Russia probably isn’t the only country whose athletes have been caught using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). Many of the athletes and their coaches have long been looking for and figuring out edges and secrets. Lance Armstrong was the most tested individual in the world and never tested positive. This article is a quick rudimentary list of the some of the drugs banned at the Olympics.
Drugs banned at all times
- Anabolic agents
- Growth hormones
- Beta-2 agonists
- Hormone and metabolic modulators
- Diuretics and masking agents
“Steroids increase muscle mass, strength, endurance, recovery time, and they essentially signal growth in muscle, and growth in everything that feeds energy,” says David M. Ferguson, PhD, and professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Minnesota. “You can watch someone struggle to bench press 200lbs, and [in] two or three weeks they’re benching 400lbs, and it’s all from the anabolic steroids… everything just goes to excess on steroids.”
Human growth hormones (HGH) are usually mentioned along with steroids, and can increase muscle mass, bone density, strength, and even aid in recovery. But unlike steroids, which yield results pretty quickly, HGH must be taken over longer periods of time to reap the rewards, and aren’t as common among Olympic athletes. Same with hormone and metabolic modulators, which are more rare but are used to help treat the side effects of using anabolic steroids, and can mess with hormone production.
Beta-2 agonists are lifesavers for athletes with asthma. Literally. When inhaled, they help dilate the blood vessels and relax the muscles surrounding the lungs, allowing them to breathe. They’re allowed by the WADA, so long as the athlete has an approved therapeutic use exception (TUE) for them. But they won’t do a non-asthmatic athlete much good in terms of performance anyway; beta-2s only have performance benefits when they’re taken orally or injected, Dr. Ferguson says, and both forms are banned.
On the testing side of things, diuretics and other masking agents totally mess with the urine samples, which is kind of the point, but also why they’re called out by the WADA. There’s no other reason for healthy Olympic athletes to have a diuretic in their systems other than to dilute their pee.
Methods banned at all times
- Manipulation of blood and blood components
- Chemical and physical manipulation
- Gene doping
Blood doping is the biggest one, which refers to gaining a larger than normal red blood cell count to help carry oxygen to the lungs and muscles to help with endurance. One way to blood-dope is by injecting synthetic oxygen carriers (such as HBOCs or PFCs), or erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone that’s naturally produced by your kidneys to stimulate red blood cell production.
Because tests for EPO have been commonplace since the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, and a test for synthetic oxygen carriers was implemented in 2004, some athletes moved to the old-school method of blood transfusions. This is done one of two ways: drawing your own blood and storing it to use for later, or getting a blood transfusion from someone else who has the same blood type, both of which increase red blood cell count. Tampering with said blood-dope tests and blood samples, aka “chemical and physical manipulation,” is also explicitly banned.
The WADA also prohibits gene doping, which isn’t really a thing — yet. Genetic modification is still in the studying phase for disease treatment, but experts envision a world where athletes are literally running around with an entirely new genetic makeup.
“Genes control the function of muscle cells, blood-producing tissues, and the ways in which our bodies utilize energy, and we know that many of those genes can be manipulated,” Professor Theodore Friedmore, chair of WADA’s Gene Doping Expert Group, told Play True magazine. “The advances in methods to introduce new genes to cure are more or less identical to the methods that might be imagined for sport enhancement. That fact makes the likelihood of attempts at gene doping pretty high.”
Drugs banned in competition only
Look, off the field (or track or gym or pool), some athletes like to have a good time. Whether or not that fun is legal/good PR is another matter. Just ask Michael Phelps. But as far as the WADA is concerned, certain drugs are totally fine any other time except for performances.
Most of these are popular street drugs, including stimulants (cocaine, meth), narcotics (heroin, methadone, oxycodone), and cannabis (marijuana, weed, reefer, Mary Jane). Not that smoking weed would be particularly helpful for someone looking to run a marathon or swim 400 meters, but taking a stimulant delivers a quick burst of energy that would be beneficial to someone like a sprinter.
Glucocorticoids, on the other hand, are powerful anti-inflammatories, and may be prescribed for something like a slipped disc or to treat an autoimmune disease. They’re also a form of steroids that produce energy when taken, and are therefore banned during competition.
Specific drugs banned in competition, by sport