Neuroenhancer Use in Poker Players

This project is outside my normal research track, which is why I sought out several collaborators whose expertise encompasses cognition, cosmetic psychopharmacology, statistics, and poker. The idea for this research dates backs to conversations at the Bellagio poker tables several years ago. Some poker players were discussing prescription drugs that they had tried in order to help them concentrate or stay awake for marathon sessions. Later, there were anecdotes about using meds to enhance performance on some poker themed podcasts. ‘Name’ poker professionals like Paul Phillips, Gavin Smith, and Mike Matusow talked about the benefits of drugs like Adderall, Provigil, and Ritalin in poker and popular media sources as well.

At the same time we were putting together this project, a piece was published in Nature on the use of cognition enhancing drugs in scientists and researchers [1]. Several really interesting articles exploring the bioethics surrounding the issue were also published prior to and directly after this period of time [2-6]. Meanwhile, we had proceeded in developing our survey to assess the use of cognitive and performance enhancing medications (CPEMs), dietary supplements, and other substances by poker players for improvement of their game.

We returned to Las Vegas for the pilot administration, which yielded some great suggestions for improving our survey tool. We had largely designed the medications and substances we asked about in the survey tool based on pharmacology, indications, and previous literature on neuroenhancers. However, some of the poker players who helped us insisted we had to add a handful of items like marijuana, alcohol, and, hydrocodone to our list of items we asked about. In retrospect this was crucial as those substances were among the most frequently reported taken as CPEMs by survey respondents.

We recently presented preliminary results at the College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists Annual Meeting and expanded results as part of the Research Division of Pharmacy Socioeconomic Initiatives at Nova Southeastern University. The slide deck of those expanded results is available on Slideshare, which can be accessed by clicking on the image above or here. Full results will be available in the coming manuscript.


[1] Maher B. Poll results: look who’s doping. Nature 2008;452(7188):674-5.
[2] Farah MJ, Illes J, Cook-Deegan R, Gardner H, Kandel E, King P, Parens E, Sahakian B, Wolpe PR. Neurocognitive enhancement: what can we do and what should we do? Nat Rev Neurosci 2004;5(5):421-5.
[3] Chatterjee A. Cosmetic neurology: the controversy over enhancing movement, mentation, and mood. Neurology 2004;63(6):968-74.
[4] Chatterjee A. Is it acceptable for people to take methylphenidate to enhance performance? No. BMJ 2009;338:b1956.
[5] Harris J. Is it acceptable for people to take methylphenidate to enhance performance? Yes. BMJ 2009;338:b1955.
[6] Cerullo M. Cosmetic psychopharmacology and the President’s Council on Bioethics. Perspect Biol Med 2006;49(4):515-23.

Health Promotion, Mofongo, and Guarana


It has been an interesting week.  The week started with a short flight down to Caguas, Puerto Rico to attend the International Conference on Health Promotion.  It had a pretty impressive lineup of speakers, including representatives from health promotion, public health, and policy hailing from Canada, Chile,  Colombia, Ecuador, France, and Spain.  I was only able to attend the first day as I traveled the next day to collaborate and consult on a grant cultivating new HIV researchers on the island.  However, I was able to see several accounts of what has been done and what is being planned in the area of public health via survey results from Chile, a forward-looking global accounting from PAHO, and a fascinating history of the efforts towards health promotion in Canada.

On the food front – it struck me that this conference, like many others focused on health, offered only decidedly unhealthy options.  I can’t really say that *I* would have made a great choice anyway, as later I had my traditional meal of Mofongo & Medalla. 

At the conference as well as the visit the following day, there was substantial interest and openness about possibilities with mHealth and SMS patient reminders for public health initiatives as well as among HIV clinicians.  Apparently, even though mobile phone penetration there isn’t quite what it is on the mainland, it is significant enough to merit attention.

Upon my return I found a message from a columnist at the Wall Street Journal who was interested in doing an interview about guarana based on an article on energy drinks I wrote a few years ago.  The timing was just a little off as another article I helped write on energy drinks, including newer issues like toxic jock identity and anti-energy drinks, will be published next month in The Physician and Sportsmedicine.  Anyway, at this point I have done enough interviews to have relative comfort – but it is always an adventure to see what actually shows up in print.  I have found it beneficial to speak both with media savvy people in my shoes and others whose business it is like @CreativeFusion (oh Twitterverse, is there anything you can’t help with?).  In this case, it was pretty brief and straightforward and I even learned about Perky Jerky.

All in all, an interesting week.  I have stayed pretty close to my 2010 plan of hump day posts, but intend to take a ‘no excuses’ approach in the future by planning further ahead as necessary.  I’ll close with this delicious piece of proximal irony that I saw on my way home.


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