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. u haul near me

    This is a great tip especially to those fresh to the blogosphere. Brief but very accurate infoÖ Appreciate your sharing this one. A must read post!


    June 4, 2021 at 03:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. paint repair shop near me

    Iím amazed, I must say. Rarely do I encounter a blog thatís equally educative and amusing, and let me tell you, you've hit the nail on the head. The problem is something that too few people are speaking intelligently about. I'm very happy I came across this in my hunt for something regarding this.


    June 4, 2021 at 03:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Release Clip Repair On Mercedes Sprinter Seat

    Very good info. Lucky me I recently found your blog by chance (stumbleupon). I have bookmarked it for later!


    June 4, 2021 at 03:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Dry Van Floor Repair


    June 4, 2021 at 05:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. ign88

    Hi! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this website?
    I'm getting sick and tired of WordPress because I've had problems with hackers and
    I'm looking at options for another platform.
    I would be great if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

    June 4, 2021 at 07:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. tadalafil research

    tadalafil vs vardenafil cialis tadalafil cost tadalafil generic

    June 4, 2021 at 09:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. judi online

    It's an remarkable piece of writing for all the web visitors; they will take advantage from it I am sure.

    June 4, 2021 at 10:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. orange near me


    June 4, 2021 at 10:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. نمایندگی سامسونگ در شهرری

    Pretty great post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wished to mention that I have
    truly enjoyed browsing your weblog posts. In any case I will be subscribing in your feed and I hope you write again soon!

    June 4, 2021 at 13:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Casa da Rede- Encontre aqui os melhores produtos de informática

    Normally I do not learn article on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very forced me to check out and
    do so! Your writing taste has been surprised me.
    Thank you, quite nice article.

    June 4, 2021 at 14:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. camper repair shops near me


    June 4, 2021 at 15:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. huntington bank near me

    Having read this I thought it was really informative. I appreciate you spending some time and energy to put this informative article together. I once again find myself personally spending a significant amount of time both reading and posting comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!


    June 4, 2021 at 15:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Mercedes Sprinter Service Near Me

    Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on websites I stumbleupon every day. It will always be helpful to read through articles from other writers and practice something from their web sites.


    June 4, 2021 at 15:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Mercedes Sprinter Repair Shops


    June 4, 2021 at 16:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. tadalafil dosage bodybuilding

    tadalafil research powder taldenafil vidalista tadalafil reviews

    June 4, 2021 at 18:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. videos stores near me


    June 4, 2021 at 18:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. binance independent reserve bitcoin wiki

    It's in reality a nice and helpful piece of information. I am satisfied that you simply shared this useful information with us.
    Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

    June 5, 2021 at 03:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Social Media Marketing Agency Around Me

    I needed to thank you for this very good read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it. I've got you book marked to check out new stuff you postÖ


    June 5, 2021 at 04:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Best Tucker Sprinter Repair

    This is a topic that's near to my heart... Many thanks! Where are your contact details though?


    June 5, 2021 at 04:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Sprinter Van Seat Fabric Repair


    June 5, 2021 at 04:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. harbor freight near me

    Hello there! I could have sworn Iíve visited this web site before but after going through many of the posts I realized itís new to me. Regardless, Iím certainly delighted I came across it and Iíll be bookmarking it and checking back often!


    June 5, 2021 at 04:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. cheap generic cialis for sale

    tadalafil vidalista generic cialis online fast shipping tadalafil citrate liquid

    June 5, 2021 at 05:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. where to get tadalafil

    tadagra 20 buy generic cialis online with mastercard tadalafil 30mg

    June 5, 2021 at 05:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. xnxx shop

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


    June 5, 2021 at 05:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. chloroquine nz

    hydroxocloroquine chloroquine for malaria long term side effects of plaquenil

    June 5, 2021 at 06:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Ecu Repair 2017 Mercedes Sprinter Van Remove Speed Limiter

    Good web site you have got here.. Itís difficult to find high-quality writing like yours nowadays. I honestly appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!


    June 5, 2021 at 06:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. buy cialis pills

    tadalafil citrate buy cialis tadalafil troche

    June 5, 2021 at 08:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. qq online terpercaya

    I was wondering if you ever thought of changing the page layout of your site?

    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people
    could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot
    of text for only having 1 or 2 pictures. Maybe you could space it out better?

    My website ... qq online terpercaya

    June 5, 2021 at 09:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. generic cialis

    tadalafil vs cialis reviews generic cialis side effects for tadalafil

    June 5, 2021 at 16:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. home

    It is the best time to make some plans for the future and it's time to be happy.
    I have read this post and if I could I want to suggest you few
    interesting things or advice. Maybe you can write next articles referring to
    this article. I desire to read even more things about it!

    June 5, 2021 at 19:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. side effects for tadalafil

    tadalafil vs vardenafil tadalafil tablets tadalafil vs vardenafil

    June 5, 2021 at 21:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Opera & music

    Hi, its good post about media print, we all understand media is a fantastic source of information.

    June 5, 2021 at 21:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. geico commercial horse

    Hello! I could have sworn Iíve been to this website before but after browsing through many of the articles I realized itís new to me. Regardless, Iím certainly delighted I stumbled upon it and Iíll be bookmarking it and checking back frequently!


    June 5, 2021 at 23:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. vach ngan ve sinh

    Amazing issues here. I'm very glad to see your post. Thanks a
    lot and I am looking forward to touch you. Will you kindly drop me a

    June 6, 2021 at 02:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. bath and body works near me

    Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you penning this write-up plus the rest of the site is extremely good.


    June 6, 2021 at 03:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. hydroxychloroquine chloroquine

    anti-malaria drug chloroquine plaquenil sulfate chloroquine phosphate cvs

    June 6, 2021 at 06:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Sprinter Truck Repair


    June 6, 2021 at 09:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. chloroquine malaria prophylaxis

    what is hydroxychloroquine prescribed for malarone hydroxychloroquine hcq

    June 6, 2021 at 11:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. hydroxychloroquine sulfate australia

    chloroquine malaria chloroquine 20 cloriquine

    June 6, 2021 at 18:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Wheelchair Van Repair


    June 7, 2021 at 02:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. best price usa tadalafil

    taladifil best price usa tadalafil tadacip 20 mg

    June 7, 2021 at 06:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. rv furniture store


    June 7, 2021 at 07:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Repair Cost On Mercedes Sprinter Van


    June 7, 2021 at 08:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. http://www.authentichapiness.org

    Heya i am for the first time here. I found this board and I find
    It really useful & it helped me out a lot. I hope to give something back and help others like you aided me.

    June 7, 2021 at 14:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Girls Knee High Long Socks USA American Flag

    These are genuinely wonderful ideas in on the topic of blogging.
    You have touched some nice factors here.

    Any way keep up wrinting.

    June 7, 2021 at 23:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. paint shops around me

    This is a topic that is near to my heart... Cheers! Exactly where are your contact details though?


    June 7, 2021 at 23:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. oc towing mission viejo

    A motivating discussion is definitely worth comment. I do think that you should write more about this topic, it might not be a taboo subject but generally people do not talk about these issues. To the next! Best wishes!!


    June 7, 2021 at 23:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. rv repair service

    I absolutely love your site.. Pleasant colors & theme. Did you create this website yourself? Please reply back as Iím hoping to create my very own blog and want to know where you got this from or exactly what the theme is named. Cheers!


    June 7, 2021 at 23:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. RV Bedroom Near Me


    June 7, 2021 at 23:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. dog feeding

    It's actually a nice and helpful piece of information. I'm satisfied that you
    just shared this useful information with us. Please stay us informed like this.
    Thanks for sharing.

    June 8, 2021 at 05:21 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Leave a Reply to Sprinter Van Body


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.