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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Not Feeling Like Playing Chess

   For the past couple of weeks I have not felt like playing chess. This is especially bad because I had just entered a couple of server tournaments. The problem is, I ended up in the emergency room because the diuretic I was on to keep my blood pressure down got me dehydrated and, no kidding, I thought I was going to croak. The doctor took me off the diuretic and put me on something called Losartan. This stuff is bad. It did not work plus the side effects are downright nasty. Not only did it not lower my BP one whit, I have shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, loss of appetite, a stuffy nose, extreme tiredness and my sleep pattern is whacked out. Another side effect is confusion. Driving home the other night I had a hard time navigating to the point my wife offered to drive. More importantly, I think the drug may be responsible for a couple of stupid errors I made in two of my server games. I really need to get off this crap.
     The idea that chess players should be subjected to drug testing has always been controversial. I thought it was a stupid idea, but now, after my experience with Losartan, I got to checking one thing and another and that lead me to this nootropics thing and FIDE’s anti-doping rules. Maybe they are not so stupid after all.
     Nootropics, also referred to as smart drugs, memory enhancers, neuro enhancers, cognitive enhancers, and intelligence enhancers, are drugs, supplements, nutraceuticals, and functional foods that improve one or more aspects of mental function, such as working memory, motivation, and attention. At present, there are only a few drugs which have been shown to improve some aspect of cognition in medical reviews. The most commonly used class of drug is stimulants. Many drugs are marketed on the Internet as having enhancement applications but that’s probably all hype.
     In the academic world Modafinil has been used to increase productivity, although its long-term effects have not been assessed and stimulants such as dimethylamylamine and methylphenidate are used on college campuses and by young people. These stimulants are supposed to give one a cognitive edge. The main concern is adverse effects. In the United States, unapproved drugs or dietary supplements do not require safety or efficacy approval before being sold which just sounds wrong.
     The 2013 World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list and monitoring program can be found HERE.
     The most relevant banned substances for chess are: Amphetamines, Ephedrine and Methylephedrine and Pseudoephedrine. Substances not on the Prohibited List but represented in the Monitoring Program includes caffeine and Codeine, common ingredient in cough medicine and stomach upset medicine, but any dosage is highly unlikely to be significant when taken in normal therapeutic quantities.
     The notion of ‘cognitive enhancing’ drugs have the potential to be of benefit in chess. Modafinil, Adderall and Ritalin are possible drugs.  Modafinil is primarily prescribed for the treatment of shift work sleep disorder and excessive daytime sleepiness – its main function is to improve wakefulness. However, it has been seen to produce apparent cognitive enhancement effects in healthy non-sleep-deprived people though it is unclear whether these effects are sufficient or durable enough to consider it to be a cognitive enhancer. Modafinil has been shown to improve some aspects of working memory, such as digit manipulation and pattern recognition memory (essential to chess players!), the results related to spatial memory, executive function and attention. Adderal and Ritalin are primarily prescribed for the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – Adderall is primarily a mixture of four amphetamine salts while Ritalin is a psychostimulant with some similarities to cocaine.


  1. You're low on magnesium. Seriously. That explains all those symptoms. Doctors don't know this; they only know drugs which have half a dozen strange, very annoying side effects. Let me know if you want to know more. Same thing happened to me, is the reason I'm pretty sure about this.

  2. That's interesting. Shortly after the episode I saw a young doctor at an express care clinic who prescribed a different BP med and not only did it not work, but I was having, of all things, anxiety attacks! After finally getting in to see my regular doctor she said it was a rare side effect of that drug (don't remember what it was). She also said the dosage I was prescribed of both the BP med and the diuretic was way too high and she put me on a low dose of Losartan; the results were like magic! Not only did I feel great, but my BP dropped to (and has remained) about 115/65 with absolutely no side effects.

    Oddly, I discovered that drinking Gatorade helps lower BP probably because it contains potassium. Only problem...unless you are sweating a lot it also acts as a diuretic...drink a bottle and pee two!! One has to be careful though because too much potassium can also damage the kidneys and overly high levels can lead to dangerous irregular heart rhythms.