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Then there are the “little three” regulated substances: opium, cannabis, and coca (in elaborated form, heroin, hashish, and cocaine), which have become prohibited. Courtwright, Forces of Habit , 31. The profit-driven globalization of psychoactive plants and their derivatives, many of which came from the New World, transformed habits, affected the fantasies of millions of people, and influenced the environment. Narcotics were indispensible commodities and psychoactive agents, destined both to second the practices of colonization and become fuels of industrial civilization. At the other extreme, the use of narcotics, along with tobacco, coffee, alcohol, and to a lesser degree opium and cannabis, would rank at the center of socio-economic change in Western Europe and the United States, becoming a daily habit for masses of middle-class consumers—those who came to represent the modern individual in his or her exposure to the experiences of urbanization and industrialization. When Europe and the U.S. discovered cocaine, coca developed into a famous transatlantic commodity as well, shortly before domestic legislation and international treaties brought about the “psychoactive counterrevolution” of the twentieth century (ibid., 5, 184).

This is where Sigmund Freud’s early writings—later excluded from the Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud —enter our story. Twenty-four years before Freud wrote his 1884 essay, “Über Coca,” Sigmund Freud, Cocaine Papers , ed. Robert Byck (New York and Scarborough, Ontario: Meridian, 1974), 47-73. Albert Niemann, a chemistry graduate student in Göttingen, had isolated the alkaloid cocaine from a large amount of coca leaves. Madge, White Mischief , 46-49. He described it in 1860 as “colourless transparent prisms” and noted: “Its solutions have an alkaline reaction, a bitter taste, promote the flow of saliva and leave a peculiar numbness, followed by a sense of cold when applied to the tongue” (ibid., 49). Curiously, the young Freud, who wrote six papers on cocaine between 1884 and 1887 and held public lectures on the subject at Vienna’s physiological and psychiatric societies, became an important advocate of cocaine use, recommending it to Western doctors and consumers as a beneficial and pleasurable commodity. In “Über Coca,” Freud, starting with a historical and phenomenological account of the coca leaf’s use among Peruvian Indians and even referring to Garcilaso de la Vega’s Comentarios Reales , Freud, Cocaine Papers , 50. discusses the exhaustive biomedical experiments on the effects of coca and cocaine that were undertaken between 1860 and 1887. He then writes:

The psychic effect of cocainum muriaticum in doses of 0.05–0.10g consists of exhilaration and lasting euphoria, which does not differ in any way from the normal euphoria of a healthy person. The feeling of excitement, which accompanies stimulus by alcohol is completely lacking […]. One senses an increase of self-control and feels more vigorous and more capable of work; on the other hand, if one works, one misses that heightening of the mental powers which alcohol, tea, or coffee induce. […]This gives the impression that the mood induced by coca [cocaine; the author] in such doses is due not so much to direct stimulation as to the disappearance of elements in one’s general state of well-being which cause depression. […]
I have tested this effect of coca [cocaine; the author], which wards off hunger, sleep, and fatigue and steels one to intellectual effort, some dozen times on myself (ibid., 60).

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Emerging disciplines: shaping new fields of scholarly inquiry in and beyond the humanities. OpenStax CNX. May 13, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11201/1.1
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