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Performance Enhancement Drugs-What are they?

Performance enhancement drugs have been around for almost as long as professional sports (which can be traced back to ancient Greece where the Olympics originated). There is no exact and clear-cut performance enhancement drugsdefinition for it, but loosely speaking, it is any substance intended to improve a particular physical skill-set or performance, particularly in the realm of sport competitions. With this definition, almost anything can be classified as a performance enhancer, from multivitamins to protein supplements. However the term ‘performance enhancing drugs’ have had a negative connotation because of its association to banned substances in the Olympics and other sporting organizations, i.e. anabolic steroids—the use of which constitute cheating and is considered illegal.


The earliest records of the use of performance enhancers in sporting events date back to ancient Greece where it was referred to as “performance elixirs” and “performance potions.” These were given to athletes in preparation for major competitions, gaining them an advantage over their opponents or competitors. Since then, the range of performance enhancing drugs have widened and increased in potency. One of the most potent inventions that gave a markedly huge advantage to athletes who used it was anabolic steroids. When it was invented and used in the Olympics, there was no way of testing or screening against it; thus even if the Olympics committee wanted to ban it at the time, it was nearly impossible. It was only recently, during the 90s, when testing technologies have become sufficient and full implementation of the steroid ban became possible. With this, the committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency came up with a list of banned substances which were primarily performance enhancers.


Different performance enhancing drugs perform different functions. Some are used to increase strength and speed, while others are used for building muscles and increasing endurance. Other drugs are used to dull pain response, increase the threshold for pain and lower stress, and still others are used to reduce or increase weight. Other banned substances in sports are used to hide or flush out other drugs in the system (such as diuretics). Some athletes use these drugs for a single purpose while others take in a cocktail of drugs for various purposes. Performance enhancing drugs are usually taken orally but others are intravenously injected or taken in powder form and mixed with health drinks or shakes.

Classes of Performance Enhancing Drugs

Athletic and anti-doping organizations classify performance enhancing drugs into different distinct categories. Some of which include lean mass builders, stimulants, painkillers, sedatives, diuretics, and masking drugs.

•  Lean Mass Builders – are used to increase muscle and body mass, as well as to reduce fat.Examples include anabolic steroids, human growth hormones, and beta-2 agonists.
•  Stimulants – are used to increase alertness, decrease fatigue, and help an athlete perform at the optimum level. Examples of stimulants include amphetamines and caffeine.
•  Painkillers – help mask pain so that an athlete can continue performing and competing beyond his or her normal pain threshold. These drugs help increase blood pressure which better supplies the muscles with vital oxygen. Examples include over-the-counter painkillers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, as well as powerful narcotics such as morphine.
•  Sedatives – are used to overcome discomfort and nervousness, which are useful I sports that require steadiness. Some examples of sedatives include beta blockers, marijuana, and alcohol.
•  Diuretics – expel water from the body and relieve water retention. It is used by athletes who need to lose weight fast to meet weight requirements or restriction.
•  Masking drugs – are used to mask the presence of other substances to avoid detection in drug tests. An example is epitestosterone, which help restore the testosterone levels to normal after doping with anabolic steroids.