Aug 4 2010

Drugs are Helping Poker Pro’s Stay Focused

written by: John under News Comments: 2

Poker DrugsCollege students have always been fans of any substance that would keep them awake and focused. Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta are three major medications used for those with Attention Deficit Disorder, Hyper Activity, and even Narcolepsy. The main goal of these drugs is to help people focus and to pay attention on the things that they are suppose to be doing. For some people who suffer with ADD/HD, these meds are prescribed to make school work become a little easier. It does not make you smarter, but it can remove unnecessary distractions.

Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta are all prescription drugs available only from a doctor. However, from 1990 to 1998 the number of children (mostly boys) identified as having this disorder shot up from 900,000 to nearly 5 million!   Generation X and Y both know somebody close by that has been prescribed one of these drugs.


The use of performance enhancing drugs has been an issue in sports since sports began. According to doping historian and physician Gary Wadler, the first documented fatality from a Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) came in 1886, when an English cyclist died from an overdose of “Trimethyl” in a French race. Since then, almost every significant athletic achievement, from Lance Armstrong’s six consecutive Tour de France wins to Barry Bonds’ season home run record, has been greeted with cheers and skepticism by a jaded audience because of weekly revelations of sports doping.

And it may be a surprise to some to realize that the sport of poker is not immune to PEDs. For many poker players, the drug of choice is Adderall, which sharpens attention and adds hours onto an attention span which would otherwise need to break for food and sleep. This drug is especially popular with those players competing in tournaments and enduring very long days. It is not uncommon for live and online poker tournaments to go on until 3 or 4 am. There’s a lot of pressure on players to stay in the game mentally, as well as physically, keeping with their poker face.

An outspoken player who admits to using Ritalin, Mike “The Mouth” Matusow, writes openly in his book, “Check-Raising the Devil,” open using illegal drugs during a rough patch in his life. He goes on to explain that the drugs heightened his awareness and his poker career benefited greatly. He was later diagnosed as having ADHD and a Bi-Polar disorder, at which time he cleaned himself up, stopped taking the street drugs, and began taking Depakote and Ritalin, controlled substances prescribed to him legally by a doctor. By controlling his prescription medications, Matusow now achieves the same level of concentration and awareness as when he was taking street drugs. It’s a constant struggle to balance medications, but with the close supervision of his doctor, he says that he is doing well.


Nova Southeastern University Florida College of Pharmacy questioned 198 participants who play poker and discovered that 28% said they took at least one prescription medication to improve their performance. Of those who took a cognitive and performance-enhancing medication, 73% said it was to help them focus or concentrate.

Respondents included professional poker players, semi-pro, amateur, and recreational players. Most were males in their mid-20s and an overwhelming majority of the poker they play involves some amount of money, mostly no-limit Texas Hold ‘em, both online and in person. Of those polled 40% said they obtained their meds through a prescription, while a fourth of them received them from other poker players. Another quarter bought medications from their peers, while 10% acquired them online by perusing their e-mail’s junk mail folder. Other substances taken by players wanting to “do better” included caffeine, Red Bull, vitamin and dietary supplements, sports drinks, and even marijuana.

Kevin Clauson, an associate professor at Nova Southeastern University was lead researcher in this study. According to him, “Most people we surveyed are using some kind of boost in order to play [poker].”  He went on to suggest that those polled said the use of marijuana and other substances allow them to focus better and concentrate on their game, giving them more of a competitive advantage.


In a Los Angeles Times article on legal performance drugs, it seems that everyone from classical musicians to physicists are trying to get a prescriptions for “attention enhancers.” If people who are paid to think for a living are showing improved performance while using legal prescription drugs, it makes you wonder.

There is no question that smoking pot does make you, well, stoned—i.e., coordination can deteriorate and concentration is impaired. If you smoke during lunch hour, your job performance will suffer. In addition, your abilities remain impaired for four to eight hours after the feelings of being stoned passes—much longer that with alcohol. The most common view is that, while marijuana doesn’t exactly qualify as a health food, on the whole, it causes fewer problems than its two main competitors on the recreational drug scene, alcohol and tobacco.

Granted, that is like saying it causes fewer problems than nuclear war. But do you have to ask why marijuana is illegal and alcohol and tobacco aren’t. And, remember that all prescription drugs carry side effects. One major side affect of performance enhancing drugs is addiction. Be sure to research and understand all the dangers of taking a particular prescription drug before commencing the prescription. That is your responsibility.

As performance enhancing drugs become more popular, it is likely we will see the law come down harder on illegal abuse and the doctors who provide the drugs… (ah hem… Michael Jackson…)

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