The Olympics are an exciting event – where a lifetime of hard work comes down to one moment. This year, however, some athletes will be putting a little more into it than blood sweat and tears. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is literally out for blood at Rio, determined to salvage the future of sport from the inevitable clutches of performance enhancing drugs.
The following list is just a few of what you can expect to see making the headlines.
1. Anabolic Steroids
Steroids are the classic performance-enhancing drug. Whilst their use is most often aligned with bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger, they is also used in other power events – including weightlifting and sprinting. These drugs resemble male hormones, such as testosterone, but mostly emphasize the ‘anabolic’ effect, which refers to the buildup of muscle cells. These steroids work by stimulating the muscle cells, activating genes that produce proteins. Anabolic steroids are believed to increase muscle bulk and strength, speed up muscle recovery and reduce muscle catabolism – the breaking down of muscle. The side effects of this drug are quite common and significant, including, but not limited to: increased aggression, baldness and cholesterol, and decreased sperm production and sex drive. Steroid use even increases the possibility of developing tumours.
2. Beta 2 Agonists
Medically prescribed to reduce the symptoms of asthma, Beta 2 Agonists are a type of bronchodilator. Essentially, they make breathing easier by helping the lungs inhale and exhale. By relaxing the surrounding muscles (a literal lifesaver for asthmatics), they enhance athletic performance by improving aerobic exercise capacity. They also stimulate fat reduction and increases muscle growth. Athletes who would benefit most from this drug include endurance athletes, marathon runners and long distance swimmers. For asthmatic athletes, Beta 2 Agonists are allowed in competition with approval by the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) under the ‘Therapeutic Use Exemption’.
3. Beta Blockers
Most cardio related drugs work to increase the efficiency with which the blood delivers oxygen to muscles. Contrastingly, Beta Blockers work to achieve the opposite. This drug blocks the effect of adrenaline (a hormone naturally produced by the adrenal glands when we are stressed or excited), slowing downing the heart rate and minimising muscle tremors. This makes it ideal for precision tasks where physical stillness and control is critical – for example, to aid a surgeon by reduce hand tremors when performing surgery. In the sporting arena, it has been used by competitors in golf, archery and snooker. Archers for example, are able to fire an arrow between heartbeats to maximise accuracy.
4. EPO (Erythropoietin)
EPO is one of the many drugs that Lance Armstrong confessed to using to secure his 7 Tour de France titles. Produced naturally by the human body, Erythropoietin is a peptide hormone released by the kidneys, and stimulates blood cell production by acting on bone marrow. This allows more oxygen to be carried to the body’s muscles to enhance performance, and also helps to breakdown lactic acid faster (lactic acid is responsible for muscle cramping and fatigue). Unsurprisingly, this makes it ideal for endurance events such as the Tour de France. There are, however, deadly side affects to this illegal sports drug. EPO thickens the blood, which leads to an increased risk of several deadly diseases – namely heart disease and autoimmune diseases.
Within the illegal doping realm, narcotics are defined as those drugs derived from the opium poppy – common forms of these narcotics are painkillers such as morphine and pethidine. Unlike the previously mentioned performance enhancing drugs, narcotics don’t actually enhance performance, rather, they mask the pain associated with participating whilst injured. The greatest risk to athletes taking narcotics during competition is a false sense of invincibility from injury. Whilst narcotics mask pain, they don’t prevent injury. If anything, they actually increase the risk of injury, as the athlete can’t feel the usual warning signs indicating an injury may be about to occur.
WADA president, John Fahey, conceded, “The doping battle will never be won”, but insists the fight must go on.
Many scientists believe the war is already lost, since WADA’s technology is always one step behind those involved in doping. With very few successes, should WADA be thrown in the same corner as the Prohibition and accept the future of sport to be drug fuelled and corrupt?