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The Medicine Show: Drugs in Sports

The choice of drugs for “performance enhancement” that now confronts the athlete is a bewildering array of highly specialized products for various desired effects. In virtually every case, however, the doping athlete runs the risk of side effects that range from the merely inconvenient to the life-threatening. This table is only illustrative; no attempt has been made to compile complete lists. The drugs named in italics are specific examples in a category.



Enhance Oxygen Transfer
Drug or Treatment Common Side Effects
Recombinant erythropoietin (r-EPO) Blood clots, heart attack, stroke
Transfusion of blood and blood-related products (blood doping) Allergic reactions, kidney damage, infection (HIV, hepatitis), circulatory overload, blood clots, metabolic shock
* * *
Build Muscle and Bone
Drug or Treatment Common Side Effects
Anabolic steroids: Androstenedione, testosterone, Winstrol (stanozolol) Liver damage, stunted growth, breast development in men, changes in attitude, chloracne on upper body
Beta2 agonists (especially by mouth or by injection): Albuterol Tremors, headaches, rapid heartbeat
Hormone modulators: Human growth hormone (HGH) Allergic reactions; can lead to diabetes and acromegaly (soft-tissue swelling, growth
of jaw, hands and feet, skull expansion)
Antiestrogenic agents: Tamoxifen Diverse, such as cancer, liver disease, blood clots
* * *
Control Weight
Drug or Treatment Common Side Effects
Diuretics (for increasing the rate of urine excretion): Acetazolamide Dehydration, muscle cramps, kidney stones, electrolyte imbalance
* * *
Mask Drug Use
Drug or Treatment Common Side Effects
Diuretics (for diluting urine) Dehydration, muscle cramps, kidney stones, electrolyte imbalance
Epitestosterone (to foil a standard test for testosterone doping) None known
* * *
Stimulate Quick Energy
Drug or Treatment Common Side Effects
Amphetamine, Amphetamine-like agents: Ephedrine, Ritalin Increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, hallucinations, weight loss, tremors
Epinephrine Heart irregularity, high blood pressure
* * *
Aid in Relaxing
Drug or Treatment Common Side Effects
Beta blockers: Acebutolol, alprenolol, atenolol Low blood pressure, slow heart rate
* * *
Mask Pain
Drug or Treatment Common Side Effects
Narcotics: Morphine, oxycodone Increased pain threshold, leading to failure to recognize injury; dependence; risk of life-threatening overdose
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