What are Performance-Enhancing Drugs (PEDS)?
Athletics is a highly competitive field that can potentially make someone very well-known and very wealthy. For this reason, it is no surprise that some athletes utilize performance enhancing drugs on their quest for stardom or to simply maintain their successful status. Performance enhancing substances make it easier and quicker to get fit.
Performance enhancing drug use among athletes skyrocketed in the 1960’s, on account of the introduction of anabolic steroids during this period. During this initial phase of steroid use, the East German government administered these drugs to their athletes in an attempt to rise internationally. This open use was brought to an end when there was a backlash against their use by the athletic community because of their discovered drawbacks.
There are a wide variety of reasons that athletes may abuse drugs. The most typical is to build body mass and strength, but other athletes use drugs to increase delivery of oxygen to muscle, to treat pain, stimulation, relaxation, or to simply slim down.
Types of PEDS
The drugs that are used to build body mass and strength are anabolic steroids, beta-2 agonists, human chorionic gonadotropin, luteinizing hormone, human growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor, and insulin.
Anabolic steroids increase the strength of the muscle and increase the rate of muscle growth. They allow the user to work out harder and for a longer duration. Anabolic steroids can cause a wide range of adverse consequences including liver damage, mood swings, depression, and aggravation. These drugs can cause breast development, balding, and infertility in males and can cause male characteristics in females, such as abnormal hair growth or a deep voice.
Beta-2 agonists build muscle mass while reducing body fat and some examples of these drugs are clenbuterol, terbutaline, salbutamol, fenoterol, and bambuterol. Side effects of these drugs may include nausea, headaches, muscle cramps, and dizziness.
Human growth hormones include gonadotropin, luteinizing hormone, human growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor. Human chorionic gonadotropin or HCG stimulates the development of sex steroids in both males and females. However, this drug only builds muscle mass in males and for this reason it is not banned for females.
Luteinizing hormone is a hormone released at the base of the brain that helps balance hormones in both the male and female. Ingesting LH increases testosterone levels and has a similar effect to anabolic steroids. The side effect profile of this substance is also parallel with anabolic steroids.
Human growth hormone stimulates growth in the body and a deficiency of it can lead to dwarfism. The use of this drug is popular among athletes because it is difficult to identify in a drug test. It reduces fat, causes muscle growth and stimulates bone growth. Side effects may be overgrowth of hands, feet and internal organs or heart defects.
Insulin-like growth factor reduces fat and causing muscle and bone growth. A side effect of this substance is low blood sugar in addition to the side effects exhibited by HGH. Insulin is a hormone that is used to treat diabetes; however, when combined with HGH it can cause muscle growth. Side effects are usually caused by low blood sugar which may cause shaking, nausea and weakness. Insulin also has the potential to cause hypoglycemia which may potentially lead to coma or death.
Some athletes take drugs that heighten the amount of oxygen that reaches muscle tissue and these include protein hormones, artificial oxygen carriers and blood doping.
An example of a protein hormone is erythropoietin. This substance causes a higher rate of red blood cells which assists in the delivery of oxygen. The athletes that are competing in endurance oriented events such as long distance running find erythropoietin useful as it can increase the level of oxygen in the body as much as 10 percent. Because erythropoietin raises red blood cell count, it may thicken the blood, causing the heart to work very hard which increases the risk of heart attack or stroke.
Artificial oxygen carriers are normally administered to patients that are having severe breathing difficulties. There is no consensus on how these drugs benefit athletes and they may cause a weakened immune system, kidney damage, and heart abnormalities.
Blood doping is simply the process of infusing blood into an athlete in order to increase oxygen delivery. An athlete that uses his own blood in this process carries the risk of infection or cardiovascular disorders. Those who use others blood risk acquiring contagious diseases such as AIDS.
Athletics is a very physically demanding and damaging activity. Most athletes get injured one way or another and some choose to mask the pain with drugs. Drugs used to mask pain in athletes include narcotics, protein hormones and local anesthetics.
Narcotic drugs are opiate-like drugs such as Vicodin, Percocet or Oxycontin. These drugs have a high addictive potential and may influence poor decision making, balance or concentration. Furthermore, athletes that abuse these drugs carry the risk of unknowingly causing an injury to worsen.
Adrenocorticotropic hormone or ACTH is a prime example of a protein hormone. This drug reduces inflammation in injuries but also may cause extreme side effects such as ulcers, aggression, and long-term consequences such as weakened bones or muscles.
Local anesthetics are the drugs dentist use to temporarily mask pain without mentally impairing the patient. The most famous drug of this variety is novocaine. Athletes may employ this drug so they can continue a game by ignoring the injury.
Many athletes run their bodies to the maximum and use drugs in order to compensate for this lifestyle. In order to treat stress, fatigue, and weight issues, athletes may abuse stimulants, relaxants, or weight manipulating substances.
Stimulants are implemented by athletes in order to maintain a level of alertness, keep an athlete from feeling tired, and to increase aggressiveness. Stimulants increase heart rate, breathing rate and even heighten brain speed. Drugs that fall under this category include caffeine, amphetamines and cocaine. Side effects that have been noted with this type of drug are anxiety, tremors, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure and in some cases, death.
Relaxants are used by athletes to reduce the stress of their highly demanding lifestyle. Alcohol is the most common relaxant for athletes and the main effect it produces is slowing down the nervous system and brain. It also has the potential to impair judgment, coordination and balance. Alcohol is completely restricted in the Olympics and other professional sporting leagues restrict it on some level.
Diuretics are commonly consumed by athletes in order to lose weight. These drugs increase the flow of urine in the body and are used by athletes in sports that have weight restrictions such as boxing. Diuretics are also used by athletes in order to pass drug tests because they dilute urine. Side effects that may occur with these medications are dehydration, dizziness, cramps, damage to the heart and kidney failure.
An athlete’s drug use may benefit him or her in the short term; however, the long term ramifications largely outweigh any positives initially gained. Athletics is a professional field that requires strenuous work and using drugs as a shortcut carries dire consequences, not just punitively but also somatically and mentally.