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Sigmund Freud and Coca-Cola

by Dr. Gabe Mirkin, M.D.

Most people know that Sigmund Freud was the father of modern psychoanalysis, but did you know that he was also the foster father of Coca-Cola?

There is no good evidence that psychoanalysis can cure serious mood or thought disorders such as severe depression or schizophrenia. Modern psychiatry depends on the use of medications to change brain levels of neurotransmitters, the chemicals that send messages from one nerve to another. Psychotherapy together with medication is more effective than just medication alone.

All papers written by Sigmund Freud, except one, were about his opinions and were not scientifically controlled studies. His only scientific paper was not about psychotherapy. It was about cocaine.

COCAINE: In 1881, Sigmund Freud started experimenting with cocaine. The German army used cocaine to help keep their soldiers alert so that they could function and stay awake for long hours. Freud thought it might help patients suffering "nervous exhaustion".

He sent some cocaine to his fiance, Martha Bernays, saying "In my last serious depression I took cocaine again and a small dose lifted me to the heights in a wonderful fashion. I am just now collecting the literature for a song of praise to this magical substance."

Coca Leaves
Freud desperately wanted to marry Martha, but her parents were rich and skeptical of this young upstart who was presumptuous enough to ask for their daughter's hand. When Freud discovered cocaine, he had high hopes of impressing them with his discovery that cocaine could cure hunger, thirst and depression and even make people feel great. He couldn't wait to announce this new wonder drug to the scientific community, publishing "On Coca" in June 1884.

FREUD DISCOVERS TOPICAL ANESTHESIA: Shortly after publishing his paper, Freud met an ophthalmology intern named Carl Koller. Freud and Koller started taking cocaine themselves. Noticing that cocaine numbed his lips when he drank it, Freud wanted to see what would happen when he put a cocaine solution into patients' eyes before surgery. Koller showed that cocaine could be instilled in the eye to block pain during eye surgery.

When Freud was out of town visiting Martha, Koller published Freud's new discovery without putting Freud's name on the paper and Koller became known as the discoverer of the first local anesthetic for eye surgery. When Freud returned, he became distraught because his great discovery had been stolen from him.

COCA COLA: Meanwhile, Freud's paper on cocaine led to the development of many popular patent medicines based on Freud's claims that cocaine was a safe and useful tonic to treat depression and sexual problems. Across the ocean in Atlanta, Georgia, John Styth Pemberton brought out his own version of a tonic containing cocaine and alcohol, which he called Coca-Cola. People bought his drink and loved what it did to them, but in 1885, the City of Atlanta banned the sale of alcohol. So Pemberton had to change the recipe.

People did not buy the non-alcoholic Coca-Cola as enthusiastically as they bought the alcoholic drink, so Pemberton thought that his drink had failed and he sold his patent to Asa Griggs Candler for a paltry $2,300. That was a lot of money in 1890, and the drink did taste awful. Candler added carbon dioxide bubbles to the drink, and it was an instant success. The energizing and euphoric effects of the cocaine were probably responsible for skyrocketing Coca-Cola into its place as the most popular soft drink in history. (The last traces of cocaine were removed from the Coca-Cola formula by 1929).

So Sigmund Freud, who is known as the father of psychoanalysis, also should be known as the foster father of Coca-Cola.

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