Beta blockers and musicians

Um, you guys do realize that some people have heart problems in their family, right?

And that many of us don’t have a choice whether to take beta blockers or not, right?

And that we don’t go through life detached and jelly-brained, right?

That with the prevalence of heart problems in the population, there are probably more people than you realize around you right now who are taking them, right?

And that some of us are musicians, right?

Even good ones, right?


And to think, the things are nothing but a placebo anyway.

Beta blockers?

I have to admit, I’m a skeptic as to the utility of beta blockers as anything other than a placebo. It’s only recently that I’ve heard that musicians apparently take them for stage fright; I’m on them for other reasons — a genetic heart defect that runs in my family — and as a result, I take way more than most musicians would take for performances, two 50mg tablets a day for the past ten-plus years.

They do ZILCH for me in terms of performance anxiety, which I do have, enough that I detest playing for others and avoid it at all opportunities. (The nervous jitters that come with stage fright and arrhythmic palpitations are not the same thing, at all.) They also do zilch for me in terms of mood or attitude alteration. They calm the heart, but they do not seem to affect the mind at all. The only real change they brought about was that my hands get very cold easily — not exactly a good thing for a musician.

Honestly, beta blockers are already prescribed for lots of people; there are huge populations of people with heart problems and high blood pressure who already take these things. This marijuana-like total lack of anxiety is just not anything we’ve ever talked about or pursued; the placebo effect is indeed very real, but I still think this beta blocker fascination is a placebo. If it helps, it helps, but I can’t keep from thinking it’s a sugar pill.