Sigmund Freud: the Genius, the Dreams and the Cocaine - History Key

Sigmund Freud: the Genius, the Dreams and the Cocaine

Surprisingly, 130 years ago, cocaine wasn’t a drug as intended nowadays, but some kind of wonder, widely used and even attributed to the cure of some diseases, like tuberculosis and morphine addiction. We must say that back then, in the early 1880s, the use of cocaine was a bit to widely embraced, considering that it was prescribed even for depression or fatigue. No problem to procure it or to find it in multiple circumstances, like wines and soft drinks (initially the Coca-Cola had also cocaine in its recipe).

Many tested it and many proclaimed that it was used for “study purposes”, but only few were able to also demonstrate that their cocaine experience was more than simple fun or even addiction. Among the “certified cocaine consumers”, we will find famous names, from Thomas Edison or Adolf Hitler to Angelina Jolie, but our story will focus on another famous consumer.

Sigmund Schlomo Freud (6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939) was a renowned Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, which involved dialogue between patient and doctor, in order to cure psychopathologies.


Sigmund Freud in 1921
Sigmund Freud in 1921 © Image Source: Wikipedia

For at least two years, Freud extensively used cocaine, which back then was a legal and easily to acquire. In fact, he started using the drug, due to a tragic event, the death of one of his very close friends. Sigmund used cocaine to cure his best friend’s morphine addiction. Ernst Fleischl-Marxow was a famous physiologist who injured his hand while dissecting a cadaver. He suffered a chronic pain from the wound, relieved only by large doses of morphine.

“The accomplished young physiologist Ernst von Fleischl-Marxow, whose morphine addiction Freud had tried to treat with cocaine, with disastrous results. As Freud wrote almost three decades later, “the study on coca was an ­allotrion” — an idle pursuit that distracts from serious responsibilities — “which I was eager to conclude.” (Quote from Howard Markel – An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine).

Freud’s experiments were made without knowing that the drug would lead to a severe form of addiction, so the idea of treating the morphine addiction by introducing another form of addiction will be later reconsidered.


 Commercial from 1885 for cocaine drops
Commercial from 1885 for cocaine drops © Image Source: Reddit

After transforming his friend from a morphine addict into a cocaine addict (Ernst Fleischl-Marxow died seven years later at age 45), Freud did not stopped or appeased his interest for cocaine. He continued to consume the drug in the following 12 years, not only to conduct his studies, but now more likely to battle his mental anxieties. He was very attracted by how the drug made him more aware about memories and experiences from the past, those who seemed forever locked in the brain and the past. Freud’s cocaine experiments, led to the publication of “Uber Coca”, described by Sigmund as “a song of praise to this magical substance”.


“Uber Coca” by Sigmund Freud, 1885
“Uber Coca” by Sigmund Freud, 1885 © Image Source: Reddit

Another famous work signed by Freud, could be directly connected to the use of cocaine. In 1899, appears the book “The Interpretation of Dreams”, in which Freud builds a bridge between unconscious and dream interpretations. Quoting Howard Markel:

“Cocaine haunts the pages of the Interpretation of Dreams. The model dream is a cocaine dream.”

Somehow related to dreams interpretation, we remember probably the most “direct” encounter with the drug, experienced by Freud in 1895. Back then, Freud and his colleague Wilhelm Fliess, almost killed a patient named Emma Eckstein during a “not-so-well” executed operation and too much cocaine. Days after the incident, Freud had a haunting dream, in which Eckstein was furiously blaming Sigmund for the botched operation and the near-death experience. In the “Interpretation of Dreams”,  Emma becomes “Irma”, the pseudonym gave to her by Freud, in order to animously include her story in the book.



At some point, Freud began to suffer the inevitable symptoms of the addiction. The clearest symptom was the denial process, which transformed his life in a double one, where he had to combat the addiction in private, while managing to appear all right when he was in public. During all his life, even after the experiences had while working with Emma Eckstein or his morphine addict friend Ernst Fleischl-Marxow, Freud somehow reduced or avoided to take note about the real effects of a cocaine addiction.

He developed a flattering form to describe the cocaine rush and the subsequent tunnel. Almost a positive way of presenting a process which resulted in a big cost also for him, this meaning that very probably also a genius like Freud was dragged in the classic junky lie “I’m ok, it isn’t dangerous.”

Freud claimed that the end of his cocaine addiction came together with his father’s funeral. He stated that the day after the funeral, his addiction ended. There is no record or testimony that could confirm these statements. We must also state that Freud’s experiments were from the beginning of a base for our modern society customs.

When Sigmund received a first sample of cocaine (on April 24, 1884), from the Angel’s Pharmacy in Wien, after testing it he concluded that “it was too spectacular not to share it”. In the following years, he served doses of cocaine to his colleagues, friends, his wife and even his father. He always claimed that cocaine wasn’t as dangerous as alcohol or morphine. He was a true advocate for the cocaine use, also stating two false facts about the use of it:

“If used protractedly but in moderation, is not detrimental to the body”

“Opinion is unanimous that the euphoria induced by coca is not followed by any feeling of lassitude or other state of depression”

(Article written with references from:, CNN,

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