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The First Scientific Study of the Effects of Cocaine (1884)


In 1884 Austrian physician Sigmund Freud published "Ueber Coca," Centralblatt für die gesamte Therapie 2 (1884) 289-314.

This essay provided the best comprehensive review of the subject that had yet appeared, describing the early history of the coca plant and its use by South American native populations, the first European accounts of the plant in the sixteenth century, and the isolation of the alkaloid cocaine in 1859. Freud also presented his observations (with himself as subject) on the effects of the drug, describing its abolition of hunger and fatigue, the exhilaration and lasting euphoria it produced, and its supposed non-addictiveness— a misapprehension he would later bitterly regret, as misuse of the drug contributed to the death of his dear friend Ernst von Fleischl-Marxow.

Freud recognized cocaine's anesthetic qualities and suggested its use as a topical or local anesthetic; unfortunately, Leopold Königstein, the colleague to whom he suggested its trial, procrastinated, and the crucial experiments were performed by Carl Koller, who subsequently achieved worldwide recognition as the discoverer of local anesthesia. Freud's suggestion that the drug might act by abolishing the effect of agencies that depress bodily feeling has since been confirmed.

Freud published a revised separate edition of Über coca in 1885.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) nos. F7 and F8.

Filed under: Medicine, Science