“I was making frequent use of cocaine at that time … I had been the first to recommend the use of cocaine, in 1885, and this recommendation had brought serious reproaches down on me.”
– Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams*
Cocaine is now a Class A drug but, at one point in history, it was a popular painkiller and local anesthetic.
Sigmund Freud, the famous Vienna psychoanalyst, used cocaine in the treatment of morphine addiction in the 1880s. Additionally, he thought cocaine was an all-around drug that could help with fatigue, indigestion and depression.
He suggested to Carl Koller, a German eye surgeon, that cocaine could be used as a local anesthetic for eye surgery since it blocks pain.
After experimenting, Koller released medical reports and findings that affirmed Freud’s assumption that cocaine could be used as a local anesthetic because, not only could it blocked pain, it also numbed tissue.
Branching off of Koller’s work, William Halsted, an American doctor, began to inject it into nerves and under the skin for small operations. During his experimentation with cocaine as a local anesthetic, Halsted, himself, became addicted and he documented the drug’s addictive qualities.
In his attempt to kick the habit, Halsted was sent to Butler Sanatorium in Providence, Rhode Island. In order to get him off cocaine, morphine was substituted instead. It did not help. For the rest of his life, Halsted was dependent on both cocaine and morphine.
*When cocaine was shown to be addictive and had very harmful side effects, Freud’s medical reputation somewhat suffered.
Dr. Naomi Craft. The Little Book of Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Metro Books, 2010, 78-79.