It’s a well-known fact that sports aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be where the participants are concerned. On numerous occasions, sportsmen and women have been splashed all over newspapers and the media for having a connection with drugs. But these aren’t always one and the same type of drug.
Of course, different sports require different strengths, so it’s often a case of using the one that works best for your particular sport. But what are the most commonly used drugs for sports cheats to use?
We’re going to be taking a look at these different types of drugs and how they work in the user’s favour. Furthermore, we want to know about the most scandalous drugs discoveries in the sporting world, and how these have been detected by the authorities. Plus, what sort of success rate do these drugs actually have on the sports stars themselves, and how does it affect their choice of career?
Let’s take a closer look at the commonly used drugs for sports cheats and find out more about them.
Doping in Sport
In competitive sports, the term ‘doping’ refers to the utilisation of one or more banned athletic performance-enhancing drugs by competitors. Such practice is considered to be extremely unethical, and it is therefore prohibited by most of the international sports organisations. This includes the International Olympic Committee.
This isn’t something that is a new trend being discovered, though. In actual fact, doping can be traced right back to the actual creation of sport in general. Chariot racers back in ancient Greece, Rome, Iran and so on, would use various substances to try and enhance their horse’s abilities during events, and this sort of process has carried on throughout the proceeding centuries, spreading to just about all types of sports today.
Views among athletes themselves has also varied from country to country throughout time, along the general trend among authorities and sporting organisations has actually been to regulate such drug use very strictly. This is not just due to the fact that it is often cited as cheating, but also because such substances can be very dangerous to a person’s health. Of course, it also goes against the grain of what competitive sports should be – equal opportunities for all to win.
Substances Most Commonly Used
Some of the most common substances used by cheating athletes will likely have been heard of by many people before. Others may be relatively new to your ears, but they all remain popular with those intent on breaking the rules against drug use.
While steroids as a drug have been around for a lot longer, over the past 20-25 years, they have been seen as quite the epidemic in the sporting world. Anabolic steroids are drugs that have been derived from testosterone, which is a hormone produced primarily in men, but also in women to a lesser extent. It’s partially responsible for the developmental changes that occur during puberty and adolescence. However, it also controls the build-up and breakdown of the body’s main biochemical components of tissues, including muscle.
Two types of anabolic steroid exist – exogenous and endogenous. The former of these is the synthetically-created testosterone hormone, while the latter is the naturally occurring one in the body.
Due to the fact that testosterone affects muscle growth in humans, raising the levels of this in the blood essentially helps athletes to pile on the muscle for both size and strength purposes. Anabolic steroids can be taken either in pill form or by being directly injected into the muscle. Some athletes who have used steroids have also claimed that they reduce body fat and recovery time following an injury.
Unfortunately, steroids do have certain side effects as well, such as increased body hair and deepening of the voice, which aren’t always welcome, especially for women. In a bid to counteract those side effects, scientists developed steroids that maintain the anabolic effects, but have a lower effect on the so-called negatives.
Some of the most heard of instances where steroids have been used in sports came about during the 1970s and 80s. The East German Olympic swimmers were said to have used them in a bid to improve their performances during events. That spread to other East German athletes, who also utilised them for the same reasons. The results of these sportspeople appeared to be quite the wonderful success at the time, dating back to the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, where East German participants won more medals than their Western counterparts. That outcome continued every four years, and in 1976 and 1980, the East German athletes were ranked second in the world medal count.
Of course, the use of these steroids, known as androstenedione, resulted in impressive outcomes in the respective events of the people using them. However, they also had terrible effects on their heath as well. Female athletes experienced symptoms of masculinisation, while around 1,000 sportspeople ended up with lasting psychological issues. Former swimmer Rica Reinisch went on to suffer multiple miscarriages and recurring ovarian cysts, for example. A big group of former athletes went on to sue a pharmaceuticals giant in 2005, for the damage suffered while being under the country’s doping program during the 70s and 80s.
How Are Steroids Tests Conducted?
Testing for anabolic steroids is much better today than it was back in the 70s. At that time, basic radioimmunoassay tests were conducted. However, in today’s world, anabolic steroids and any connected by-products can usually be detected easily in a urine sample.
However, due to the fact that testosterone occurs naturally in the body, and the levels of it can fluctuate on a daily basis from person to person, it’s difficult to set a threshold as to when it can be considered that an athlete is misusing such.
Both testosterone and an associated compound, epitestosterone, are eliminated from the body in urine. When an athlete takes testosterone or any precursors, the ratio of the former to the latter may increase. The International Olympic Committee said at one point that an athlete is guilty of doping if their urine sample displays a T/E (testosterone/epitestosterone) ratio above 6.
However, there remain problems with this test, as was the case with Diane Mohdahl. The British athlete was served a four-year ban after a test she took came back as positive. She could only achieve this though by demonstrating that a high T/E ratio in her urine sample could have been the result of a bacterial contamination. Furthermore, some athletes naturally have high ratios of this. So, continuing advancements are being made in a bid to accurately detect steroid use in athletes today.
This kind of drug will usually act on the body’s central nervous system so as to moderate both function and behaviour. Essentially, a stimulant will increase a user’s sense of excitement and decrease any sensation of fatigue. Essentially, parts of your brain and body will speed up, as does the heart rate, blood pressure, metabolism and body temperature. Stimulants will also increase the competitive side of a sportsperson, whilst bringing about a more aggressive nature.
The most common stimulants used by sportsmen and women include amphetamines, cocaine, ecstasy and methylphenidate. The effects of these drugs differ depending upon how they’re ingested, and which drug is being used. A drug snorted or injected will deliver much more immediate effects than any taken in pill form, for example.
While nicotine and caffeine have also been cited as stimulants, they are not banned in sports competitions. They are currently being monitored for potential misuse in events, though.
Different stimulants also come with different risks for the user. That being said, the risks are exceptionally high. Cocaine use has the added side effects of paranoia and panic attacks. It can also lead to the loss of smell, problems swallowing, in some cases cause heart attacks, and is a highly addictive drug, too. Amphetamines, on the other hand, can damage the liver and kidneys, cause hallucinations and even violent behaviour. Long term damage includes the destruction of memories and emotions.
In 2013, the Jamaican sprinter and track athlete Asafa Powell was discovered to be using a banned stimulant known as oxilofrine. This saw him withdraw from the World Athletics Championships that same year as a result. Both he and his fellow Jamaican sprinter Sherone Simpson, had chosen to take the supplement Ephiphany D1, which was given to them as part of their training regime. Both men said that they did not know it contained oxilofrine, and it was later found out that the manufacturer of this did not disclose that information, either. The pair sued the company that sold them the supplement, Dynamic Life Nutrition (DLN), so that they could also clear their names.
How Are Stimulants Tests Conducted?
It is possible to locate stimulants in the human body through numerous different tests. A urine sample will frequently provide all the information needed, although it can also be discovered in a blood sample and sometimes saliva. The most common tests for this include immunologic assay, chromatography and mass spectrometry.
Human Growth Hormone
The human growth hormone (HGH) occurs naturally as hormone in the human body. It promotes physical development, and more specifically targets the bones during adolescence. It also stimulates the synthesis of collagen, and this is a necessity when it comes to the strengthening of cartilage, bones, ligaments and tendons. In adults, HGH will also increase the number of red blood cells, whilst boosting heart function and providing more energy by helping to break down fat. Other effects of such have shown it to increase a user’s muscle mass, boost their strength and repair tissue.
Due to the fact that HGH is a protein hormone, it is very easy to manufacture large quantities of it. Simply using recombinant DNA technology allows this to occur. As with steroids, HGH does have a legitimate place in medicine, especially for people with Growth Hormone Deficiency (GHD) or muscle weakness. That hasn’t stopped it from being misused by professional athletes, though.
There are health risks associated with its use as well, though. Too much HGH prior to or during puberty can result in gigantism (huge growth in height and other attributes). Following puberty, it can cause something known as acromegaly. This is a disease which is displayed in the excessive growth of the head, feet and hands. The organs of the body and digestive system may also increase in size, which can cause heart failure. Anyone suffering from acromegaly is likely to die before the age of 40. It an also lead to diabetes, bone and muscle pain, osteoarthritis, hypertension and cardiac limitations.
In 2010, the English rugby player Terry Newton was suspended after he tested positive for HGH. And in 2012, the Bulgarian sprinter Inna Eftimova was banned from competition for two years when it was discovered she had also been using the drug.
How Are HGH Tests Conducted?
Testing for HGH involves two complimentary approaches. These are known as the isoforms approach and the markers approach.
While little is heard of regarding blood doping, it remains a quite common option for sportspeople to take. It requires the use of various methods and substances to increase a person’s red blood cell count. With a higher blood cell count of this nature, more oxygen can be transported to the muscles of the body, thereby resulting in increased stamina and performance output. The three main types of blood doping are erythropoietin (EPO), blood transfusions and synthetic oxygen carriers.
EPO has very much been the drug of choice for endurance athletes to utilise. With this being the case, it is very highly associated with cycling, and Lance Armstrong was discovered as a user of such. The disgraced American seven-time Tour de France champion was stripped of his titles after admitting to taking the drug following an investigation. Armstrong outrightly denied it for a long time before finally coming clean. EPO is produced naturally in the kidneys, and it stimulates the production of red blood cells and haemoglobin. That’s highly useful for professional athletes who have to endure long periods of activity. Because EPO can be created synthetically by recombinant DNA, it is easy to acquire and inject.
However, if EPO levels are too high, too many red blood cells can be created, resulting in a thickening of the blood. That can lead to clotting, strokes and heart attacks. Various cyclists have succumbed to the drug due to repeated doses of EPO through the years. Other sportspeople associated with EPO drug misuse include boxer Shane Mosley, athletics stars Rashid Jacobs, and 50km walk participant Alex Schwazer.
Blood transfusions were in operation prior to the introduction of synthetic blood doping drugs. However, even with this being the case, blood transfusions still occur. They provide a relatively simple way for athletes to improve their red blood cell count, with them being classified as autologous or allogenic. The former sees them receive pre-prepared doses of their own blood, while the latter comes from another person with the same blood type.
Before they were banned in 1986, blood transfusions were actually common practice amongst athletes. Finnish long-distance runner Kaarlo Maaninka was one of the first known people to use such, transfusing two pints of blood prior to winning medals at the 1980 Olympics. Four years later, around one-third of the US cycle team received blood transfusions, earning them nine medals in the process. In 2007, Kazakh cyclist Alexander Vinokourov participated in the Tour de France, but blood tests confirmed two different blood cell populations, confirming the use of allogenic transfusions.
How Are EPO Tests Conducted?
It was at the 2000 Sydney Olympics that an approved EPO test first came to light. It combined urine samples and blood samples to detect the presence of the drug. This testing method was also taken up by the United States in 2002, although a new testing technique is currently also in the pipeline. That will allow testers to look for EPO effects in the cellular anatomy of the body.
How Are Blood Transfusion Tests Conducted?
While initially difficult to test, 2004 changed things around, meaning that athletes were no longer able to utilise the blood of someone else for such. They could still cheat by using their own blood for such, but the development of Athlete Biological Passports has made this method much more detectable.