Drugs and Sports
When you exercise, your nervous system is naturally aroused. Your stimulated nervous system boosts production of hormones, including adrenaline (epinephrine). These hormones increase the amount of blood your heart pumps, resulting in more blood for muscles and a release of sugar (glucose) from the liver and of fatty acids from body fat to serve as fuel for the muscles.
These effects are important to anyone who is exercising. The increased blood flow ensures that the muscles receive a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients, and potentially toxic waste products produced by the accelerated metabolism are more quickly removed.
At times, athletes have used drugs or other substances in abnormal quantities with the sole intention of improving performance in an artificial, unfair manner. Such risky practices are called "doping". In some cases, a medical disorder is treated with banned drugs that may also boost an athlete's performance in competition in an artificial or unfair manner. These practices not only give the athletes an unfair advantage but also can threaten his or her death.
Some professional and world-class athletes have admitted using sympathomimetic amines, a class of stimulant drugs that mimic the natural effects of a stimulated sympathetic nervous system. These include ephedrine and its derivatives (pseudoephedrine and phenylpropanolamine), which are often present in cold and hay fever preparations as decongestants. Ephedrine is also a common ingredient of asthma medications. The use of ephedrine has been the reason for disqualification of athletes who have asthma and who have used this drug to prevent asthma during competition.
These drugs can increase alertness and physical endurance as well as postpone the onset of fatigue; they have been banned by most athletic organizations including the International Olympic Committee.
Psychomotor Stimulant Drugs
Athletes also have been disqualified for using psychomotor stimulant drugs. The drugs in this category that are most often abused are amphetamines (namely, amphetamine, dextroamphetamine, and methamphetamine) and methylpenidate hydrochloride (Ritalin). The most common street name for these drugs is speed. Other slang names include bennies, dexies, greenies, and pep pills. Amphetamines are usually taken orally, but chronic abusers often prefer to inject the drug because it produces a more immediate and stronger effect.
The effects of psychomotor stimulants are not unlike those of sympathomimetic amines. They increase heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure and generally heighten the activity of the sympathetic nervous system. These drugs also affect the brain so that the athlete feels more alert, confident, and perhaps even euphoric. Consequently, psychomotor stimulants may lead to an improved athletic performance, more through their psychological than their physical effects; however, apart from increasing endurance, the benefits of these stimulants on athletic performance are limited.
Amphetamines have a role in medicine, especially in the treatment of hyperactive children and of narcolepsy. But amphetamines have no place in sports, and their unprescribed use is illegal. In addition to the dangers of a physical and psychological addiction, they generate many adverse physical and psychological reactions such as insomnia, dizziness, tremors, heart palpitations, irregular heartbeat, sexual impotence, and possibly amphetamine psychosis. Deaths have resulted even when normal doses have been used under conditions of maximal physical activity.
These medications often are used in the treatment of asthma and other respiratory ailments. Like ephedrine, they can have stimulant properties. Currently they are banned when taken orally, but their use is permitted in aerosol or inhalant forms. Examples of these medications include metaproterenol (brand names, Alupent and Metaprel), salbutamol or albuterol (brand names, Ventolin and Proventil), and terbutaline (brand name, Brethaire).
Narcotic analgesics (painkillers) may produce a sensation of euphoria or psychological stimulation. They also may increase the pain threshold so than an athlete may fail to recognize injury, leading to more serious injury. These drugs have been banned by the International Olympic Committee.
Not that the nonnarcotic analgesics such ass aspirin or the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have good analgesic and anti-inflammatory actions and have been useful in treating minor injuries. These drugs are not banned. But if you are an athlete, be careful that a narcotic such as codeine is not included in combination with another medicine such as aspirin.
Another group of drugs illegally used by athletes are androgenic-anabolic steroids. These drugs gain their name from the two Greek words andro and gennan, meaning male-producing, and from another Greek word, anaboid, which means to build up. Because these drugs are closely related chemically to the natural hormones of the male, anabolic steroids mimic the effects of the male sex hormones testosterone. Athletes have used these drugs illegally because they stimulate the build-up of body tissue.
Anabolic steroids have several legitimate medical uses. They are used to treat skeletal and growth disorders and certain types of anemia to offset the negative effect of irradiation and chemotherapy.
Whether you take them in large or moderate doses over a prolonged period, anabolic steroids have many potentially serious side effects, especially on the liver, cardiovascular system, and reproductive system.
Liver - an overload of anabolic steroids can cause liver damage to the point that jaundice and even liver failure occurs. Another potential liver problem from anabolic steroid use if peliosis hepatis. In this instance the liver develops blood-filled cysts than can rupture. Liver failure can result. There is also the potential for liver tumors forming as a result of anabolic steroid use. Most liver function problems associated with anabolic steroid use are not fatal, and most are reversible after use of the steroid is discontinued.
Cardiovascular System - use of anabolic steroids has been linked to an increase in several risk factors leading to the development of cardiovascular disease. These include decreased blood concentrations of HDL (the "good" cholesterol) and an increase in blood pressure. Animal research has shown that use of anabolic steroids also can lead to damage of the heart.
Reproductive System - anabolic steroids can reduce sperm production, decrease the size of testes, and reduce the amount of sex hormones produced, resulting in a diminished sex drive. Among female athletes, these drugs have reduced the production of female sex hormones (both estrogen and progesterone), inhibited development of eggs and ovulation, and disrupted the menstrual cycle. All of these changes are reversible when use of anabolic steroids is discontinued. Female athletes, however, sometimes find that male secondary sex characteristics, such as an increase in facial hair or a deepening of the voice, remain after they stop using anabolic steroids.
Other undesirable effects associated with abuse of anabolic steroids include a reduction of breast size and changes in overall hair growth patterns in women, an increased thinning of hair or hair that falls out, and acne. Another concern is the effect that drug has on behavior, which may result in increased aggressiveness.
These are drugs commonly used in cardiovascular disease to lower blood pressure and decrease heart rate. Beta blockers also block stimulatory responses. Thus, they have been used in sports such as shooting to steady the trigger finger and relax the nerves. This use is considered doping, and therefore these drugs have been banned.
Use of this hormone is considered doping by the US Olympic Committee and is therefore prohibited.
Diuretics increase the elimination of fluid from the body as urine. They sometimes are misused by athletes to reduce weight quickly in sports such as wrestling in which strict weight classifications are involved; diuretics have also been used illegally to reduce the concentration of drugs in the urine so that other illegal drugs are not detected. The use of diuretics can affect the balance of such minerals as potassium and sodium in the body and can result, among other things, in heart arrhythmias and even death.
Blood doping is the intravenous administration of red blood cells or related blood products for reasons other than a medical need. Some athletes have had blood withdrawn weeks or months before an event and then reinfused into their system just before an event in which they are competing. The risk of receiving blood from another donor includes the development of allergic reactions, viral hepatitis, and AIDS. The practice of blood doping also is banned by the International Olympic Committee.
The use of corticosteroids is banned by the International Olympic Committee if the drugs are taken by mouth or injected into a muscle or a vein. Corticosteroids can be used topically (in the ear, eye, or skin), in local or intra-articular injections such as for bursitis, or in inhalation therapy for disorders such as asthma.
Dangers and Risks
The abuse of anabolic steroids and other drugs is often front-page news. The problem is international in scope, involving professional and amateur athletes who participate in a wide range of sports.
This elevated level of consciousness of the problem has led to more drug testing. The result is that today there are two important reasons for an athlete not to get his or her "competitive edge" from anabolic steroids or other medications. First, these drugs can put your future as an athlete at risk because of the bans and penalties now meted out for offenders. Second, and even more important, these drugs might put your health at risk.