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Medical News & Perspectives
September 5, 2017

Chess Study Revives Debate Over Cognition-Enhancing Drugs

JAMA. 2017;318(9):784-786. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.8114

A placebo-controlled study suggesting that cognition-enhancing drugs (CEs) can improve a chess player’s performance and a related survey indicating that nearly 10% of ranked German chess players have taken them during competition have thrown the spotlight once again on “smart pills,” their purported benefits, and uncharted dangers.

About a decade ago, reports filled the general and scientific media about the illicit use of such CEs as methylphenidate, a stimulant used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and modafinil, a wakefulness agent used to treat narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and shift work disorder, by students and others who were taking them to improve performance on examinations or in the workplace. There were stories about the risks and ethics of such behavior, countered by calls from some neuroscientists for a more open mind about the drugs and their positive side. The field of brain augmentation was even given a chic new name, cosmetic neurology.

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