Neurophilosophy

sigmund_freud.jpg

SciCurious has written an interesting post about Sigmund Freud’s experiments with cocaine.

Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, was also a pioneer of psychopharmacology; as well as being one of the first to scientifically investigate the properties and effects of cocaine, he also played a key role in the growth of the pharmaceuticals industry.

In 1884, Freud read a paper which described the effects of cocaine on Bavarian soldiers. The author, a German physician named Theodor Aschenbrandt, reported that the drug suppressed the appetite and increased mental powers and endurance.

Intrigued, Freud obtained some samples of the drug, and began to experiment with it himself. Later that year, he published a review called Uber Coca (“About Cocaine”). This was Freud’s first paper; it contains the “definitive description of the effects” of the drug on humans:

exhilaration and lasting euphoria, which in no way differs from the normal euphoria of the healthy person…You perceive an increase of self-control and possess more vitality and capacity for work…In other words, you are simply normal, and it is soon hard to believe you are under the influence of any drug….Long intensive physical work is performed without any fatigue…This result is enjoyed without any of the unpleasant after-effects that follow exhilaration brought about by alcohol…Absolutely no craving for the further use of cocaine appears after the first, or even after repeated taking of the drug… 

Freud became extremely enthusiastic about the drug – “I take very small doses of it regularly,” he said, “against depression and indigestion” – and regarded it is as something like a panacea, which would be an effective treatment for various conditions, including asthma and addiction to morphine and alcohol.

The pharmaceuticals companies Merck and Parke Davies, which had only just been established, began paying him to promote and endorse their rival brands of the drug. At around the same time, Karl Koller, an ophthalmic surgeon, discovered that cocaine was an excellent local anaesthetic.

As a result, use of cocaine as a local anaesthetic became widespread (e.g. in the form of toothache drops for children) and the pharmaceuticals companies increased commercial production of the purified drug. Thus, with a helping hand from Sigmund Freud, was big pharma born.

Comments

  1. #1 Coturnix
    May 30, 2008

    Coincidence? SciCurious just posted about this.

  2. #2 M07
    May 31, 2008

    Is there any mention of the route of administration? I think that would help explain this laughable assertion:

    This result is enjoyed without any of the unpleasant after-effects that follow exhilaration brought about by alcohol…Absolutely no craving for the further use of cocaine appears after the first, or even after repeated taking of the drug…

    100 million people since Freud have found this to be incorrect. In the late 19th Century, it was popular to take cocaine in beverages, especially wine. It is less euphoric and addictive that way, because the bioavailability is only ~20%, compared to 60% via insufflation, and the dose is spread out over a long time period. Incidentally, insufflation did not become the preferred route of administration until after cocaine’s prohibition in the US, in 1906.

  3. #3 Mo
    May 31, 2008

    Coturnix: it’s not a coincidence at all. The whole idea was to link to the post by Scicurious, but it turned into an interesting little story of its own. I’ll edit it to emphasize the post by Scicurious.

    M07: I don’t know how Freud administered the drug. But when used as an anaesthetic during eye surgery, it was probably applied topically in powder or liquid form.

  4. #4 Pierce R. Butler
    May 31, 2008

    … Merck and Parke Davies, which had only just been established, began paying him to promote and endorse their rival brands of the drug.

    The ethical implications of this – even assuming that Dr. F’s assessment of the drug was accurate – are (ahem) disquieting.

    Leaving aside whatever professional standards may have been in vogue in that era, wouldn’t the budding drug vendors have had something to say about their shill two-timing them?

  5. #5 scicurious
    May 31, 2008

    Thanks, Mo! I’m so flattered! You added a couple of things that I didn’t, I know very little about anesthesiology, so I didn’t want to go into anything that I’d get tangled up in. And I had no idea he was paid to promote it!

    If you’re still interested, I wrote another post on the mechanisms of cocaine action.

  6. #6 Cletus
    June 1, 2008

    He, (and they), sinned mightily, but this is nothing new to most of us. I find all of this anti-psychiatry/pharmaceutical yammering and rhetoric boring, and un-befitting of scientists. (including other student blogs on this site.) How about something new, without editorialising?

  7. #7 Mo
    June 1, 2008

    Cletus: There’s nothing anti-psychiatry or anti-pharma in this post. I didn’t know about Freud’s involvement with the drugs companies until now, and I thought it was an interesting little story that I wanted to share with my readers.

    Please feel free to stop reading this blog if it isn’t fresh or exciting enough for you – I am, after, all, only a student.

  8. #8 Cletus
    June 2, 2008

    Ah. and I am not. Do your readers care to know what Freud thought of Cocaine further on? Is not a discussion of Freud and “Big Pharma”, an editorial? I have savaged many of Freud’s idiotic delusions for over two decades. But I am a layman, not a scientist. Scientists are not meant to be activists. If you are unaware of your bias, please go and review your posts and comments on Psychiatry, “Rise and fall of the pre-frontal lobotomy”, etc. Even Mr. Mindhack has pointed out one particularly glaring example. Why would you want me to stop reading? Isn’t science meant to promote discussion? Don’t give up so easily, kind sir.

  9. Once with the ratio of move things, this caused the accounts and jungle of butter, competing the escape’s plants.

  10. #10 jonahClint
    May 22, 2010

    We must not worry that regulating drug prices will reduce innovation because when a drug like Metronidazole becomes public for production, the company making in will have to develop new drugs to preserve it’s income.

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