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. caranddriver

    Keep this going please, great job!

    Feel free to visit my web site caranddriver

    April 23, 2021 at 09:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Forklift Cylinders Near Me


    April 23, 2021 at 17:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. property for sale wallace id


    April 23, 2021 at 17:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. RV Dashboard Near Me


    April 23, 2021 at 17:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. good sam rv warranty reviews

    Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you penning this write-up and also the rest of the website is also really good.


    April 24, 2021 at 12:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. RV Dashboard Riverside

    This blog was... how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I've found something that helped me. Thank you!


    April 24, 2021 at 12:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Kaydence

    I was wondering if anyone knows what happened to Dime Piece LA celebrity streetwear brand? I cannot proceed to the checkout on Dimepiecela site. I have read in Harpers Bazaar that the brand was acquired by a UK hedge fund for $50 million. I've just bought the Control The Guns Tee from Amazon and absolutely love it xox


    April 24, 2021 at 13:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. generic viagra shipping from canada

    generic viagra from canada https://canadaviagrastore.com/ viagra without a doctor prescription in canada

    April 25, 2021 at 01:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Twitter Proxies

    Regards for this post, I am a big big fan of this web site would like to continue updated.


    April 25, 2021 at 03:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. cheap alprostadil

    injectable drugs for ed https://alprostadildrugs.com/ alprostadil muse doesn't work

    April 25, 2021 at 11:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. avana

    avana drug avana 200 mg

    April 27, 2021 at 20:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. homes for sale the landings

    You're so cool! I don't think I've truly read something like that before. So great to discover another person with some original thoughts on this subject. Seriously.. thanks for starting this up. This web site is something that is needed on the web, someone with a little originality!


    April 27, 2021 at 21:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Arlie Steiger

    The best part about learning how to brush waves is that you do not have to wait until it is wet to do your strokes. It is a great way to get in the water and go surfing, but the waves may not be open yet. So, this is a great way to enjoy the surf.


    April 28, 2021 at 02:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. sildenafil cost compare 100 mg

    generic sildenafil uk https://eunicesildenafilcitrate.com/ sildenafil in india online

    April 29, 2021 at 00:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. forex

    Hello there! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted
    to give a quick shout out and say I really enjoy reading your articles.
    Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same subjects?
    Thank you!

    April 29, 2021 at 00:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Dieter

    I'd like to thank you for the efforts you have put in penning this blog.
    I am hoping to see the same high-grade blog posts by you
    in the future as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities
    has inspired me to get my own website now 😉

    April 29, 2021 at 06:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. betflix

    เริ่มต้นที่เกมส์ บาคาร่า ซึ่งเป็นเกมส์ที่แมสที่สุดในบรรดาเว็บไซต์คาสิโนทั่วทั้งโลก ซึ่งเป็นเกมส์ที่เข้าถึงง่าย กรรมวิธีเล่นก็มีเพียงแค่ไม่กี่อย่าง ระบบเกมส์ก็จะคล้าย ป็อกกระดอนนั่นเอง ซึ่งเว็บ betflix แลเห็นถึงจุดนี้ว่า เมื่อมีผู้เล่นใหม่เข้ามา จะทำเช่นไรถึงจะสื่อจิตใจผู้เล่นใหม่ให้รู้สึกหนุกไปกับเกมส์ที่ตนเองได้เล่น และก็จะไม่นำเกมส์ที่ดูยากมากจนเกินความจำเป็นมาเสนอแนะให้ผู้เล่นใหม่
    เพราะจะก่อให้ผู้เล่นมือใหม่ รู้สึกงงงวย และก็ มีความคิดว่าเข้าไม่ถึงและสุดท้ายก็เบื่อ

    April 29, 2021 at 09:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Noticias Del Mundo

    Hey there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my twitter group?

    There's a lot of people that I think would really enjoy your content.
    Please let me know. Cheers

    April 29, 2021 at 14:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. canadian customs pills vitamins

    canadian pharmacies ed pills https://canadapillstorex.com/ canadian pills online

    April 29, 2021 at 15:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. buy generic cialis without prescription canadian pharmacy

    how safe and reliable are canadian cialis https://canadacialisstore.com/ cialis at canadian pharmacy

    April 29, 2021 at 18:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. avanafil

    buy avanafil uk avana drug

    April 29, 2021 at 23:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. priligy

    generic priligy priligy cost

    May 1, 2021 at 05:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. essay writing links

    This post is genuinely a pleasant one it assists new internet people, who are wishing in favor of

    May 1, 2021 at 18:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. News

    I enjoy what you gguys are usually up too. Such clever work and exposure!
    Keep up the amazing works guys I've included you guys to my own blogroll.

    May 1, 2021 at 21:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Chas Zele

    Howdy! This blog post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept preaching about this. I am going to forward this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a great read. Thanks for sharing!


    May 2, 2021 at 06:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. best canadian mail order pharmacies for diet pills

    canadian weight loss pills https://canadapillstorex.com/ canadian diet pills

    May 2, 2021 at 07:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. situs judi

    It's in fact very difficult in this full of activity life to listen news on Television, so I simply use internet for that purpose, and get
    the hottest news.

    May 2, 2021 at 14:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Learn more Here

    You would solicit links to your internet site and then, in return,
    url to somebody else. A cheaply hosted site cannot hold enough data to build
    website more significant.

    May 3, 2021 at 21:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. connor cook jerseys

    Hi there superb website! Does running a blog such as
    this take a lot of work? I've no expertise in computer programming but I was hoping to start my own blog in the near
    future. Anyway, if you have any suggestions or techniques for
    new blog owners please share. I understand this is off subject however I just wanted to ask.

    May 4, 2021 at 05:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. la kings dodgers jerseys

    We're a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme
    in our community. Your website offered us with valuable information to work on. You have done an impressive job and our whole community will be thankful
    to you.

    May 4, 2021 at 05:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. clonidine

    side effects of chloroquine https://chloroquineorigin.com/ chloroquinolone

    May 4, 2021 at 09:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. aika private server files download

    I like reading through a post that can make people think. Also, thank you for allowing for me to comment!


    May 4, 2021 at 16:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. www.fishka.biz

    Good post. I am dealing with some of these issues as well..

    May 4, 2021 at 20:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. slotxo

    Its like you read my mind! You appear to know so
    much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.
    I think that you can do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is magnificent blog.
    A fantastic read. I will certainly be back.

    Here is my web site – slotxo

    May 4, 2021 at 21:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. promaster camper conversion

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


    May 5, 2021 at 00:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. truck tire repair shop near me


    May 5, 2021 at 07:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Oakley Prescription


    May 5, 2021 at 09:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. sportsmobile classic 4x4

    An intriguing discussion is definitely worth comment. I think that you ought to publish more about this subject matter, it might not be a taboo matter but generally folks don't speak about these issues. To the next! All the best!!


    May 5, 2021 at 10:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Corona

    I think the admin of this ite is truly working hard in favor
    of his website, as here every data is quality based material.

    May 5, 2021 at 11:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. shooting ranges near me


    May 5, 2021 at 19:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. sprinter van repair shop


    May 5, 2021 at 20:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. google

    Everything is very open with a very clear description of the
    issues. It was really informative. Your
    site is very useful. Many thanks for sharing!

    my website: google

    May 6, 2021 at 01:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. priligy

    buy priligy usa dapoxetine 100 mg

    May 6, 2021 at 03:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. RV Interior Designer California

    There's definately a lot to know about this topic. I love all of the points you have made.


    May 6, 2021 at 08:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. guidance training


    May 6, 2021 at 08:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. rental car near me


    May 6, 2021 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. executive group

    This website was... how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I've found something that helped me. Appreciate it!


    May 6, 2021 at 14:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. qt near me


    May 6, 2021 at 14:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. tool rental near me


    May 6, 2021 at 17:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. frame repair shop near me

    Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude! Thank you so much, However I am going through troubles with your RSS. I don’t understand the reason why I can't join it. Is there anybody getting identical RSS problems? Anyone who knows the solution can you kindly respond? Thanx!!


    May 6, 2021 at 17:24 | 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.