Study finds some poker players use performance-enhancing substances


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Elite and pro athletes using drugs to enhance performance is nothing new. But poker players? Really?

In a recent study, some players admitted to using drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, Valium, plus other prescription medication. They also said they relied on caffeine, energy drinks and guarana to try to maintain an upper hand against their competitors.


That’s what researchers from Nova Southeastern University in Florida found when they interviewed 198 professional, semi-pro, amateur and recreational players from the U.S. and around the world about their use of cognitive and performance-enhancing drugs, as well as dietary supplements and other substances, to improve performance while playing poker. Researchers also asked how the drugs were acquired and the motivation for using them. The preliminary results of the study were presented recently at the annual meeting of the College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists in San Antonio, Texas.

The study did not include the use of anabolic steroids.

Among the players (most of them men in their mid-20s), 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. The most popular medication was amphetamines or dextroamphetamines, followed by benzodiazepines (tranquilizers), hydrocodone (a painkiller), and methylphenidate (usually used to treat attention deficit disorders).

As to how they got the medications, 38% obtained them from a physician, 26% were given the drugs by players, 26% bought drugs from players and 10% purchased them online.

Prescription drugs weren’t the only substances the players relied on -- 71% used caffeine, 51% drank energy drinks, 34% smoked marijuana and 30% used alcohol. In addition, 46% took a dietary supplement such as vitamin B-12 or guarana.

‘The use of these substances could allow poker players to stay awake longer, as well as focus and concentrate better, which would be a competitive advantage,’ said Kevin Clauson, an associate professor at NSU’s college of pharmacy, in a news release. Clauson, the principle investigator in the study, added, ‘Stamina is important for any poker player because tournament poker and cash games can go on for many hours.’

-- Jeannine Stein