Writing on cocaine, literally

The New York Times reviews a new book about the early enthusiasm for cocaine among the medical community and particularly how it affected two of the world’s most influential doctors.

The book is called ‘An Anatomy of Addiction’ and looks at how psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and pioneering surgeon William Halsted became heavily dependent on the drug.

A long-term cocaine and morphine addict, Halsted is of particular interest because he wrote a scientific article about cocaine, while clearly off his face on cocaine.

Despite being almost complete nonsense it got published in the New York Medical Journal in 1885.

Rather ironically, it was entitled “Practical comments on the use and abuse of cocaine”. This is the first paragraph:

Neither indifferent as to which of how many possibilities may best explain, nor yet at a loss to comprehend, why surgeons have, and that so many, quite without discredit, could have exhibited scarcely any interest in what, as a local anesthetic, had been supposed, if not declared, by most so very sure to prove, especially to them, attractive, still I do not think that this circumstance, or some sense of obligation to rescue fragmentary reputation for surgeons rather than belief that an opportunity existed for assisting others to an appreciable extent, induced me, several months ago, to write on the subject in hand the greater part of a somewhat comprehensible paper, which poor health disinclined me to complete.

This was a different era in the the history of cocaine, however. So different in fact, that His Holiness the Pope endorsed a cocaine infused wine.

Link to NYT article on Freud and Halsted on cocaine.

3 thoughts on “Writing on cocaine, literally”

  1. Minor quibble. I thought Freud had a Morphine habit. I’m unaware of the Cocaine story. When his career took off, he quit Morphine. Addiction aint what it used to be, I guess.

  2. Same deal goes for “early adopters” of LSD. And, apparently, MDMA, as well.

    There’s a term for that, I think that I learned in 8th grade. What was it called again? Selection bias? 🙂

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