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Carl Koller, Cocaine, and Local Anesthesia: Some Less Known and Forgotten Facts
  1. Michael Goerig, MD*,
  2. Douglas Bacon, MD, MA and
  3. André van Zundert, MD, PhD, FRCA, EDRA,§
  1. From the *Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, University Hospital Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany;
  2. School of Medicine, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI;
  3. Catharina Hospital-Brabant Medical School, Eindhoven, the Netherlands;
  4. §University of Ghent, Ghent, Belgium; and
  5. University of Maastricht, Maastricht, the Netherlands.
  1. Address correspondence to: André van Zundert, MD, PhD, FRCA, EDRA, Department of Anesthesiology, ICU and Pain Therapy, Catharina Hospital-Brabant Medical School, Michelangelolaan 2, NL-5623EJ, Eindhoven, The Netherlands (e-mail: zundert{at}


Abstract Modern-day local anesthesia began in 1884 with a discovery by a young unknown ophthalmologist from Vienna named Carl Koller, who placed a cocaine solution on the cornea, thus producing insensibility. The news of his discovery spread throughout the world in less than a month. “Not surprisingly,” a controversial priority discussion emerged. There is little information about this “dark side” of Koller’s discovery and only sparse data about the personalities involved in this controversy. In addition, Carl Koller’s decision to leave Vienna is also surrounded in secrecy. The story surrounding the revelation of the local anesthetic effect of cocaine and the personalities involved is fascinating and relatively unknown.

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  • The authors declare no conflict of interest.

  • The authors did not receive funding for this study.