Drugs in Sport

Performance enhancing drugs never seem to be out of the news. Here we explain many of the various substances cheats may use to try and gain an advantage as well as WADA the world anti doping agency who is responsible for testing.

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The prohibited substances list is a list of all drugs, supplements and other substances and methods which are banned from use in sports. WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) is responsible for maintaining and updating this list. Note the list below may not be up to date!

Drug testing has become an increasingly large part of both professional and amateur sports. An athlete can be called for drug testing at any time, in or out of competition. During competition, some sports only carry out drug testing on the winning team or top three competitors. Others will test by random selection from all competitors.

Cocaine is a stimulant which is more commonly used as a recreational drug than for performance enhancement. Cocaine produces feelings of euphoria and wellbeing, which are usually followed by feelings of anxiety and depression when the effects of the drug wear off.

The use of drugs in sports with the aim of improving performance is a major problem for sports governing bodies. This however is not a new phenomenon. Drugs have been used to enhance performance since ancient times. Greek and roman civilisations used mushrooms and herbs to improve their performance.

Insulin-like growth factor is the most predominant somatomedin or growth factor hormone, with a very similar structure to insulin although it is released by the liver. It plays an important role in growth and development in children and is thought to have anabolic effects in adults.

Blood doping is defined by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) as the misuse of techniques and/or substances to increases ones red blood cell count. Most commonly this involves the removal of two units (approximately 2 pints!) of the athletes blood several weeks prior to competition.


Glucocorticosteroids are anti-inflammatory steroid hormones produced in the adrenal glands. Examples are Hydrocortisone, Prednisolone and Prednisone.

Human Growth hormone (hGH) is also sometimes known as somatotrophic hormone or somatotrophin. It is produced by the pituitary gland and is essential for normal growth and development. hGH is anabolic, meaning it accelerates protein synthesis and also aids the metabolism (breaking down) of fat stores.

Diuretics (sometimes called water pills) are drugs including Frusemide, Chlorothiazide and Hydrochlorothiazide. Their purpose is to remove excess water from the body although each type of diuretic does this in a different way.

Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance, found in over 60 different plants and is a stimulant and mild diuretic. It is the most commonly used drug in the world as it is found in coffee, tea, chocolate (and chocolate based drinks) and many carbonated and energy drinks.

Amphetamines are stimulants which act on the central nervous system to delay fatigue and increase alertness.

Erythropoietin (often shortened to EPO) is a naturally occurring hormone, secreted by the kidneys, whose function is to regulate red blood cell production. The use of EPO started in the 1980's as a quicker, cleaner alternative to blood doping.

What is Adrenocorticotropic Hormone? Adrenocorticotropic hormone is a polypeptide hormone produced by the pituitary gland. It is sometimes also known as Corticotrophin or Adrenocorticotrophin. ACTH stimulates the release of corticosteroids, glucocorticoids and steroid hormones (or androgens) from the adrenal glands.

Sometimes also known as Anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS’s), these are derivatives of the hormone testosterone. There are two types of AAS: Exogenous: Synthetic versions of testosterone. Common examples include Nandrolone and Danazol.

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