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Poker is one of those games that, to be played at its apex level, requires an extreme amount of concentration over an extended period of time. The problem with this is that poker itself is a game that has all the excitement of a snail race for much of its proceedings. To counteract this, players have always tried to find something – whether it is legal or illegal – to combat the dullness that the game sometimes inflicts on its participants.

In this, the second of a two-part series, we are going to look at the pros and cons of playing poker “under the influence.”

♠ Click Here to Read Part One: Legal Outlets 

For our experiences, the term “under the influence” means that whichever situation we are speaking of, it is enough that it is providing us a “distraction” of some sort or affecting our mindset at the poker table. With this in mind, let’s step into our closing part with what are most definitely “illegal outlets.”


This is a big one because, in some areas of the United States and Europe, marijuana isn’t a criminal substance. In the states of Washington and Colorado, for example, possession of a small amount of marijuana is not a crime (you can’t walk down the streets smoking a joint, however, you must be in your home and not all hotels allow for marijuana smoking) and in Europe there are actually bars (especially in Amsterdam) where you can imbibe. The rest of the world, however, still views marijuana as an illegal substance and that is true of poker rooms.

Marijuana LeafSeveral players enjoy using marijuana because of its relaxation value, something that is extremely valuable at the tables when faced with a critical decision. Continued usage during a session, however, tends to bring a dulling of the senses rather than a Zen-like feeling of calm. It is, in many ways, much like alcohol in that overuse of the product will impair your decision-making process rather than accentuate it. Then there’s the other side effects of smoking marijuana:  do you really want to smell as if you just got out of a Phish concert while you’re at the table?

For most, leaving your stash of marijuana back at home or in the hotel room might be the better idea. Poker rooms and casinos have ejected players for even sneaking into the parking lot to grab a spliff, thus this particular vice might be best left to another time and place rather than when you’re playing poker.


amphetaminesWhatever you might want to call it – speed, meth, “greenies” (hey, one for the old guys and gals), pep pills or crank – amphetamines are created to keep you awake and alert. They keep the mind active and allow for the user to be able to perform for a longer period of time (we won’t get into whether that performance is at a higher level or not). They also are highly illegal and, in some cases, can be highly detrimental to a person’s health.

The usage of amphetamines over an extended period of time can cause high blood pressure, elevated heart rates, cardiac arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat) and rapid breathing. If someone takes amphetamines for too long, malnutrition and a lack of sleep become serious problems. In extreme cases, there is something called “amphetamine psychosis” in which a person demonstrates a condition similar to paranoid schizophrenia (this is usually caused by high dosages over short periods of time). The cure? Quit taking amphetamines…people usually will return to normal after they have detoxed off the “bennies.”

After reading this…does this sound like a way to improve your poker game?


cocaineProbably since the 1970s, cocaine has been popular in casinos for those gamblers who wanted to go on a bender in the poker room. The effects of cocaine are very much like that of coffee, a stimulant that provides the user usually with a euphoric air or a feeling that they pretty much are invincible. Usage of cocaine inhibits three different neurotransmitters – serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine – that have an extreme effect on the body (serotonin on the gastrointestinal tract and dopamine on pleasure, for example).

Players might use cocaine because it does keep them on the tables longer than someone who wouldn’t be using it, even longer than someone who might be drinking coffee, taking speed or something else.  And it can be a long lasting drug – stories of people who have used coke staying up for days on end are numerous. But the resulting crash can be just as powerful, with depression, exhaustion and fatigue being the least of the problems that can occur.

Once again, as with the other items above, the illegality of cocaine (count on spending at least a night with the local constables should you be in possession of the substance in the poker room) probably is enough to keep most from utilizing the drug. In the end, though, do the ends justify the means?


We’ll end this series the way we started it – discussing something that is readily available for people but, in this case, is illegal for people it isn’t prescribed for to have. Adderall, the prescription drug that is used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), doesn’t seem to be the type of thing that one would use to accentuate their skills at the poker table. It isn’t until you look at what Adderall does that you discover why a player might be interested in what it would do for their game.

adderallIn an ADHD patient (or someone with narcolepsy, the brain’s inability to regulate sleep), Adderall helps to calm the person to be able to participate in everyday tasks. It is regularly prescribed to elementary school students to “rein in” unruly children and allow them to concentrate better on their academic studies (don’t blast me, Moms, just citing what the research says). According to a study whose results were published in U. S. News and World Report, approximately 2.8 million children received a prescription for some ADHD medication, including Adderall, in 2008.

When someone who hasn’t been prescribed Adderall takes the medicine, it allegedly has performance enhancing effects. Every major pro sports league and the overseer of college athletics – the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Hockey League (NHL) and the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) – ban the use of Adderall without a prescription. Even the major “eSports” league, the Electronic Sports League (ESL) – where teams from around the world compete in video gaming competitions – banned the usage of the drug without a prescription.

Adderall, strangely enough, affects two of the same neurotransmitters that cocaine does, norepinephrine and dopamine. For recreational users, this allows them to experience better athletic performance and cognitive enhancement. Toss in the additional alleged side effects of Adderall being an aphrodisiac and a euphoriant and you wonder why people aren’t rushing to take Adderall, especially poker players looking for that edge on the tables and the fun away from the felt.

According to research from 2014, Adderall does have some problems with being a “gateway” drug to harder substances. Those that have taken Adderall have admitted to taking tranquilizers and using Marijuana in the absence of having the drug. Without Adderall, users have reported suffering from headaches and bouts of insomnia. Although it hovers in that “grey area” of legality, a person does have to weigh if using Adderall is worth the hassle or not.

Since the Beginning of Time…

…Whether to enhance their performance or for their own pleasure, human beings have tried to find substances to improve themselves or enjoy life. It doesn’t matter whether they are legal or illegal, it usually comes down to the individual and just how far they are willing to go to improve their abilities or their surroundings. Thus, each individual and their own moralities are the final arbiters of playing poker under the influence – not the other players, the poker room or even the casinos.

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Earl Burton

Earl Burton has been at the forefront of the poker media for more than a decade. In both print and digital media, Earl is a highly respected voice that has covered the World Series of Poker, the World Poker Tour and several other poker events across the United States. Whether it entails covering the political side of poker, its tournaments and players, the strategy of the game or its other myriad of nuances, Earl brings an inquisitive mind, a player's desire to learn and a journalist's quest for knowledge and tries to pass that knowledge along to the readers.