Dr. William Halstead: The Cokehead Who Fathered Modern Medicine

By | September 3, 2019

test article image
Painkilling drugs that relieves general pains such as headaches, now take the place of cocaine. Source: (Photo by Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

By now, you have probably heard many stories of how cocaine was used in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was used in quack medicines, cocktails, stimulants, and even in soft drinks such as Coca-Cola. Of course, we now know that cocaine is a highly addictive  substance that can lead to destructive behavior and regrettable fashion choices, but at that time, it was viewed as harmless at worst. One turn-of-the-century doctor was basically a medical Pablo Escobar. His whole practice was fueled by cocaine, leading to some of the most groundbreaking medical advances of his day. Let’s look at the extraordinary career of Dr. William Stewart Halstead: doctor, innovator, and cocaine addict. 

test article image
Dr. William Stewart Halstead, a innovative doctor and cocaine addict. Source: (oxy.com)

A Maverick Doctor

Bold and confident even without the aid of the cocaine, William Stewart Halstead was more than just a medical doctor; he was an innovator. Born in 1852, he practiced medicine at an exciting time. The earlier discoveries of harmful microorganism and subsequent adoption of good physician hygiene practices meant that surgeries were becoming safer and more commonplace. Halstead prescribed to this antiseptic approach and was diligent about cleanliness. He also promoted new surgical techniques that were less invasive and more effective than previous practices.