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Introduction To The West

The main alkaloid in the leaves of the coca plant was extracted in 1859 by Albert Niemann, a German scientist, who gave it the name cocaine. Reports soon followed of therapeutic benefits of cocaine in the treatment of a number of physical and mental disorders. These reports also praised cocaine for being a highly effective stimulant, able to conquer the most severe cases of fatigue.

Sigmund Freud, two decades after Niemann's work, began experimenting with cocaine, thinking it could be used to treat "nervous fatigue," an ailment many upper- and middle-class Viennese were diagnosed with. He gave his fiancée cocaine and also administered it to himself. Then he wrote a paper praising the curative powers of cocaine in the treatment of such problems as alcohol and morphine addiction, gastrointestinal disorders, anxiety, depression, and respiratory problems. In this paper, Freud completely dismissed the powerful addictive properties of the drug, insisting that the user would develop an aversion to, rather than a craving for, its continued use.

Freud shortly afterwards became aware of his mistake when he attempted to cure a friend's morphine addiction with the use of cocaine. At first the treatment seemed to work, but he soon saw that the friend developed an addiction to cocaine instead. Soon afterwards Freud's friend suffered a complete nervous breakdown.

Unfortunately, there were other physicians and chemists who misjudged the properties of cocaine in the same way Freud had done. For example, a neurologist and former surgeon general of the United States, William Hammond, also praised the healing powers of cocaine and pronounced it no more addictive than coffee or tea.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Cluster compound to ConcupiscenceCocaine - History, Introduction To The West, Coca-cola, Early Drug Laws, After The 1960s