Freud on Coke
Was Sigmund Freud’s true legacy the global cocaine trade?
Before he’d thought up putting patients on the couch and interpreting their dreams, the young Sigmund Freud did a whole lot of coke. Desperate to make his reputation as a doctor quickly, and to raise the cash to marry his fiancée, Martha, Freud read – and swallowed without question – astonishing claims made by an American pharmaceutical company, Parke Davis, on behalf of their new ‘wonder drug’, cocaine hydrochloride. Proposed as a cure for ailments ranging from gastric catarrh to female nymphomania, cocaine was, at the time, thought to be harmless. Freud ordered his first gram, hoping to find a medicinal use for the drug that would be hailed as a great discovery...and thus deliver Martha to his bed.
Prone to depression, deeply obsessive, sexually repressed and unhappy, Freud took his cocaine...and took some more. And, in the manner of oh-so-many 20th century writers, rock stars, estate agents, sex workers, Colombian serial killers and at least the current President of the United States, he took some more again. He gave some to Martha: he gave it to friends as a cure for indigestion. He tried it on patients with headaches, on practitioners of masturbation, on every depressive who came his way. Funnily enough, they all kept coming back for more.
Convinced of its therapeutic benefits, and blissfully ignorant of his growing dependency, Freud managed to overlook both the one legitimate use of cocaine – as a local anaesthetic – and the fact that its euphoric effect had no medicinal value.
‘Freud on Coke’ explores Freud’s use of the drug, its influence on his later thoughts, and the subsequent, complex relationship between psychology, psychiatry, drugs and culture.
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