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The Dope on Doping

"No amount of legislation or drug testing will work to eliminate the use of banned substances in sport; society must change its fixation from winning and appearance at any cost to the higher values of character, health and good sportsmanship".

Steroid use among athletes always creates controversy in sport and is a favorite topic for the media. I've used the topic myself on various television and radio talk show programs as a means of attracting public attention. Once attention is gained however, my objective is to provide both a useful and rational alternative; one that works and one that doesn't damage the body, that being the intelligent and correct use of whole foods and performance supplements.

The search for strength and speed and esthetic beauty is so strong in some athletes that they will do just about anything to achieve it. But there is a line we must cross over when it comes to taking any substance that provides benefit at the cost of health. That line defines our character and the price we are willing to pay. Ethics and rules aside, some of the most important decisions we will ever make in this life are those that directly influence the outcome of our health and wellness.

The term "doping" refers to the administration of drug-like substances (including supplements) known to enhance performance. Doping has been defined by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as "the administration or the use by a competing athlete of any substance foreign to the body or of any physiological substance taken in abnormal quantity or taken by an abnormal route of entry into the body, with the sole intention of increasing in an artificial or unfair manner his performance in competition".

"Doping agents" include a wide range of pharmacological components and are classified selectively as stimulants, narcotics, anabolic agents, diuretics, peptide hormones, mimetics and their analogues, agents with anti-estrogenic activity and masking agents. Doping typically refers to the introduction of an adulterant, additive or impurity in order to produce a deliberate change. The newest concern is gene therapy and gene doping, where a gene that makes muscle growth factors is introduced into the body to accelerate muscle hypertrophy (growth) or decrease body fat. This technique has already been demonstrated successfully in mice at the University College Medical School in London, England.

"Inadvertent doping" occurs when an athlete records a positive drug test after unintentionally taking a banned substance as an unrecognized ingredient of a product consumed. In some cases where an athlete has tested positive, the athlete has claimed innocence based on this position alone.

In the vernacular, 'dope' is used generically to describe narcotics and illicit recreational drugs. Marijuana for example is often referred to as "dope", as well as heroin. In the world of horseracing, dope is a drug used to stimulate racehorses and even the jockeys are testing positive for nandrolone, cocaine and diuretics.

Before it came to mean "a narcotic or narcotics considered as a group," dope was borrowed into English from the Dutch word doop, translated as "sauce." Throughout the 19th century it meant "gravy." In the North Midland United States, particularly Ohio, dope is still heard as the term for a topping for ice cream, such as syrup or a chocolate or fruit sauce. In the South, particularly in South Carolina, dope means "a cola-flavored soft drink." The term might be related to the Northern usage as a reference to the sweet syrup base of a cola drink. However, folk wisdom has it that dope recalls the inclusion of minute amounts of cocaine in the original Atlanta recipe for Coca-Cola, which was named after this exotic ingredient.

Doping Methods

"Doping methods" include blood doping, which involves the re-infusion or transfusion of blood or red blood cells, and erythropoietin. It also pertains to the pharmacological, chemical and physical manipulation of urine, such as catheterization, urine substitution and inhibition of renal excretion. So in the world of amateur, professional and competitive sport, dope, doping, and doping agents are the broadest terms used to describe any number of substances or procedures which may be banned, restricted, or permitted by the various committees and international organizations governing sport and athletic competition.


Steroids, in the truest physiological sense, are one of four types of hormones manufactured naturally by the body (peptides, steroids, biogenic amines and eicosanoids). Steroids are biosynthesized from cholesterol and include hormones produced by the adrenal glands (DHEA, cortisol) and the male and female reproductive organs (estrogen, testosterone). Neither estrogen nor cortisol is androgenic or anabolic, but they are both steroids.

Some confusion exists regarding how steroids are defined. This is caused mostly by the media and lack of public education. In the Anti-Doping Code that defines prohibited substances, the IOC and WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) classify testosterone, analogues of testosterone, DHEA and androstendione as anabolic androgenic steroids.

The term "an athlete on steroids" describes someone using some form of the hormone testosterone...often a synthetic copy or compound chemically altered to enhance its effect, minimize its breakdown in the liver, or reduce its conversion into estrogen (aromatization). An example of a common injectable steroid is decadurabolin (nandrolone decanoate). "Deca" is relatively easy to detect in a drug test and can be traced as far back as 18 months from the time of last exposure. But if a sprinter is injecting human growth hormone (hGH) or taking clenbuterol (beta-2 agonist), s/he is not actually "on steroids", but rather, using banned substances or doping agents (even though clenbuterol is classified as an anabolic agent by the IOC). Yet, if a story broke about a famous athlete caught using hGH, the media invariably would relate the story to steroid use. (hGH is classified as a class E banned substance – Peptide hormones, Mimetics & Analogues).

Androstendione and DHEA are both steroids in textbook physiology or biochemistry, but they are not classified as anabolic steroids by the U.S. government (DEA). They are classified as pro-hormones or testosterone precursors. Both are currently sold legally in health food stores in the U.S., whereas in the same country, illegal possession or distribution of Winstrol (Stanozolol), a common analogue of testosterone, is a felony. However, Andro and DHEA are now both banned by the IOC & WADA because they are viewed as either harmful or potentially ergogenics. They can also be used as masking drugs, which is why many natural bodybuilding associations have also banned them.

A woman taking birth control pills to prevent conception and a man using prednisone to treat Crohn's disease are both taking steroids, but these are not testosterone analogues or anabolic (growth-promoting). Therefore, they're not referred to as steroids in sport, even though they are steroids as defined by textbook physiology and can be equally destructive to health and the immune system when misused or used long-term.

Steroids have been used in sport for close to 70 years now. Without a doubt, anabolic steroids enhance muscular growth and strength. In certain sports like football or bodybuilding, being bigger and stronger gives the athlete definite competitive advantages. Since many devoted athletes exist to excel, one can understand the attraction. In other sports like hockey, baseball and even horse racing, as well as race car driving and table tennis, it isn't always about size and strength, although we've all seen the physical changes in baseball and hockey players over the last decade.

Steroids provide another very important feature often overlooked by the public and the press. Anabolic steroids improve tolerance to stress, meaning physical and mental stress induced through oxidation of tissue, continuous adrenaline release, impact injury, sleep deprivation, recreational drug use, partying, jet lag and chronic elevation of cortisol.

Do you think the fighting, violence and physical brutality in the National Hockey League (which I detest) is simply a matter of league tolerance and a reflection of our social state? Perhaps, but I wonder how much of it is related to Roid-Rage?