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Psychology and Sigmund Freud’s Cocaine Addiction

Paul C. Vitz, Professor of Psychology at New York University, in his book "Sigmund Freud’s Christian Unconscious" clearly states that Freud was a cocaine addict. I just finished E. M. Thornton's book "The Freudian Fallacy." It shows in my opinion very effectively that Freudian Psychology of which our secular sexual society is formed is a fraud and drug fantasty.

Dr. Vitz says "At times, cocaine may have distorted his reactions; for example, it may have made his depressions darker and harder to fight. But cocaine did not create the primary content and structure of Freud’s mind and thought. (The question of whether Freud’s theories are correct is also one that Thornton addresses extensively. This issue, however important in its own right, is not of concern here).

I disagree with Vitz's view that cocaine didn't effect "the primary content and structure of Freud’s mind and thought." After finishing "The Freudian Fallacy," I thought it destroyed Freud the scientist and the his theory. Read the book. many reviews are written by those who make a living on a drug fantasty.


Cocaine and the Devil

We need now to develop a deeper understanding of Faust by showing the story’s connection to Freud’s use of cocaine. Freud’s important, rather lengthy involvement with cocaine is now being widely recognized.26 (Jones discusses cocaine briefly as an episode, but he plays down the subject to the point of distorting the record.27) Quite recently, both Swales,28 to whom this section owes much, and Thornton29 have made clear the pervasive effects of cocaine on Freud’s thoughts, moods, and fantasies.

Freud began experimenting with the drug in 1884, when he was 28, at a time when cocaine was almost unknown in scientific circles.30 During the period 1884-1887, Freud took cocaine frequently, sometimes in heavy doses.31 After taking the drug himself and getting some preliminary reports from others, Freud published glowing descriptions of cocaine. Not only did Freud think at the time that the drug had anti-morphine effects; he was enthusiastic as well about its contributions to mental well-being. It was an antidote to his frequent depressions, and also provided increased physical strength and sexual potency. Like Faust, Freud was enamored of the idea of a drug-induced rejuvenation. Freud’s initial involvement with cocaine thoroughly captured both his emotional and intellectual interests. He enthusiastically recommended it to others, including his fiancée.32 He administered the drug (very likely via hypodermic needle) to his friend and colleague Ernst Fleischl, who was suffering from a drawn-out, terminal nerve condition that required the use of morphine to ease his pain.33 Freud got Fleischl to take cocaine, which he thought would cure his friend’s morphine addiction and have no undesirable effects of its own. Instead, after a brief period of benefit from the drug, Fleischl became addicted to cocaine as well as to morphine, and suffered particularly from cocaine-induced hallucinations

(e.g., crawling “cocaine bugs”) and delirium tremens.34 Freud later bitterly acknowledged that he might have hastened his friend’s death, saying it was “the result of trying to cast out the devil with Beelzebub.”35

In the eyes of many, Freud was soon seen as a public menace: One prominent doctor wrote of Freud as having unleashed “the third great scourge of mankind,” the first two having been alcohol and opium.36

In Freud’s defense, it should be said that at the time little was known about the drug, although he clearly displayed very poor judgment. His overenthusiasm for cocaine stemmed from three pressing personal desires, which the drug promised to satisfy. First was his intense desire to get married soon, for he was “pathologically” anxious about his separation from and lengthy open-ended engagement with Martha, who was in northern Germany. He was afraid he might lose her. He had already been separated from her for a year when he began using cocaine, although it seemed much longer to him, for he recalled it once as a two-year separation and once as lasting several years.37 A second driving concern was career ambition.38 A medical success, such as the discovery of positive effects from a new drug, would at once advance his career and improve his financial situation, enabling him to marry. Thus, both of these desires would be satisfied by a “cocaine” success. The third need was Freud’s desire for an escape from his deeply neurotic depressions, induced to a large degree by his separation anxiety. (We may recall some of his letters to Martha, as discussed in Chapter Three.39)

Jones summarizes Freud’s motives for working on cocaine as involving the enhancement of virility, as well as promising to speed up marriage with Martha; Jones also notes that in getting involved with cocaine, Freud had “forsaken the straight and narrow path of science to seize a short cut to success.”40 His attitude toward the new “soma” was expressed in a dramatic passage from a letter to Martha on June 2, 1884, shortly after he first took it:

Woe to you, my Princess, when I come [for a planned visit]. I will kiss you quite red and feed you until you are plump. And if you are forward you shall see who is the stronger, a gentle girl who doesn’t eat enough or a big wild man who has cocaine in his body. In my last severe depression I took coca again and a small dose lifted me to heights in a wonderful fashion. I am just now busy collecting the literature for a song of praise to this magical substance.41

Freud received some scientific acclaim for bringing cocaine to the attention of the medical world, but within a year of his official reports the negative effects of the drug were being reported. These criticisms Freud himself described as “grave reproaches,”42 and they put him under something of a cloud. Jones admits, “It was a poor background from which to shock Viennese medical circles a few years later with his theories on the sexual etiology of the neuroses.”43

Ironically, it was a young doctor friend of Freud—Carl Koller, an ophthalmologist—who became famous overnight by discovering that cocaine was an effective local anesthetic for the eye, thus enabling anesthetic to be given for eye operations for the first time.44 Freud had suspected this, but had not immediately investigated the possibility; Koller did. As a result, Koller, to whom Freud had introduced the drug, reaped the career advancement and financial rewards of which Freud had dreamed.

Now the Devil comes into all this through two facts, whose importance Peter Swales has recognized and which he brought to my attention.45 The Swalesian theory is thus the third published interpretation of a Freudian pact with the Devil.46 Freud first took cocaine on the night of April 30, 1884—that is, Walpurgisnacht.47 In doing this, Freud, who took the drug in liquid form (as a “brew”), was clearly imitating Faust in his pact with Mephistopheles.48 The whole affair could easily have been primed by the fact that Goethe’s Faust was the talk of Vienna in early 1884, following a series of well-publicized performances at the Old Burgtheater.49

The yellow smoke gets thicker when another aspect of the situation is considered: Freud obtained his cocaine, which was expensive, from the drug company of Merck in Darmstadt, Germany. He got a local chemist to contact Emanuel Merck, the head of the company. Later, Freud and Fleischl corresponded with Merck personally.50 (An example of the Merck bottle of cocaine, and of a prescription, written by Freud to Merck for cocaine, is available. This particular prescription is from a later date, June 1893; it proves Freud’s continued connection with the drug.51) What Swales has pointed out is that the Merck who founded the company was Goethe’s model for Mephistopheles when he wrote Faust. Goethe, in his well-known autobiographical work Dichtung und Wahrheit, not only referred to Merck as a “great negator” and as a man of the world “who had the greatest influence on me”52; more significantly, he compared Merck to Mephistopheles at least three times.53 Freud knew Goethe’s work well, and was presumably familiar with this text. In writing to the great-grandson of the first Merck, Merck’s “revenant,” he was, psychologically speaking, contacting the Devil.

It is remotely possible that in 1884 Freud had not yet read Goethe’s famous autobiography, in the second half of which Merck figures so prominently. Freud certainly did read Dichtung und Wahrheit at some time, though, since in 1917 he published an analysis of a childhood memory of Goethe cited in this work.54 The memory in question, which Freud interpreted as an expression of sibling rivalry, was one he said he had long known but had only written about for publication when he had come to a psychoanalytic understanding of its meaning.55

Freud also pointed out in his review of the history of cocaine, published in July 1884, that the Spaniards, who first wrote of the use of the coca plant by South American Indians, suspected that it was the work of the Devi1.56

In conclusion, it is clear that cocaine for Freud was thoroughly linked to the Devil, and, indeed, was connected from the beginning to some kind of pact. Thus, while Freud was still a young physician—years before the beginning of psychoanalysis, and some 10-12 years before the psychological “pact” that Bakan proposes—he was already very strongly involved with the Devil. The exact nature of the pact is still not clear, but it appears to have been modeled on Faust’s pact, and it was certainly precipitated by Freud’s admittedly “severe” depressions, his longing for Martha, and his “pathological ambition.”57

Thornton’s Cocaine Thesis

E. M. Thornton has very recently published an extensive discussion of the effect of Freud’s cocaine use on both his personal psychology and his theories.58 Although, for reasons given below, I think Thornton has overgeneralized the significance of cocaine for understanding Freud, she does make a number of important contributions to Freud scholarship.

To begin with, she identifies two time periods when Freud took cocaine59: the first from 1884 to 1887, first noted by Jones, and a second period, beginning in late 1892 and continuing into the middle or late 1890s.60 Thornton is not especially clear on when Freud last took cocaine, but she clearly implies that he took it well after 1900, perhaps until 1912.61 However, because of the complete and uncensored letters of Freud to Fliess, very recently published, it appears that Freud permanently ceased taking cocaine in October 1896, when he wrote to Fliess that he had put his cocaine brush aside.62 An important consequence, in the following months, would be that Freud was often struggling with cocaine withdrawal experiences, especially depression. Thornton also points out that Freud used pure, unadulterated cocaine; he used it frequently and often in strong doses.63 Thornton’s major claim is that Freud suffered from cocaine poisoning and from powerful drug-induced psychological states.64 In particular, she claims that Freud’s psychological theory was simply the natural consequence of extensive cocaine usage.65 It is well known that cocaine causes hallucinations, vivid dreams, and extensive fantasies in frequent users. Cocaine use can also cause sexual preoccupation to become obsessive. Other reliable psychological effects from taking too much cocaine are periods of elation, optimism, and an almost messianic belief in having discovered the great secrets of life; these intervals are followed by periods of deep depression often accompanied

by paranoia and murderous impulses toward friends.66 All of these symptoms, Thornton argues, are clearly shown in Freud’s letters to Fliess and often in Fliess’s ideas as well, since Fliess was also a heavy user of cocaine. (Both suffered from severe headaches and from nasal and sinus infections during this period as well. Such symptoms are typical when cocaine is taken through the nose, as was the case during these years for both Freud and Fliess.67)

My primary critique of Thornton is that much of Freud’s psychology was clearly apparent before he took cocaine. Therefore, although the drug would have accentuated and sometimes distorted Freud’s already existing psychology and intellectual interests, it would not have caused them in the first place. For example, Freud was mentioning his extreme depressive reactions to Martha’s absence before he took cocaine. For example, on August 18, 1882, he wrote, “Without you I would let my arms droop for sheer lack of desire to live”68; on February 14, 1884, he exclaimed, “Do you realize it is two whole days since I heard from you and I am beginning to worry!”69

Likewise, Freud’s previously discussed expressions of religious preoccupation—his lengthy letter about the Christian paintings in Dresden, his many youthful references to God, his early quotes from Faust, and his references to the Devil—all preceded his cocaine use. Most of his involvement with Brentano and the letters to Fluss and Silberstein that have been cited also antedate his use of cocaine, as does his attraction to Flaubert’s The Temptation of St. Anthony, with what Freud called its wild Walpurgisnacht character. Finally, we can observe Freud’s very early expression of extreme self-confidence in a letter written when he was 17 to his friend Emil Fluss. Freud was writing about his high grades in his school (Gymnasium) examinations. One of his professors told him that he had an outstanding writing style, and Freud remarked:

I was suitably impressed by this amazing fact and do not hesitate to disseminate the happy event, the first of its kind, as widely as possible—to you, for instance, who until now have probably remained unaware that you have been exchanging letters with a German stylist.…preserve them [the letters]—have them bound—take good care of them—one never knows.70

Another way to place Thornton’s cocaine claims in perspective is to compare the very different effects of the drug on Freud and on Fliess. Both became somewhat megalomaniacal; both showed occasional signs of sloppy (probably drug-affected) thinking; both became preoccupied with sex. But the differences were even greater and can be plausibly explained by the different personal psychologies and professional backgrounds of the two men. Fliess focused on the sexual significance of the nose71; Freud never seriously theorized about the nose. Fliess empha-

sized his proposed female and male sexual periods of 28 and 23 days, respectively, while Freud turned to sexual experiences in childhood between the ages of two and four. Freud analyzed dreams and fantasies, but Fliess seems to have had no real interest in these phenomena. In short, these were very different ways to approach sexuality, and therefore I conclude that the major effect of cocaine was to accentuate or heighten Freud’s pre-existing thought patterns and psychological preoccupations. At times, cocaine may have distorted his reactions; for example, it may have made his depressions darker and harder to fight. But cocaine did not create the primary content and structure of Freud’s mind and thought. (The question of whether Freud’s theories are correct is also one that Thornton addresses extensively. This issue, however important in its own right, is not of concern here; instead, the present discussion is focused on understanding the origin and nature of Freud’s thought with respect to religion, especially Christianity. The question of the validity of Freud’s theories is treated only with respect to his interpretation of religion, and then only in the last chapter of this book.)

[Pages 113 to 115, to]


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