James Stewart, Adderall and the Brain Game
On Dec. 17, the FIM announced that it was suspending James Stewart for 16 months, retroactive to his failed April 12 drug test. Stewart responded by saying he will race again and appeal the suspension, but it appears likely that he will not compete in any FIM- or AMA-sanctioned events until the 2015 season is all but over.
The reasoning behind Stewart’s suspension has been discussed extensively by the motocross media, so there’s no need to go into that here. There’s also no need to beat the dead horse that is the performance-enhancing capabilities of Adderall, the drug for which Stewart tested positive.
What’s worth talking about instead is the link between Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Stewart’s career has been rife with crashes — and concussions. Brain injuries in contact sports have come under scrutiny in recent years, prompted in part by well-publicized cases of former NFL and WWE athletes who have battled mental illness or even committed suicide, allegedly due to deteriorating brain function caused by repeated head injuries.
Because of the speeds and jumps involved, motocross and supercross pose a considerable TBI risk to their athletes. In a way, Stewart epitomizes the risks confronting these riders, as he is among those who ride the fastest and fly the farthest. Unfortunately, he has sometimes been among those who hit the ground the hardest.
Recently, studies have shown that people with TBI show symptoms similar to ADHD and that there may even be a link between ADHD and TBI, particularly if the TBI occurred during childhood. While it’s unclear whether Stewart suffered any brain injuries during his lengthy amateur career, given his numerous spectacular crashes as a professional, it seems at least possible.
Beyond this, during a recent episode of the Joe Rogan podcast, guest Dr. Rhonda Patrick discussed brain injuries in UFC fighters and other combat sports. Notably, she said that it doesn’t take a direct blow to the head to cause a head injury, but that “body shots” can also cause a TBI.
When it comes to motocross, this means that anytime a rider powers through a set of whoops or comes down hard from a jump, he could be rocking his brain enough to injure it, albeit slightly. If this is true, it’s easy to see how a rider of Stewart’s speed could experience some TBI symptoms without even hitting the ground.
Many have speculated that James Stewart was prescribed Adderall by his doctor for ADHD-like symptoms, which include having trouble focusing. It’s worth noting here that Stewart’s ability to finish races – and finish them in first place – has improved recently. He’s often looked like the James Stewart of old in 2014, but with an enhanced ability to stay on the bike. Could Adderall be the reason for his increased performance and newfound focus?
Based on the research I did for this article and what I know of Stewart’s past, it seems likely that his ability to focus has been impacted by past brain injuries. It also seems likely that Adderall has helped him deal with this problem to some extent.
While it’s disappointing that race fans won’t see the No. 7 Suzuki on the track anytime soon, Stewart’s suspension could be a small price to pay if Adderall has truly helped him overcome his past troubles with focus on the racetrack – particularly since he now has a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) that will allow him to use Adderall when he finally returns to racing.
We may not witness it in 2015, but here’s hoping we haven’t seen the last of Stewart’s magic on a motorcycle.