Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Street Finds Its Own Uses for Things

WILLIAM GIBSON'S SUMMARY APHORISM of the cyberpunk ethic is proven to be true in the present with each passing day. News has filtered down, from the rustling pages of academe to the popular media, that athletes are experimenting with that Maginot Line of flagging virility, Viagra, to boost performance in other places than the sack. Because the drug relaxes blood vessels and thus permits enhanced blood flow, athletes reason that this will allow more oxygenated blood to reach muscles — a boon when competing far above sea level.

Some in the world of competitive sport never stop trying to find the performance magic bullet, no matter how small the effect, preferably an undetectable one, and sometimes one that's actually safe to take. Viagra originated as a solution to pulmonary hypertension, but its mode of action — via nitric oxide on blood vessels — is not restricted to the lungs. (Just ask Bob Dole or Ron Jeremy.) Over-the-counter nutritional supplements have used nitric oxide to increase blood flow to muscles for some time, presumably in subclinical doses relative to a Viagra pill.

So my question is, who first came up with the idea to apply a prescription dose of nitric oxide to an otherwise healthy person? Not all athletes fit the jock stereotype. The elite know very well what their food and nutritional supplements contain and do to their systems, and rightly so for such an investment of time, money, and effort. On the college or even high school level, however, I wonder if coaching staffs or even parents might be way these pills arrive in the players' hands. And for professional players, it's easy to say the guy needed the Viagra for its traditional use. Think how much is at stake. What's the off chance of a side effect or being found out compared with getting into a bowl game or the playoffs?

Just goes to show you that one person's finished product is another's prototype.

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