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Drugs and sport

Published:Monday | May 4, 2015 | 12:00 AMJennifer Ellison-Brown

A drug is any substance that may affect a person's emotional state, body function, or behaviour. Most drugs are developed for medical purposes, but they can be dangerous when misused.

The misuse of drugs in sports has been around as early as the 1904 Olympics in St Louis, USA, where a marathon runner from that country was suspected of taking drugs. In 1960, at the Rome Olympics, a Danish cyclist who had been using drugs died of heatstroke.

Issues concerning drug abuse have continued throughout the years. Whatever the reasons are for taking drugs, the risk is high.

Governing bodies try to prevent the misuse of drugs through coach and performer education and testing. Many drugs which are legally available contain substances which are prohibited by sport governing bodies.


Social drugs


The drugs that are available within social situations are known as social drugs. Some are legal and widely used; others are illegal and still used by a number of persons. Social drugs are usually taken to help persons relax or to give an enjoyable experience. The most commonly used social drugs and their effects on performance are as follows: alcohol (depressant), amphetamines (stimulant), caffeine (stimulant), cannabis (depressant), cocaine (stimulant), nicotine, e.g. tobacco (stimulant).

Stimulants increase heart rate and speed up the nervous system, while depressants slow down how the body works.


Performance-Enhancing drugs


These are drugs that athletes specifically take to gain an unfair advantage over other competitors. Performance-enhancing drugs take many forms. They are all banned in sports. They are grouped into doping class as follows:

• Anabolic agents (nandrolone, testosterone, etc.) are hormones that help repair muscle and bones. Occurs naturally in the body, but also made artificially. They increase size and strength of muscles.

• Narcotic Analgestic (codeine, heroin, methadone) helps athletes compete or train even if they are injured.

• Diuretics (frusumide, profenecid) produce rapid weight loss by reducing fluids in the body.

• Peptides, hormones, analogues are natural or artificial hormones that increase strength and size of muscles, repair damaged body tissue and increase red blood count.

• Stimulants (amphetamines, cocaine, ephedrine) speed up nervous system, quickening reaction, mask fatigue and reduce pain.

• Some drugs are restricted in some sports, but not completely banned. These include:

• Beta blockers keep heart rate and blood pressure low. Reduce tremble in hands.

• Corticosteroids reduce inflammation and pain, allow performance.

• Local anesthetics reduce pain, mask injury to allow performance.


Blood doping


Blood doping is not an actual drug. This involves the practice of injecting blood which has been earlier removed from the athlete and stored in a refrigerator. This makes the blood cells many more than normal, which carry more oxygen to the muscles. Blood doping cannot be detected, but carries a high health risk.


Anti doping


The International Olympic Committee does not allow doping for three main reasons.

1. To ensure that competition in sports is as fair as possible.

2. To protect the health of athletes.

3. To protect the image of sport.

4. The World Anti Doping Agency was established in 1999 to combat drugs in sports through education, strong leadership and scientific research. The world anti doping code has been written and ensures a common approach towards a vision where all sports are drug free. Regional Anti Doping agencies have been setup.




Drug testing discourages those who might cheat, identifies performers who do cheat and protects those who do not. Testing can take place during training and after competitions. They are carried out randomly. If a performer is selected for drug testing, there is a set procedure that is followed:

1. Competitors are chosen for testing.

2. Competitors go to doping control room.

3. Competitor produce urine sample.

4. Sample is split and put into separate sealed containers.

5. The containers are sent to the lab.

6. Sample A tested.

7. If negative, sample B is destroyed; if positive, the governing body of the sport investigates.

8. A governing body hearing is arranged.

Athletes must let their location be known throughout the year and comply with the test by providing a blood or urine sample.

It is important that performers know what is banned and the consequences if drug taking is not resisted.