 03:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. rv window repair near me


    May 28, 2021 at 04:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Video Marketing Company


    May 28, 2021 at 05:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. repair shops near me


    May 28, 2021 at 09:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. RV Remodel Near Me


    May 28, 2021 at 10:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. link aceofbet

    Thanks for some other informative web site.
    Where else could I get that type of information written in such a perfect way?
    I have a mission that I am simply now operating
    on, and I have been at the glance out for such info.

    May 28, 2021 at 11:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Content Marketing Business

    An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a friend who has been doing a little homework on this. And he actually ordered me breakfast due to the fact that I stumbled upon it for him... lol. So allow me to reword this.... Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending some time to talk about this topic here on your website.


    May 28, 2021 at 12:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. repair rv floor


    May 28, 2021 at 12:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. RV Supplies Near Me

    An intriguing discussion is worth comment. I do believe that you ought to publish more on this issue, it may not be a taboo subject but usually people don't discuss these topics. To the next! Kind regards!!

    https://www.sys.labaq.com/cli/go.php?s=lbac&p=1410jt&t=02&url=https://galtter.com/【悲報】linq山木彩乃さん イメチェンをするも華/

    May 28, 2021 at 13:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. slide out repair

    This is the perfect site for anyone who wants to find out about this topic. You realize so much its almost tough to argue with you (not that I actually would want to…HaHa). You certainly put a brand new spin on a topic which has been written about for ages. Excellent stuff, just great!


    May 28, 2021 at 15:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Local Marketing Business


    May 28, 2021 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Freightline Sprinter Repair


    May 29, 2021 at 01:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Discover More Here

    I truly wanted to post a brief comment to be able to thank you for some of the lovely pointers you are sharing at this site. My incredibly long internet search has at the end of the day been honored with excellent facts and techniques to share with my good friends. I 'd express that most of us site visitors are really lucky to exist in a wonderful site with so many special people with insightful tips and hints. I feel rather blessed to have come across your site and look forward to so many more entertaining moments reading here. Thanks a lot once more for all the details.


    May 29, 2021 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. dich vu seo tong the fame media

    I enjoy, cause I discovered exactly what I was having a look for.
    You have ended my 4 day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have
    a nice day. Bye

    May 29, 2021 at 15:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Truck Frame Repair Shop

    Having read this I thought it was very enlightening. I appreciate you taking the time and energy to put this article together. I once again find myself spending a significant amount of time both reading and commenting. But so what, it was still worthwhile!


    May 29, 2021 at 16:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Semi Truck Body Shop Near Me

    Hi! I could have sworn I’ve visited this web site before but after looking at some of the articles I realized it’s new to me. Regardless, I’m definitely pleased I came across it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back regularly!


    May 29, 2021 at 20:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Van Repair Shop Near Me


    May 30, 2021 at 05:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Internet Marketing Company Near Me

    After checking out a handful of the blog posts on your web page, I seriously like your technique of blogging. I saved it to my bookmark site list and will be checking back in the near future. Take a look at my website too and let me know your opinion.


    May 30, 2021 at 15:19 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.