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Did the CIA trade Viagra for intel?

CIA operatives in Afghanistan may be buying favors from local leaders using the erection-boosting drug Viagra, the  Washington Post reports. A tribal patriarch described in the Post story was happy to provide info about Taliban trade routes to intel officers in exchange for the little blue pills.

"Whatever it takes to make friends and influence people—whether it's building a school or handing out Viagra," a CIA operative told the paper. Another CIA source was careful to point out that the agency only uses tactics "consistent with the laws of our country."

But according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Viagra should only be obtained through a prescription and used under a doctor's care. And for good reason, says Christopher Saigal, an assistant urology prof at the University of California—Los Angeles.

Among other things, he notes, "Viagra can increase the risk of having a heart attack if you're taking nitrates, which are used to relieve chest pain from heart disease." Nitrate medications may not be commonly prescribed in Afghanistan, but there are other potential complications to consider. If a person takes too much Viagra, it may increase the  risk of a rare condition called priapism—"an erection that won't go down," because the blood flows into the penis through the arteries but cannot escape through the veins, which become compressed. "The tissue begins to die," he says, "and you get this kind of woody, indurated [hardened] tissue. If untreated, it can lead to permanent inability to get an erection."

Despite safety concerns, Viagra may have found a new niche—Afghan men ages 60 and older who have to juggle the needs of up to four younger wives (the maximum number allowed by the Koran, as the Post points out). After all, the average man reaches his sexual peak in his twenties, and testosterone levels decrease by about 1 percent every year after the age of 30, Saigal says, adding: "I'm glad they're making love not war, is all I can say."

Image credit ©iStockphoto.com/creatingmore

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