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A quick guide to drugs athletes use to cheat the system

The recent World Anti Doping Agency investigation into allegation of widespread doping cover up in Sochi Winter Games, by Richard H McLaren, reveals the cleaver ways athletes intake steroids.

olympics Updated: Jul 26, 2016 13:26 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
A woman works at the Brazilian Laboratory of Doping Control during its inauguration before the 2016 Rio Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 9, 2016. (REUTERS)

Performance enhancing drugs are broadly classified into the following:


According to Technical University of Munich (TUM), the sympathetic part of the central nervous system plays an important role in adjusting an organism to the state of maximal alertness and total physical mobilization. The mechanism of the sympathetic nervous system is based on complicated neurophysiological processes in which sympathetic neurotransmitter substances (acetylcholine and catecholamines – adrenaline and noradrenaline) are released. Stimulants (sympathomimetics) are the drugs activating central nervous system by adrenaline and noradrenaline action. Direct sympathomimetics mimic the actions of the naturally occuring catecholamines. Indirect sympathomimetics elevate the concentration of noradrenaline at neuroeffector junctions, because they either inhibit re-uptake (cocaine), facilitate release, slow breakdown by monoamine oxidase (MAO), or exert all three effects (amphetamine, methamphetamine).

Stimulants are able to brighten the mood and arousal, eliminate or decrease feeling of fatigue and to enhance physical performance. However, stimulants exhibit a moderate effect on performance and only when high doses of these substances were applied. The most popular stimulants used for doping purposes are: amphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy and methylphenidate (Ritalin). Nicotine and caffeine are also frequently used as stimulants but they are not banned in sports.

Read more: The science of doping, from chewing raw animal testicles to new-age drugs

Photos of anabolic steroids confiscated in a police bust on August 29, 2006 in Berlin, Germany. (Getty Images)

Anabolic agents:

According to TUM, anabolic agents are chemical compounds capable of enhancing the anabolic processes in the organism. They affect protein metabolism by stimulating protein synthesis (anabolic effect) and inhibiting protein breakdown (anticatabolic effect). The anabolic active substances included in the 2008 Prohibited List are subdivided into the group of anabolic androgenic steroids and the group of other anabolic agents.

The group of anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) includes the endogenously produced testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), testosterone prohormones and their metabolites as well as exogenous anabolic androgenic steroids, which are synthetic derivatives of testosterone.

The recent World Anti Doping Agency investigation into allegation of widespread doping cover up in Sochi Winter Games, by Richard H McLaren, reveals the clever ways athletes intake steroids.

In the report, McLaren wrote, “Dr. (Grigory) Rodchenkov developed a steroid cocktail optimized to avoid detection. Initially, that cocktail consisted of Oral Turinabol (Dehydrochloromethyl-testosterone), Oxandrolone and Methasterone. The steroids were dissolved in alcohol (Chivas for the men 50 and Vermouth for the women). The solution was then swished in the mouth in order to be absorbed by the bucal membrane and then spit out. Dr. Rodchenkov’s research indicated that, with the laboratory technology available at the time, the detection window for the steroids in the cocktail would not exceed 3-5 days.”

Rodchenkov is the former Director of the Moscow Laboratory.

The basis behind this method is that steroids dissolve better in alcohol than in water, and that the administration of steroids through bucal absorption, as compared to injection or swallowing the drug, does shorten the window of detectability.

Read more: IOC stops short of banning Russia


According to TUM, Diuretics are products that help to eliminate fluid from the body. They cause a loss of water by partially paralyzing water reabsorption, i.e. the rate of urination is elevated. Powerful diuretics can increase the flow of urine to about 6 liters per day.

Diuretics include substances such as: acetazolamide, amiloride, bumetanide, canrenone, chlorthalidone, etacrynic acid, furosemide, indapamide, metolazone, spironolactone, triamterene and thiazides such as bendroflumethiazide, chlorothiazide, hydrochlorothiazide; and other substances with a similar chemical structure or similar biological effects.

Except for drosperinone, they are prohibited in and out of competition.

Masking agents are compounds that are taken with the purpose of hiding or “masking” the presence of specific illegal drugs that are screened for doping testing. Masking agents have the potential to impair or conceal the banned substance in the urine. Diuretics can be regarded as “masking” agents due to the dilution of the urine, which results in lower levels of the banned substance being excreted from the body.


Narcotics are considered as substances and drugs which are able to change psychic and physical status of an organism in a wide range from sleep and total immobilization up to euphoria and excitation.

A narcotic is an addictive drug that reduces pain, induces sleep and may alter mood or behaviour. In medicine, an analgesic narcotic means opioid, which refers to all natural, semi-synthetic and synthetic substances that act pharmacologically like morphine, the primary constituent of natural opium. The opioids are classified on the WADA List of prohibited substances and methods as narcotics

Peptides and hormones:

Hormones are chemical messengers produced by the endocrine glands and/or endocrine cells in other organs (kidney, heart, etc.) whose secretions are released directly into the bloodstream and transported to the target cells where the hormones, after binding to protein cell’s receptors, exert their specific effects. The main endocrine glands in the body are the pituitary (hypophysis), thyroid, parathyroid, and adrenal glands, the pancreas, ovaries, and testes. The hypothalamus is a major part of CNS, but it also produces hormones and is considered a neuroendocrine organ.

Exxamples: Erythropoietin (EPO), Human growth hormone (hGH), Gonadotrophins, Insulin (It is permitted only to treat athletes with certified insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus) and Corticotrophin

Ehancement of oxygen transfer:

It includes blood doping and the use of artificial oxygen carriers. It also includes erythropoietin but this substance is presented in another submenu of this website.

Blood doping is the administration of red blood cells to an athlete to increase his blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity. Blood doping consists of techniques administered for non-medical reasons to healthy athletes in order to improve the blood oxygen-carrying capacity, increasing oxygen delivery to the muscles, particularly in conditions of demanding physical exercise.

Examples include injecting an athlete with someone else’s red blood cells; removing own blood two to three months before competition, storing it, and then returning it once body has compensated blood volume loss finally resulting in a raised blood volume.

First Published: Jul 26, 2016 13:26 IST