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This Is Your Brain on Drugs: Checkmate?

September 20, 2000|PAUL KRASSNER | Paul Krassner is the author of "Sex, Drugs and the Twinkie Murders: 40 Years of Countercultural Journalism" (Loompanics Unlimited, 2000) and "Pot Stories For the Soul" (High Times Books, 1999)

It was a hot day in Phoenix--103 degrees, to be exact--and 14-year-old Nathaniel Dight was elated over his custom-made chess set. Those carved wooden pieces had been weighted precisely for the smooth moves he liked to make. But before the game could begin, young Nathaniel was ordered to take a urine test.

"I know why you're doing this," he snarled. "It's because I've won three tournaments in a row, isn't it?"

"No, son, that's just a coincidence. This is a random drug test."

"I don't do any drugs. I mean like when I get a headache from playing chess too long, I won't even take an aspirin."

"Look, here's a cup. I need you to go fill it, right now."

All right, I confess, I made all that up, but consider the implications of something that I haven't made up. America's drug czar, Barry McCaffrey, wrote in an article published in the September issue of Chess Life magazine: "Research proves that mentoring youngsters and teaching them games like chess can build resilience in the face of illegal drug use and other destructive temptations. Drug testing is as appropriate for chess players as for shot-putters or any other competitors who use their heads as well as their hands."

Accompanying the television image of a couple of eggs sizzling in a frying pan, the phrase "This is your brain on drugs" has always carried negative connotations, but apparently McCaffrey has changed his mind about that. He now seems to believe that drugs can actually improve the way your brain functions.

There was once an infamous chess player named Alexander Alekhine who held the world championship longer then anybody else. His games often had superb surprise endings, known in chess circles as "brilliancies." For instance, he would checkmate with a pawn move that no sane and sober mind could ever imagine. He was a notorious alcoholic, however, and McCaffrey is only referring to illegal drugs.

"Just when I thought I'd heard it all from McCaffrey," was the reaction of Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Foundation. "Drug testing for chess players? What's next from this over-reaching drug czar? Drug testing for tiddlywinks players? How about bingo players?"

Maybe the drug-law reformers should follow the example of gay-rights activists by having celebrities come out of the pot-smoking closet. Already, veteran stand-up comic George Carlin--in an interview by Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" following Carlin's HBO special--admitted that he smokes pot to help him "fine tune" his material. At the Shadow Convention during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, Bill Maher said, "I'm not just a pot reformer, I'm a user"--then quickly added he was just "making a light remark there, federal authorities."

As Ellen DeGeneres appeared on the cover of Time magazine saying, "Yup, I'm gay," there might come a day when a presidential candidate will appear on the cover of Newsweek saying, "Yup, I'm stoned."

Meanwhile, McCaffrey will continue his crusade, not only against illegal substances, but perhaps also against certain food supplements, such as a popular herbal mixture with a reputation for aiding memory and concentration. Who would ever have dreamed that chess players could get in trouble for using ginkgo biloba as a performance enhancer?

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