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RE-BLOGGED FROM 2013

Abraham Lincoln once famously said that prohibition “makes a crime out of things that are not crimes.” WADA has done exactly that’

– Sally Jenkins, Columnist, Washington Post

‘Do we want to see the highest possible achievements by men and women who do not use performance-enhancing drugs? If so, what counts as performance-enhancing? If sports fans really want to see achievement that they can relate to, perhaps athletes should be restricted to diets of pizza and beer, and be required to have 40-hour-a-week desk jobs’ 

–  David Epstein, author, Sports Illustrated

At the London Olympics 2012, more samples were collected and analysed for ‘doping’ than any other previous games. With more than 150 scientists and 1000 lab technicians working around the clock, the (World Anti-Doping Agency) WADA-approved lab at Essex did everything to ‘uphold the fairness and integrity of the games’. Well, really?!

122121HOW RAMPANT IS THE USE OF PEDs?

Athletes, coaches, team doctors, physical therapists and sports federations. all know that everyone’s ‘doing it’. Research too supports the general notion that use of performance-enhancing substances and methods is quite rampant in competitive sports.

Back in 1992, a lady named Vicky Rabinowicz went around conducting interviews of Olympic athletes; most candidly agreed that almost all medal winning athletes were ‘on drugs’ 1.

  • In 2004, Bents et al. reported in their study that almost half of college hockey players were using/ or have previously used stimulants like ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and amphetamines 2
  • Sottas and his fellow researchers reported 48% prevalence rate for ‘blood doping’ in endurance athletes 3
  • Scarpino et al. reported that of the Italian athletes they studies, 10% reported having used anabolics or amphetamines at the national or international stage; other drugs commonly used were bronchodilators and doping methods like blood doping 4
  • Thevis and co-workers found that 10% of young athletes aspiring to reach elite levels used tetrahydrocannabinol (cannabis) and other stimulants  5
  • Mottram, David and George, somewhat surprisingly, report a low level of positive samples for anabolics in athletes. However, the authors argue that athletes – more often than not – tend to use anabolics in training. Furthermore, to conducts surprise ‘out of competition’ tests is not only costly but isn’t always easy either, especially in some countries. Consequently, therefore, a study of the prevalence of anabolic usage will rarely, if ever, return a true picture 6

From these observations, it should become clear that despite the existent ban – imposed by WADA – on the use performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), the tests conducted, and the much-publicized, ‘alleged’ detrimental health effects of PEDs, their widespread abuse by athletes still remains very much rampant!

122121333

Also, here’s an interesting aspect of drug testing. According to the International Amateur Athletic Federation’s own admittance, in any major competition only 10-15% of athletes are tested for doping. In such a scenario, the actual samples that turn out positive could be higher if all athletes were to be tested.

UPHOLDING THE SPIRIT OF THE GAME

According to WADA’s anti-doping code, the ‘spirit of the game’ is defined as under:

‘Celebration of human spirit, body and mind’ characterized by the following values:

  • Ethics, fair play and honesty
  • Health
  • Excellence in performance
  • Character and education
  • Fun and joy
  • Teamwork
  • Dedication and commitment
  • Respect for rules and laws
  • Respect for self and other participants
  • Courage
  • Community and solidarity

The code further states that ‘doping is contrary to the spirit of the game’.

SO, WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE ANTI-DOPING CODE?

There are vast differences of opinion between everyone concerned with elite sports (let alone, sports medicine researchers) about the validity of the anti-doping measures in place. There are those who advocate ‘ban them all and hand out lifetime bans, even for first time offenders’. Others, however, (get braced for this) recommend ‘legalizing them all so that some sort of sanity could return to the use of PEDs’ and it is a more ‘level playing field’.

Legalising will ensure that research is conducted to study the drugs in detail with institution of proper dosage regimen. This will ensure that side effects are kept to the minimum and athletes can be effectively stopped from ‘abusing’ them. Legalising PEDs will, more importantly, ‘even out the playing field’.

DISCUSSION

An increasing number of people are beginning to think that banning PEDs does not solve the problem; it in fact, compounds the problem. As opposed to WADA’s aim of making the games ‘fair’, anti-doping measures make it unfair in the sense that the athletes that have used PEDs but aren’t caught (due to vested interests or otherwise!) get a massive unfair advantage.

Also, if you ever thought banning PEDs will make the contest even, think again. Genetics and some other factors like access to better training and support facilities may have, in my opinion, a bigger impact on the results of the contest.

QUESTIONS TO PONDER OVER

  • Natural levels of erythropoietin (EPO, increases red cell count, improves delivery of oxygen to muscles, helps endurance sports) and growth hormone (builds muscle, strength and power) vary widely in different individuals. There are those unlucky one in whom the levels are very low. On the other hand, natives of high altitude areas have much higher physiological levels of EPO. Isn’t that unfair?!
  • Athletes of Jamaican descent have more % of fast twitch muscle making them awesome sprinters. Isn’t that unfair on the ones that don’t have that genetic gift?!
  • Athletes born at higher altitudes are blessed with huge chest cavities, more EPO production, more packed cell volume (PCV) and thus better delivery of oxygen to exercising muscles. All these physiological adaptations are in place to deal with the rarefied atmosphere at higher altitudes. This gives athletes born at higher altitudes an edge in endurance sports over other athletes. Isn’t’ that unfair?
  • Athletes from cash rich federations and with more endorsements can afford to have access to better training facilities, coaches, physios and other support staff. Isn’t that unfair?
  • Athletes with access to more money can travel to higher altitudes to train and acquire an edge over the ones that can’t. Isn’t that unfair?

Add to the list personal attributes of athletes like 7 feet tall basketball players and the massive feet of Ian Thorpe and you will realise that with genetics favouring some, it will never a level playing field out there. So, the argument that use of PEDs makes the games unfair doesn’t hold much water. The games are already stacked in favour of the genetically gifted!

And, what happens when gene doping becomes a full-fledged reality? There will no stopping the unfair advantage that the genetically engineered ‘super-athletes’ will receive! There are some indications that these super-athletes are already roaming freely amongst us! Click here to read more.

It all very well to say that WADA is making an effort to make sports a fair contest for all participants. But to say that we have been successful in preventing use of PEDs by conducting tests and banning ‘cheats’ is far from the truth. The use of PEDs continues to be widespread amongst athletes. If you’ve ever handled an elite athlete, you will know that most times clocked on the sprints, distances achieved on the javelin throws, or the poundage lifted on snatches can never be a product of just genetics, brilliant training regimens and diet alone.

CONCLUSION

There is a school of thought which suggests that legalizing PEDs will ensure a level playing field. With some vested interest not testing athletes from cash rich federations, you can bet your bottom dollar that not everything that’s going on is in ‘the spirit of the game’.

An acquaintance of mine says the other day, ‘there shouldn’t be any drug tests and everyone should be allowed to do whatever it takes to enhance their performance… Maybe, the Olympics would then be really worth watching….I’d pay a million quid to go watch the 100 metres dash then’.

And I say, ‘well, you’ve already been watching drug-loaded 100 metres sprints for quite some time now…, just that they never told you’!

Guess my friend’s remark sums up the way everyone is sceptical of the alleged success of WADA’s ‘anti-doping policy’!

DISCLAIMER

REFERENCES

(1) Raboniwicz V. Athletes and Drugs: A separate pace? Pyschol Today 1992; 25:52-53. Link

(2) Bents RT, Tokish JM, Goldberg L. Ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and amphetamine prevalence in college hockey players: most report performance-enhancing use. Phys Sportsmed 2004; 32(9):30-34.

(3) Sottas PE, Robinson N, Fischetto G, Dolle G, Alonso JM, Saugy M. Prevalence of blood doping in samples collected from elite track and field athletes. Clin Chem 2011; 57(5):762-769.

(4) Scarpino V, Arrigo A, Benzi G, Garattini S, La VC, Bernardi LR et al. Evaluation of prevalence of “doping” among Italian athletes. Lancet 1990; 336(8722):1048-1050.

(5) Thevis M, Sauer M, Geyer H, Sigmund G, Mareck U, Schanzer W. Determination of the prevalence of anabolic steroids, stimulants, and selected drugs subject to doping controls among elite sport students using analytical chemistry. J Sports Sci 2008; 26(10):1059-1065.

(6) Mottram DR, George AJ. Anabolic steroids. Bailliere’s Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 2000; 14(1):55-69.

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Podcast for this blog post:

“Cocaine is a hell of a drug”- Rick James on the Chapelle Show

Cocaine, also known as coke, crack, rock and by numerous other names, is a drug used for ‘recreational purposes’. Allegedly, it causes an ‘euphoriant high’. No wonder then, that its regular use is fraught with the risks of developing a dependence. This propensity to cause cravings and the severe adverse effects associated with its regular use has resulted in a ban imposed on its use – either for medical or recreational purposes.

Recently, however, it is being increasingly suggested that cocaine has a profound effect on human metabolism and the way our bodies store fats. Thus, it is being touted as a potential drug in the fight against obesity.

Also, in sporting circles, there is a school of thought that cocaine – on account of  its stimulant effects – may help enhance performance. Athletes have tended to use cocaine both during competition and in training (to improve intensity). However, owing to severe adverse effects – even sudden death – associated with its use (in a sport setting) and the fact that cocaine use is banned by both the IOC and WADA Anti-doping code, athletes need to be wary of its use under any pretext whatsoever!

Here’s a bit more about cocaine and why you should avoid it – in competition and outside of it!

What is cocaine?

That question is probably as dumb as it can get! Most definitely, almost everyone knows a bit about cocaine. However, here’s some more info – especially relevant if you are an athlete.

Cocaine is the most powerful natural stimulant of the human central nervous system (Avois et al., 2006; Kloner & Rezkalla, 2003; Welder & Melchert, 1993) (in case, you are wondering – amphetamines aren’t natural; they are man-made). And, not to mention, cocaine also happens to be the most addictive of all drugs known to mankind (Avois et al., 2006).

Historically, humans have used cocaine as a psychoactive drug for thousands of years – dating as far back as the times of the Incas (aptly enough, one of the many street names for cocaine is Inca Message! – bet you didn’t know that…)

Pharmacologically speaking, cocaine is a triple-re-uptake-inhibitor; it inhibits the re-uptake of three chemicals (with potent neuroendocrinal actions): adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine. So, what does that mean in plain English?

Well, it means that cocaine inhibits the normal, rapid re-uptake of these neurologically active chemicals back from where they were secreted (vesicle present in the neurons or nerve endings of the central nervous system) – effectively prolonging the time duration of action of these potent neuroactive chemicals significantly. This leads to prolonged and potent physiological actions on the target cells, either in the human brain or peripheral organs like the heart – see below.

A point to be noted – the pharmacological actions of cocaine can be quite complex and may vary depending on the amount of dosage used.

What does cocaine do to your brain and body?

Normally, cocaine is administered using one of the following ways – snorting, smoking or injecting. Of these, snorting is the most popular. Owing to rapid absorption through the linings of the nasal cavities and almost immediate entry into the blood stream, this route of administration produces peak effects within 5 minutes.

Cocaine causes an ‘initial rush’ or a ‘feeling of well-being’ which is characterized by:

    • euphoria,
    • alertness,
    • clarity of thought process,
    • a decreased feeling of fatigue,
    • talkativeness, and
    • increased social interaction

This initial rush is, however, followed by depression! This is what makes cocaine a top candidate for repeated use and subsequent development of dependence (cocaine is more addictive than amphetamines).

Adverse effects that cocaine can cause are:

    • depression,
    • anxiety,
    • paranoid events,
    • arrhythmia,
    • respiratory disturbances,
    • epileptic seizures, and
    • strokes

Why are athletes tempted to use cocaine?

Contrary to popular belief, cocaine does precious little to help enhance sports, study, sexual or work-place performance! However, athlete still continue to use cocaine; believing that it may help them run that much quicker or lift that much more weight.

Cocaine may improve cognitive processes and therefore, the level of motivation (during competition) and skill-learning (during training sessions) may be affected favorably – some believe that this may be a prominent reason for athletes to get attracted to cocaine, especially since very little evidence suggests that cocaine enhances other aspects of metabolism sufficiently to affect sport performance.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that cocaine does precious little to enhance performance in ‘endurance sports’. However, an animal study conducted by Braiden et al., suggests that the opposite may be true and cocaine by accelerating glycogen degradation and accumulation of lactate during exercise, may, in fact, help endurance events (Braiden, Fellingham, & Conlee, 1994). In ‘power sports’ like weightlifting, there is evidence that some amount of benefit may be achieved through the use of cocaine (Bohn, Khodaee, & Schwenk, 2003).

Having said that, enough conflicting evidence exists for the effectiveness of cocaine use in either power or endurance sports. Additionally, some believe that cocaine may not affect sporting performance at all – favorably or otherwise. And that the sense of euphoria and clarity of thought process associated with cocaine use, creates a false sense of improved performance rather than actually improving it!

Why should athletes be discouraged from using cocaine?

Cocaine use is fraught with risks – some fatal! Cocaine (similar to amphetamines) increases risk of sudden death due to cardiac arrest during intense exercise sessions – such as an on-field sport performance, especially those involving short bursts of sprints!

Researchers believe that pathophysiological processes induced by cocaine that may be responsible (Avois et al., 2006), either singly or in combination for such fatal incidences as sudden cardiovascular death are:

    • enhanced heat production
    • increased lactic acid synthesis
    • intense constriction of blood vessels

Also, cocaine is an adrenergic drug. Regular use with resultant chronic stimulation of cardiac β1 receptors may cause death of heart cells. This may lead to fatal cardiac arrhythmia and cardiac arrest (Davis, Loiacono, & Summers, 2008).

If, however, you are not worried about the adverse effects and driven by the ‘win-at-all-costs’ attitude, another reason why you should refrain from using cocaine is because cocaine is not used in any over-the-counter drugs. Slightest traces of either cocaine or its metabolites (benzoylecgonine and methylecgonine) in urine, therefore,  constitutes a serious doping offence and ground enough for immediate suspension under the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) Code. Contrast that with ephedrine alkaloids which are present in some over-the-counter cough/cold medications; there can therefore be enough grounds for defending your case – whether you’ve unknowingly (or ‘otherwise’) used ephedrine/ephedra alkaloids.

Just to let you know, the World Anti-Doping Code’s Doping List classifies cocaine as an ‘indirectly acting sympathomimetic agent and a noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor and hence a performance enhancing drug (Davis et al., 2008). It is mentioned in the S6-a (stimulants) class of prohibited substances (on page 8 of the 2015 list).

TAKE HOME MESSAGE

To conclude, notwithstanding the anecdotal evidence, cocaine seems to do precious little to improve sports performance. It may, on the other hand, be detrimental and may also increase the risk of fatal adverse effects. In short, using cocaine – for sports persons – is a ‘lose-lose situation’.

Therefore, if you’re an athlete and looking for an ergogenic aid, cocaine is the last thing on earth that you should look to get in your system!

 References

Avois, L., Robinson, N., Saudan, C., Baume, N., Mangin, P., & Saugy, M. (2006). Central nervous system stimulants and sport practice. Br.J Sports Med, 40 Suppl 1, i16-i20.

Bohn, A. M., Khodaee, M., & Schwenk, T. L. (2003). Ephedrine and other stimulants as ergogenic aids. Curr.Sports Med Rep., 2, 220-225.

Braiden, R. W., Fellingham, G. W., & Conlee, R. K. (1994). Effects of cocaine on glycogen metabolism and endurance during high intensity exercise. Med Sci.Sports Exerc., 26, 695-700.

Davis, E., Loiacono, R., & Summers, R. J. (2008). The rush to adrenaline: drugs in sport acting on the beta-adrenergic system. Br.J Pharmacol., 154, 584-597.

Kloner, R. A. & Rezkalla, S. H. (2003). Cocaine and the heart. N Engl J Med, 348, 487-488.

Welder, A. A. & Melchert, R. B. (1993). Cardiotoxic effects of cocaine and anabolic-androgenic steroids in the athlete. J Pharmacol. Toxicol. Methods, 29, 61-68.

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Questions to those accusing Lance Armstrong of ‘wrongdoing’  – Why now? Why after all these years? Surely, he wouldn’t have passed all those tests for so long without anyone suspecting anything out of the normal. Someone, somewhere must have known about Lance and his bag of tricks (read, EPO syringes)?  What is it that has suddenly prompted everyone to go for the proverbial jugular (Lance’s)?! Is it because, now, he has ruffled some feathers?

While it might be argued that Lance may have had a role to play in the doping bit, it is the USADA (US Anti-Doping Agency) that should get the real blame – why were they tight-lipped when everyone was going  ‘ga-ga’ over Lance – you have to read some of the articles written during his heydays, his successful fight against testicular cancer, his tour de France wins, his absolute dominance of the race for a decade.  I remember how everyone used to be like ‘Lance is the best athlete of all time’ and all, they used to talk of his miserly resting heart rate and the size of his ventricular chambers…and his legendary endurance! And suddenly someone somewhere decides to engineer a swift fall from grace for this awesome athlete. Why? Guess, we will never know! However, I have a sneaking feeling, it is part of a bigger conspiracy. Surely, the USADA  must have known about the doping that was going on but for some reason kept mum! Or was it that they had a bigger role to play?!

A few years back, when Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was banned for using performance enhancing drugs, someone came up with the quip that had he been an American, he would have never been caught ‘cheating’. In fact, Johnson has even gone on record saying that Carl Lewis was on ‘juice’ as well but no one banned him!

Without worrying too much about who is to blame and who has engineered Armstrong’s disgrace, there is a lot to learn from this whole saga that has been unfolding since the last year. If you want to be a ‘clean’ and ‘successful’ athlete and keep your medals for life, here’s a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ that you need to follow just so you don’t end up like poor, old Lance here!

1. Being an American is crucial (N. Americans athletes have a much better chance of going ‘undetected’ in dope tests! Much like a guy with an American passport and a Christian sounding name breezes through airport security)

2. Play along with ‘the powers that be’  – do not forget, sport is about money, BIG-FREAKING-TIME MONEY! Who wins and who is allowed to wins does make a lot of difference to a few individuals. Now, I am not hinting that everything is rigged. But in my reckoning, most of it is!

3. Don’t make the competition look stupid (Bolt always ambles at the fag-end of the race; makes you wanna wonder, doesn’t it?!)

4. Don’t dominate the games (or any sport) for very long – it only makes people suspicious (its like your neighbours who start getting suspicious if you increasing start coming home late at night, especially when there’s been a serial murderer let loose in your sleepy little town – one-off and they’d give you the benefit of the doubt, wouldn’t they?)

5. Retire peacefully in some remote part of the planet; being in the public eye too much may prove detrimental.

If you do not follow these cardinal rules, you might be in the firing line and even years down the line, someone can order prompt unsealing of your urine samples from your medal-winning days.

To wind up, I am not backing Lance nor am I against him – but I can’t deny admiring him. Doping or no-doping,  he has done some wonderful things, especially with the Livestrong cancer charity – he deserves credit for that. However, with the latest news of Nike breaking ties with Lance and him stepping down from the chairmanship of the charity that he founded and gave so much to, kind of makes me sad. I wonder why people go ‘hammer and tongs’ when someone looks ‘down-and-out’, especially after carrying him around on their shoulders for so long. Isn’t there like a ‘tapping on the mat’ thing in real life? Alright, you don’t get it…GIVE THE GUY A FUCKIN’ BREAK, BRUV!

Further Read: my article on why the anti-doping policy adopted by WADA is farcical and why it fails to achieve what it was designed to do – ensure a ‘level-playing field’.

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