Drugs In Sport

There are people who argue both for and against drugs and for many people it is unclear why these positions are taken. This article will aim to convince readers that usage of banned substances is 1) immoral and 2) will often damage long term health.


The importance of rules in sport.

Without rules sport would become meaningless. Someone who breaks the rules should expect sanctions to be applied and should accept them. For example a person who runs inside his lane on a 200m running race is omitted from the results as he/she has run less far than the rules stipulate. It doesn't matter if this was intentional or not.

Banned substances and rules.

The various sports governing bodies used to set their own lists of banned substances but increasingly the World anti-doping agency (WADA) and the Olympic movement (IOC) decide on lists of prohibited substances. The substances are banned on the basis of informed medical opinion. Generally banned substances are those that can harm certain people. The rules of sport include the prohibition of banned substances. There can be no doubt that somebody who breaks these rules should be penalised just like the 200m runner who runs inside his lane.


The table below shows the substances used to cheat in sport and under "side effects" shows what the health consequences may be. Most of drugs the drugs used to cheat are powerful, otherwise they would be of no benefit to athletic performance. As such most also have significant side effects that have negative consequences for long term health. A number of dopers have changed sex, died or had other complications from their drug cheating habits.


Banned substances their usage and side effects.

SubstanceUsed forSide effects


exogenous - not naturally produced(e.g. 1-androstendiol, furazabol, nandrolone, stanozolol).

endogenous - naturally produced (e.g. androstenediol, DHEA, 19-norandrosterone, testosterone).

other - these are often hormone modulators (see below)

Build up muscle mass and speed recovery from hard training by reduciung fatigue and limiting muscle damage.

Positive tests for: (Ben Johnson-stanazolol; Linford Christie,CJ Hunter,Saidi-Sief-nandrolone; Dwain Chambers,Mary Decker, Justin Gatlin,Floyd Landis-testosterone; Tony Dees, Larry Wade-norandrosterone)

For men: breast development, baldness, shrunken testes, a higher voice, infertility.

For women: deeper voice, enlarged clitoris, baldness, more body hair, increased appetite.



e.g. EPO, human growth hormone, gonadotrophins (LH, hCG), insulins, corticotrophins.



EPO: Increases oxygen transported to the muscles resulting in big improvements in time to fatigue and smaller improvements in peak power.

HgH: Stimulates bone and muscle growth and as such reduces muscle breakdown and reduces body fat.

Gonadotrophins: Stimulate sex hormones.

Insulin: Increases muscle growth and definition.

Positive tests for: (Ralph Aldag, Brahim Boulami, Jolanda Ceplak, Laurent Dufaux, Alvin Harrison, Olga Jegorova, David Millar, Christophe Moreau, Bjarne Riis-EPO; Dwain Chambers, Alvin Harrison-HgH;

EPO: Thickens the blood, potentially causing clots and consequent heart attack, stroke or thrombosis. The effect is made worse by dehydration. It can also increase the risk of certain cancers.

HgH: Excess bone growth e.g protruding jaw and eyebrow bones. possible glucose intolerance.

Insulin: Hypoglycaemia leading to nausea, weakness and drowsiness and eventually coma and death in excess.

Beta2 agonists

e.g. indacaterol, clenbuterol

The following require a theraputic use exemption: formoterol, salbutamol (Ventolin), salmeterol & terbutaline.

Generally used to counter the symptoms of asthma. Can have anabolic effects when taken in the bloodstream.

Clenbuterol is known as the weight loss or size zero pill.

Positive tests for:  (Grit Breuer, Jessica Hardy, Katrin Krabbe-Clenbuterol; Susan Chepkemei, Alessandro Petacchi-Salbutamol)

Possible side effects include palpitations, headaches, dizziness, nausea and anxiety. There is an increased risk of death in those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease e.g. smokers with emphysema).
Hormone modulators

e.g. aromatase inhibitors (lestrozole, testolactone); Oestrogen receptor modulators (tamoxifen); anti-oestrogen substances; myostatin inhibitors etc.

Many used to treat certain cancers. e.g. aromatase inhibitors block the conversion of androgens to oestrogens potentially leading to anabolic effects by making steroids last longer.Side effects of aromatase inhibitors may include osteoporosis in women. Also stomach upsets, higher cholesterol levels and sore muscles are caused by some classes of hormone mudulators.


May be used as masking agents.

e.g.acetazolamide, metolazone, thiazides etc.

Increases urine production, diluting the concentration of illegal metabolites. It is also sometimes used by athletes trying to make weight categories.

Used legally they can help those with renal disfunction.

May induce dehydration which may cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, loss of coordination and balance, cramps and kidney and heart failure.

Masking agents

Used to make drug taking harder to detect. Different agents are used to hide different drugs.

e.g. epitestosterone, probenecid, finasteride & plasma expanders

n/aSide effects vary from potential kidney stones and anaemia with probenecid to few if at all with epitestosterone.

Blood doping

autologous - using your own blood; homologous - using somebody elses blood; heterologous - using an animals blood.

All but autologous doping are easily detectable.

An increased mass of red blood cells increases the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood.

Positive tests for: (Tyler Hamilton-Heterologous, Alexandre Vinoukourov-Homologous)

If the blood is not your own then there is danger of immune system reactions to alien blood types. There is also the possibility of infections even with your own blood depending on how it has been stored.

With any blood doping, as with EPO, blood clots and consequent strokes, thrombosis and heart attacks are all more likely.

Gene Doping

The use of genes, parts of genes or changes in gene expression to enhance athletic performance.

e.g. repoxygen designed to induce EPO release.

These products are likely to be undetectable in urine or blood samples.

Altering gene expression has boundless possibilities in treating diseases. An obvious example would be a cure for Cystic Fibrosis. Such changes are permanent.

As such in sport it is possible that gene doping could lead to enhanced EPO (but under the limits set), higher levels of hormones such as testerone etc.

As with genetically modified organisms - GMOs, the consequences of manipulating genes could have unexpected negative effects on a large scale.


e.g amphetamine, cocaine, fenfluramine, mesocarb, selegiline, strychnine

Some are illegal above a certain dose

e.g. cathine, ephedrine

Speeds up the central nervous system much like adrenaline

Commonly cause problems with heat regulation, faster breathing, problems with coordination and balance, aggressive behaviour, dehydration, weight loss and hand tremors.

Other side effects may include increased heart rate, palpitations, insomnia and hypertension.


e.g. diamorphine (heroin), methadone, morphine, oxycodone, pethidine.

Pain relief esp. post operative pain.Common side effects include euphoria, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, constipation, changes to the pupils of the eye and respiratory depression.


Active ingredient THC - tetrahydrocannabinol

Muscle relaxant and pain reliever. The high experienced is closely associated with the pain relief and it may not be possible to separate the two out in pharmarceutical preparations.Acute side effects may include dizziness, reduced attention, and gastrointestinal symptoms. Longer term can cause psychosis


e.g. (cortisone, cortisol, hydrocortisone)

They are allowed for use with the skin, eyes, nose, mouth etc. and also to treat injuries by peritendinous injection. They are legal when taken by intravenous injection or oral ingestion.

Powerful anti-inflammatory agents.  Used to treat conditions such as arthritis, asthma, inflamed joints and allergic reactions.

May be used to elevate mood.

Possible acute side effects include fluid retention, hyperglycemia and mood alteration. Longer term can lead to osteoporosis and weakening of the muscles, bones and ligaments.


For a full list of banned substances see:



UK specific anti-doping:





For an incomplete list of people with positive test results see: