These days the crusade against doping is in full swing. It started last century almost at the same time the war on drugs , the war on cancer and the war on terrorism started. Any intelligent person reading papers or watching TV knows the last three ended up as total failures: drugs are rampant, cancer isn’t eradicated (just less people died from lung cancer because we stopped smoking), and terrorism? Enough said.
Maybe the world of sports just isn’t smart enough to see the writing on the wall: the war on doping will also end up as an expensive failure, where the cure is worse than the disease. Think about the Prohibition, one of the largest social experiments ever performed, involving millions of Americans, and again, a total disaster in its effects.
It‘s not because I like it to go this way, no, it’s just predictable because of human history, human psychology and human biology and the sooner we realize that, the less damage will be done.
I won’t bore you, at least not this time, with the history, the numbers and the trends. But I can tell you one thing, while the doping testers still think they are getting closer to catching athletes, in reality they have to rely on tricks like changing the banned list (meldonium), test for useless substances that do not enhance performance to a justifiable extent (methylgeranamine) , or do retrospective testing of samples of 8 years ago, (8, why not 30 years? ). Apparently gene doping will be next.
And there are new trends, one of them is brain-doping. Since the brain, in my opinion, is the largest and most important performance organ of the athlete, not the heart, the muscle, or the fascia.
Brain-doping has a long history, outside of sports. It started with “nootropics”, originally substances protecting the brain against damage and aging, and preventing cognitive deficits like dementia and Alzheimer. These drugs were later popularized as “smart drugs”. Not by athletes, but very popular with students and people who have to perform cognitive work, thinking, studying, or memorizing. A few of these are on the banned list, but most of them are not. Amazing: in a competitive environment like academia, where Nobel prizes are like Olympic medals, where publishing is like competing, and where jobs and positions are not for grabs, nobody really seems to care about this advantage by using smart drugs or your colleagues getting smarter than you and taking your position. There is no call for a “brain-doping-test” at any university. Level playing field? Yes, great idea, but not in academia.
I am sure that it won’t take long for the sports doping testers to put more of these compounds on the banned list, since they can be detected.
Unfortunately, doping-testers don’t use smart-drugs themselves otherwise they would have thought about another new way of enhancing performance, which some extremely smart people (even without the use of smart drugs) use to enhance performance in athletes: electro-doping.
I kind of gave a small introduction into this in my last blogpost. Most people think about chemical substances in order to change or improve biochemical processes in the body. But electromagnetic waves can do the same and better.
Many of us are familiar with the use of electric or electromagnetic applications e.g. EMS (Charlie Francis) to increase muscle strength, decrease pain or improve recovery.
For many years, again, outside of sports, scientists have researched the effects of electricity and electromagnetic field on brain functioning. The electroshock is probably the most known and most frightening example. The last decade, due to technical developments, applications like TDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation) and TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) have gained popularity. But also as a spin-off of the nootropic movement (people trying to become smarter through pharmacology and technology). They have experimented influencing their brain functioning by means of electricity and electromagnetic waves. The late Michael Hutchinson (Megabrain) was one of the pioneers in this field.
In 1986 I coincidentally met with Jose Maria Rodriguez -Delgado, one of the most important scientists who worked with brain stimulation. He made it to the front page of the New York Times by modifying the brain activity of a bull in the bullring. He did this by sending signals telemetrically into the brain of the bull with a sender and receiver system. This way he could make the bull run and stop at his command. A good example of how complex behavior can be modified by electric signals, even at a distance.
In 2004 during, an International Space Medicine Congress, I met with prof. Lebedev from Russia, who already had being doing research on the effects of electric brain stimulation for decades. He used it to induce sleep, decrease pain and increase the output of endorphins.
My problem with most of these technologies is the fact that they use one frequency, one waveform and one application only, and most often not a resonance frequency, so a more sophisticated use is not possible.
A small smart group of people (they don’t need nootropics) working in sport, are using these technologies to enhance performance in an effective, safe and legal way by stimulating the brain with different electromagnetic waveforms, frequencies and application forms.
I know your first question: does it really work? Well, don’t believe me on my word and go out and search and research for yourself. The scientific valid research is out there, don’t expect to become an Einstein, Feynman or Hawking overnight using these technologies, or in sports, to become Michael Jordan or Usain Bolt in a few hours.
Here is some reading as an introduction only to start with:
J.M.Delgado : Physical Control of the Mind, 1969. Harper Torch Books, 1969.
M.Hutchinson: Megabrain – new tools and techniques for brain growth and mind expansion. Ballantine Books, 1986.
Snyder, A: Explaining and inducing savant skills: privileged access to lower level, less-processed information; Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B Vol. 364, 2009, pg. 1399–1405.
Chi, R; Snyder,A : Facilitate Insight by Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation; Plos One, February 2011, Volume 6, Issue 2, e16655
C.Miniussi; W.Paulus; P.M.Rossini ; Transcranial Brain Stimulation; CRC Press, 2013.
J.Horstman ; Brave New Brain Scientific American, 2010.
George M.S. Stimulating the Brain, Sci.Am.Sept 2003, pg. 33-39.
Bolognini, N; Pascual-Leone, A; Fregni, F: Using non-invasive brain stimulation to augment motor training-induced plasticity; Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, doi:10.1186/1743-0003- 6-8
Davis, N.J: Neurodoping: Brain Stimulation as a Performance-Enhancing Measure; Sports Med. DOI 10.1007/s40279-013-0027-z
Goodall, S, Gowatson, G; Homer, L; Ross, E: Transcranial magnetic stimulation in sport science – A commentary; Eur.J.Sports Sci. DOI:10.1080/17461391.2012.704079
Fomin, R; Sergeev, V: Nesterik, ;, Kosminin, V: Effect of intense muscular activity on motor potentials under magnetic stimulation of brain and spinal cord; J. Hum. Sport Exerc. Vol. 5, No. 3, 2010, pp. 348-357.
Reis, J; Schambra, H.M; Cohen, L.G; Buch, E.R; Fritsch, B; Zarahn, E; Celnik, P.A; Krakauer, J.W: Non-invasive cortical stimulation enhances motor skill acquisition over multiple days through an effect on consolidation Proc.Nat Acad. Sci. doi_10.1073_pnas.0805413106