Five hard to forget facts about Sigmund Freud and drugs
It’s no secret that for a time, at least, Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, loved cocaine. He famously wrote what he called ”a song of praise to this magical substance”—an 1884 paper, titled Uber Coca.
But some aspects of his experimentations with the drug, as well as his experiences and views around other substances, have fallen under the radar. Here are the five of them:
1.He may have contributed to his best friend’s early demise by administering cocaine to “cure” him of his addiction to morphine.
One of Freud’s close friends, an accomplished young physiologist named Ernst von Fleischl-Marxow, had become addicted to morphine in response to chronic pain. Freud, newly enamored with cocaine, believe he could use it to treat addiction to morphine (and alcoholism). He wrote that after others discovered the healing properties of cocaine, “inebriate asylums can be entirely dispensed with.”
But rather than replacing morphine with cocaine, then slowly weaning off cocaine, Freud’s friend simply developed a dual addiction to morphine and cocaine. He died at age 45.
Though it didn’t work, it’s interesting to note that Freud was almost onto the concept of replacement therapy—methadone, buprenorphine or marijuana for people addicted to opioids, for example—that is such a hot topic today.
2. Freud and his fiancée, Martha Bernays, (they eventually married and had six children together) both loved cocaine, and wrote often-erotic letters to each other about it. He also sent her packets containing the substance. From his letters:
“The bit of cocaine I have just taken is making me talkative, my little woman…Her I am, making silly confessions to you, my sweet darling, and really without any reason whatever unless it is the cocaine that makes me talk so much”
“Woe to you, my Princess, when I come. I will kiss you quite red and feed you till you are plump. And if you are forward you shall see who is the stronger, a gentle little girl who doesn’t eat enough or a big wild man who has cocaine in his body.”
3. Freud was addicted to smoking cigars… If you know what I mean.
Freud started smoking cigarettes in his 20s, and then graduated to cigars. According to some, he smoked as many as 20 cigars in a typical day, even after developing mouth cancer and undergoing 34 surgeries for it.
One popular story goes that Freud was once smoking cigars while with a class. One of his students joked provocatively that Freud’s constant need to have something in his mouth, especially such a phallic object, might indicate an “oral fixation” (a term coined by Freud to describe a regression to the immature “oral stage” of development).
Freud famously replied: “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Though it turns out he may not in fact be the originator of this bon mot, there’s little doubt that he was an oral-stage-of-development kind of guy.
4. Freud believed that addiction was basically just an attempt to return to, or replicate the feelings of, “the one great habit”…masturbation. In a letter to his friend Wilhelm Fleiss in 1897, Freud wrote:
“It has occurred to me that masturbation is the one great habit that is a ‘primary addiction,’ and that the other addictions, for alcohol, morphine, etc., only enter into life as a substitute and replacement for it.”
Yet, writing in the 19th century, he also believed that infantile masturbation was guilt-inducing. A struggle ensues in the child between the wish for pleasure, and the knowledge that it is prohibited, which has become internalized and manifests as guilt.
In Freud’s view, the struggle not to masturbate is almost always lost, leading to a feeling of guilt and shame. Addiction to substances becomes a way to repeat and gain mastery over the traumatic loss of self-esteem that accompanied those early instances of masturbation.
In Doesteovsky and Parricide (1928), Freud analyzed the Russian novelist’s addiction to gambling, and said that indulging in that addiction, for Doesteovsky, had actually become a means of self-punishment, a way to bring about the inevitable accompanying feelings of self-loathing. Thus, as Freud saw it, adult drug addiction is a way of punishing oneself for one’s original wish for sexual pleasure.
5. Freud’s death was likely a case physician-assisted suicide by morphine.
By 1939, Freud was suffering greatly from terminal mouth cancer. He reminded his friend and doctor, Max Schur, of an earlier promise that”when the time comes, you won’t let me suffer unnecessarily.”
After receiving permission from Freud’s daughter, Anna, Schur injected a heavy dose of morphine. Twelve hours later, as Freud slept soundly, Schur injected another dose. Freud slipped into a coma and never awoke.