Brainpower drugs – doping in chess

4/30/2005 – In an effort to become an official Olympic sport FIDE has instated drug testing for chess. But what exactly are the authorities testing for? What legal or illegal substance could a player take in order to enhance his or her performance in a game of chess? The Washington Times has some startling revelations.

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Brainpower drugs – doping in chess

The Washington Times has an extensive article (which appeared in other news outlets as well) on cognitive enhancement, which could soon become as much an issue in sports as steroids. It turns out there are a number of substances that could have an effect on chess players, and there may actually be justification to monitor their possible abuse. Amongst others the following developments are discussed in the article:

  • Some years ago scientists discovered that giving mice extra copies of a gene linked to memory and learning improved their performance in both fields.

  • The drug modafinil, used to treat the sleep disorder narcolepsy, can boost memory and motor control in healthy people. Athletes have been caught taking the medication, which allows them to become vers "focused". It has now been placed on the Anti-Doping Agency's banned substance list.

  • Donepzil, a drug against Alzheimer's disease, has been shown to increase the concentration and alertness of pilots in a flight simulator.

  • At the Johns Hopkins University scientists are working on new medications that enhances learning and helps short-term memories become permanent. They are intended for treatment of neurological disorders, but could be used to augment these facilties in healthy people.

  • Medications that help stroke patients relearn motor skills could help healthy individuals learn new skills.

  • The beta-blocker Propranolol is known to dampen traumatic memories. It could be used to help players forget a botched game.

How serious is the danger of using such cognitive enhancers? Fairly serious, says the Washington Times. Drugs like Donepzil, for instance, can trigger dizziness, vomiting and fainting. And Drugs that keep you awake and alert usually block certain proteins which signal the brain that muschel tissue is breaking down after sever or protracted exertion. Blunting natural fatigue increases injury risk.

Still the general public is quite obsessed with enhancement drugs and therapies. According to the scientific journal Nature, Americans spend $1 billion a year on dietary supplements claiming to boost brain power alone. The demand exists, and medical science as well as the pharmaceutical industry is trying to keep up.

As a result, the WT says, sports organizations face an ethical dilemma: should they prohibit the same drugs eagerly embraced by the rest of society? Ultimately there may be two leagues – one for natural humans, and one for their chemically enhanced counterparts. According to futurist Jerome Glenn it is bound to happen. "There is no stopping the human desire to be better."


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