Freud, Cocaine and the Dopamine Hypothesis of Addiction

Sigmund Freud LIFE
Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud, the venerable father of psychoanalysis, had a lesser known distinction up his sleeve. He produced one of the first comprehensive scientific analyses of the drug Cocaine, published in 1884 under the title ‘Über Coca’. In this remarkable manuscript, amidst sections such as a detailed description of the cocaine plant (Erythroxylon coca, for the curious), Freud inserted his meticulous observations on the effects of cocaine on the human body. As he was quite free in admitting, he based his remarks on the “some dozen times” he consumed the ‘coca’ himself, ostensibly for research purposes. Once the effects wore off, Freud reported no lasting side effects, and was quite positive in denying any craving or addiction like symptoms.

It seems to me noteworthy – and I discovered this in myself and in other observers who were capable of judging such things – that a first dose or even repeated doses of coca produce no compulsive desire to use the stimulant further; on the contrary, one feels a certain unmotivated aversion to the substance.

– Sigmund Freud, Über Coca

Till the end of his days, Freud remained convinced about the beneficial nature of cocaine, and strongly advocated its use for medicinal purposes. In an idea that was surprisingly ahead of his time, though ultimately misguided, he even suggested that cocaine be used as a substitution therapy for de-addicting patients from morphine or alcohol.

Freud isn’t alone among illustrious personalities in having dabbled with cocaine, heroin, morphine or any of the other well-known drugs of abuse. Recreational drug use has always been common, particularly among certain social, occupational or age groups, drug prohibition laws notwithstanding. And a really curious fact that is rarely talked about in scientific literature is that many of these users somehow escape without any negative consequences, and never develop the compulsive addiction that makes these drugs so deadly to the population at large.

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Graduate student and part-time science blogger. I am currently working on my PhD in neuroscience. In my spare time, I like to indulge my insatiable book addiction, browse the crazy alleys of reddit, and window-shop for gadgets.

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