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Stanton Peele Comments on Marke's Cocaine Book

Well I happened to notice the Pwned By Sadists Möbius Beltway Hour (aka PBS Newshour) interviewed a guy who wrote a book about cocaine. I didn't watch the video, but read both pages:

Cocaine's Historical Ties to Rubber Gloves, Beverages, Freud's Nightmares

Cocaine: How 'Miracle Drug' Nearly Destroyed Sigmund Freud, William Halsted

I wrote my own comment for the former page, which, surprisingly was published. In case it goes away I will put it below (slightly updated to fix verb tense and add a link to

But I knew I wanted to read what Stanton Peele would have to say about it, so I wrote him and told him I'd love to read him comment about it via his blog. Fortunately for me he'd already prepared a piece and told me to share it! So here it is!


Howard Markel, a medical history professor at the University of Michigan (where I received my Ph.D.) has written "An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine." The book reveals the horrors of famous people becoming addicted to cocaine without knowing it was addictive.

Historical note: This oversight continued for quite a long time. Pharmacologists did not classify cocaine as addictive until the 1980s, when the last great popular wave of cocaine use swept the United States and the world. Apparently, people never learned the lesson Dr. Markel tells us that Freud and Halsted so obviously presented.

When we think of addicts, we think of down-and-outers whose lives are severely hindered by their addictions. But Freud and Halsted are two of the greatest turn-of-the-century medical figures. So we must come to grips with their simultaneous reliance on cocaine and their epochal reputations. (It is for such a purpose that the term "high-functioning" was invented. But does that term take some of the wind out of the sails of what addiction is supposed to mean?)

Let me confess beforehand that I am relying for the ideas in Markel's book (aside from examining its title) on the New York Times review by Dwight Garner.

Here is what Markel (according to Garner) says about the men's distinguished careers despite their addictions:

Freud's major cocaine period was "between roughly 1884 and 1896, when he was in his 20s and 30s," according to the article. He quit when he was 40. First off, how did he overcome the addiction? After all, AA and the Betty Ford Center had not been invented. But Markel implies that quitting his addiction did not end cocaine's influence over Freud (did I hear someone from AA say, "Ceasing use doesn't mean his addiction was over if he wasn't attending nightly NA meetings"?)

Recent scholarship, he writes, has offered "nuanced contemplations on the connection of Sigmund's cocaine abuse to his signature ideas about accessing unconscious thoughts with talk therapy; the division of how our mind processes pleasure and reality; the interpretation of dreams; the nature of our thoughts and sexual development; the Oedipus complex; and the elaboration of the id, ego and superego."

He quotes the historian Peter Swales thus: "Freud's [concept of the] libido is merely a mask and a symbol for cocaine; the drug, or rather its invisible ghost, haunts the whole of Freud's writing to the very end."

Now what does this mean -- that addiction is forever, even is someone no longer uses the drug? Very AAish, don't you think? And so, if I quit smoking when I was 40, would any work I did thereafter still be influenced by the drug?

But if Freud -- a clever man -- had quit the drug because he no longer found its effects positive, how did he not come to be fully aware of the negative aspects of the drug or recognize the effects it had on his thinking?

Moreover, are all of these ideas bad? After all, they held sway over the field of psychiatry for many decades.

According to Garner, "Dr. Markel makes the case here that Halsted never entirely got over his addictions, and remained an abuser -- albeit a high-functioning one -- of cocaine and morphine until the end of his life."

What does this mean -- that Halsted continued to abuse but was no longer so severely addicted as he had been? Can people cut back their addictions? Doesn't that take the edge off some of the malevolence attributed to the drug?

As for high-functioning,

[Halsted] was perhaps the world's greatest surgeon at the time, a pioneer of germ-free operating rooms at Johns Hopkins Hospital and of an extremely gentle surgical style called the School of Safety. He created the now-ubiquitous rubber glove for use by medical personnel, after watching doctors and nurses scrub their hands raw with harsh chemical disinfectants.

Damn, some of those addicts could really perform!

The review drops a number of other names from the book:

Admirers of Vin Mariani (cocaine tincturated in alcohol) included Ulysses S. Grant, who, dying of throat cancer, drank it while writing his memoirs. Celebrity endorsements arrived from Jules Verne, Henrik Ibsen, Thomas Edison, Robert Louis Stevenson, Alexandre Dumas and Arthur Conan Doyle. It's pleasant to imagine each in a newspaper ad for Vin Mariani with a tag line proclaiming, as Lenny Bruce would later say about his heroin use: "I'll die young, but it's like kissing God."

But these men didn't die young or suffer foreshortened careers. Verne lived to be 77; Ibsen, 78; Edison, 84; Dumas, 68; Doyle, 71. They were among the leading writers of fiction and, in Edison's case, perhaps the world's all-time greatest applied scientist. What does it mean to compare these men to Bruce, who died at 40? And should Grant have been denied the anesthetic relief provided by the beverage while he died of an extremely painful cancer?

I know, I know -- drugs are bad. They're addictive. People shouldn't take them. Drug users can't avoid becoming addicted. Addiction is bad because it destroys lives. When it doesn't destroy lives, that is because addiction is so subtle that even highly successful -- monumentally so -- people are actually secret addicts.

But what does this mean about addiction -- that all drug users are equally addicted whether they live long and prosperous lives or short, degraded ones?

Sorry -- this doesn't make sense.

Thus ends Stanton Peele's review.
And now for my comment:

Calling cocaine, heroin, cannabis, alcohol, etc… pathogens — it seems to me — is the opposite of sound medical analysis.

I have taken to calling PBS the Pwned By Sadists network, and the Newshour is now the Möbius Beltway Hour.

Ever since I took up the cause of ending prohibition and asked you to interview some of the MANY noteworthy people who speak for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition — I also highly recommend Ethan Nadelmann Ph.D. — you all have taken up the prohibitionist angle at every turn.

Please tell me what your answers are to these questions:
* Should we have imprisoned Louis Armstrong (and dozens of other jazz composers/performers) for smoking marijuana?
* What was the result of the "dark impulses" of those jazz performers?
* Would the world be a better place if lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key prohibitionists sent Dr. Halsted to prison for a few dozen years due to a mandatory minimum sentence?
* Why do you act like legalizing drugs means handing them out on street corners? That is what we have now!

There is a substance that has worked wonders for many who feel addicted to opiates, cocaine, and meth. But guess what? It too has illegally been made illegal! Ibogaine is NOT for everyone, and there are specific guidelines the caregiver and patient should follow. But many people have been relieved of their cravings in time measured by hours, not months or years.

Call on Jack Cole, and I know he'd be more than glad to tell you about how the Netherlands has seen 20% of their heroin addicts stop using drugs altogether; they are allowed to go to a state clinic up to three times per day for access to unadulterated heroin. Since the state distributes it for a negligible sum, the black market has shrunk dramatically, because law enforcement does not prop up artificially high prices; crime has similarly dropped dramatically.

Do some homework on Portugal and realize their 10-year-anniversary of decriminalizing all drug use has been a major boon for them.

We ARE being destroyed by the ever increasing spending on our police state and prison industrial complex.

If you want drugs in the hands of kids then by all means, keep on cheering for prohibition which excels at that since dealers don't card for age and look to take advantage of youthful rebellion and naiveté (like the SOB that pot and heroin are the same). But if you want to take away the power from the pushers then you will do all you can to end prohibition this very day! Only by taking away their profit-motive can you begin to shrink the black market, face it, the scorched earth policy of the prohibitionists has only made matters worse!

Calling them "controlled substances" is a joke, the government does not control them, the black market does!

Read After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation, for how we can really regain control of these once legal substances.

Read Drugs and the Mind

Read Consumer Union's: Licit and Illicit Drugs

Read Drug Warriors and their Prey

The last three will enlighten you with how prescient they were. The Consumer Reports book has guidelines which should have been followed back in the early 1970s!