This is not a course of action I recommend under any circumstances. A flutter on the Grand National is OK. But gambling is not a good thing. You may have noticed gamblers tell you about their wins, not about their losses. And you never see a poor bookie, as they say.

There’s a neat report from University College London about the effect of levodopa on the tendency to gamble and take risks. This is quite important, since l-dopa is a precursor for dopamine, and is widely used to treat Parkinson’s disease. There’s always been some evidence that in about 10% of patients taking the drug there is an increase in risk taking behaviours. These can include shopping to excess, hypersexual behaviour, drug addiction, and binge eating. The guys at UCL decided to have a bit of a closer look at things.

In thirty healthy young subjects, small doses of l-dopa made subjects feel happier when they won when gambling. They also were more willing to take risks when gambling for rewards (no surprise there then) but not when the risk involved potential losses. I’m not sure about that one. A gamble of necessity carries with it the risk of losses, doesn’t it? Otherwise it’s a dead cert. Hence the old gag, ‘Is this a game of chance? Not the way I play it, no.’

What the team concluded that this is all about rewards, and the reward setup in the brain involves dopamine. We all like rewards, but crank up dopamine levels with l-dopa and everything looks rosy when you win, and because of that you’re likely to take a few more risks.

I’m delighted to say the researchers don’t extrapolate to the big wide world. As they sagely point out, a controlled experiment in the laboratory is relatively simple, but ‘In the real world, things are more complicated.’ This is the sort of honesty from scientists that the Daily Mail and the Express hate. They want screaming headlines along the lines of ‘Parkinson’s pill makes you into a compulsive gambler!’

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