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An interesting thread appeared on 2 + 2 recently in which many players discussed the role of drugs in poker. The main gist of the thread centered on whether or not the use of drugs such as Adderall can improve one’s play. Both the pros and cons of drug use as a means to improve focus and concentration were debated. While the online poker forum shed a great deal of light on the issue, the question still remains. Do drugs help or hinder a player’s effectiveness at the poker tables?

Let’s start off with smoking weed. The practice is known to be quite prevalent among poker players. Some are in the habit of using breaks during live tournaments to run out to their cars and get stoned before returning to resume play. One such incident resulted in the Venetian casino banning a particular player for life. The medicinal effects of marijuana have been well-publicized. Normally, it gives users a calming, relaxed mood that may be beneficial to some players. But its tendency to make one feel mellow and somewhat contented may disturb the ability to achieve greater focus and concentration.

[quote text=”I don’t think people can play optimally when they take some kind of drug” person=”Allen ‘Chainsaw’ Kessler, poker pro” align=”right”]

“I don’t think people can play optimally when they take some kind of drug,” said Allen “Chainsaw” Kessler in a 2012 Quadjacks interview. Kessler admittedly only tried pot one time in his youth but admits that he “doesn’t get” those players who are so overly concerned with getting stoned during breaks. He believes that their desire or “need” to smoke pot during tourneys where high stakes are involved is highly detrimental to remaining focused on the task at hand. “You can’t possibly play optimally if your mind is not 100%,” Kessler said.

Those players who do smoke weed may be under the impression that it is improving their play. That was the case of at least one player. “I smoked pot for five years and I believed that I was a better poker player when stoned,” stated ‘Megalodon1505.’ “I WAS NOT!! And what about my life now? Poker is gone and its damn hard to quit smoking IMO!”

It wasn’t until a certain time later when viewing his drug use in a different light that ‘Megalodon1505’ realized that the effects of the drug were not working in his favor at the poker table. And to top it off, he now must contend with a possible addiction to his drug of choice. It was long rumored that marijuana had no addictive qualities. But research in the last couple decades now indicates otherwise.

[quote text=”I think any of the amphetamine type drugs actually make you a worse player because they develop a sort of bravado and fearlessness; in you which can probably be exploited by a sober player who knows that you are on an amphetamine and kind of super charged up.” person=”nutupshutup, 2+2 member” align=”left”]

Speaking of addiction, last year’s winner of the WSOP Main Event is a recovered drug addict. Greg Merson’s struggles with Adderall and other drugs have been well-chronicled. Adderall is an amphetamine that reportedly helps one to focus and become energized. It is often used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Its use among poker players as a means to sharpen their game is believed to be on the rise. Mike “The Mouth” Matusow is one such player who has admitted to using the stimulant to improve his performance on the felt.

Getting back to Merson, the WSOP champ found much greater success at poker after recovering from his addiction. Which would lead one to believe that a clear mind devoid of any artificial stimulants may be the better way to go instead of relying on a performance-enhancing drug that may possibly lead to some long-term problems that include addiction. Adderall is listed by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Class 2 controlled substance in the same category as oxycontin, opium, cocaine and morphine.

It should be remembered, however, that drugs affect people differently. And the debate on whether a drug like Adderall helps poker players received a number of opinions spanning the entire spectrum of beneficial to harmful. One interesting post at 2 + 2 came from ‘nutupshutup,’ who stated, “I think any of the amphetamine type drugs actually make you a worse player because they develop a sort of bravado and fearlessness in you which can probably be exploited by a sober player who knows that you’re on an amphetamine and kind of super charged up.” ‘Nutupshutup’ went so far as to say that “drugs make it hard to fold, so why would you want to stop people from taking them and spewing money?”

The belief that Adderall is harmful was refuted by ‘subfocused,’ who had nothing but glowing recommendations for the drug. “Adderall helps big time,” he posted. “I take my perscribed dose before any session I play. When I take it, I notice all the little things. I am absorbing the most amount of detail that I am personally capable of taking in. My focus is on the game. Without Adderall, I am all over the place.” He went on to state that the drug provides for him “a perfect chemical balance to achieve maximum success.”

As we all know, poker requires a considerable amount of time at the table that sometimes includes marathon sessions that can cause fatigue, and with it, a lack of focus. It is these long hours of required concentration that reportedly led to the downfall of Stu Ungar. Believed by many to be one of the greatest players to ever play poker, Ungar’s demise began when fellow players convinced him that snorting cocaine would allow him to endure those marathon sessions with greater focus. The result was a drug addiction that cut his life short at the young age of 45. While the legend of Ungar lives on, many still wonder what might have been had the diminutive poker champ not succumbed to the ravages of drugs.

[quote text=”Adderall helps big time.  I take my perscribed dose before any session I play. When I take it, I notice all the little things. I am absorbing the most amount of detail that I am personally capable of taking in. My focus is on the game. Without Adderall, I am all over the place.” person=”Subfocused, 2+2 member” align=”right”]

The debate on the benefits of drug use in poker will have its advocates and detractors. Some will tell you that the continued use of drugs may end up deteriorating both your game and life. They will argue that proper diet, rest and exercise are the way to go in achieving success on the felt. Other players firmly believe that using certain drugs gives them a competitive advantage that allows them to be successful. A success that may not be obtained without the use of their drug of choice.

What do you think? Do drugs allow players to play better and for longer periods of time? Or is it inevitable that continued drug use is a slippery slope that will likely lead a player into causing severe harm to his body, including possible addiction?

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Charles Rettmuller

Charles has been an avid poker player for a number of years, both live and online. He holds a degree in journalism and previously worked as a reporter for a Chicago-based newspaper. Charles joined the PokerUpdate team in early 2012 and writes daily news articles for the site.

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