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Drugs Abuse in Sports

What are the issues involving drugs and sports?

  • The use of drugs to improve sporting performance has not only caused unhealthy side effects but also deaths in athletes over the years.
  • In 1967, the International Olympic Committee agreed to ban or restrict the use of certain substances or methods that can enhance the performance of athletes.
  • Athletes who continue to use illegal drugs or methods risk being banned from competing in their sports if discovered through drug testing. They may also suffer from the short and long term effects of the drugs.

What do we mean by a drug?

A drug is a substance (other than food) that when taken, produces a change in the body. If this change helps the body, the drug is referred to as medicine. If the change harms the body, the drug is referred to as a poison.

What is doping?

It is the use of banned substances or methods by athletes that may enhance their performance.

Inadvertent or unintentional doping occurs when an athlete takes a medicine to treat an illness without realising that it contains a prohibited substance.

Athletes are subject to anti-doping policies and are responsible for checking the status of all substances and medicines they consume.

Why are some substances and methods banned?

Reasons for banning involve a few issues :

  • Health – many substances can cause serious effects on health if not used properly.
  • Ethics – In certain circumstances banned substances and methods enhance performance of athletes above their natural level.
  • Legal – some drugs are illegal and therefore, are prohibited in sports.

What is the policy on sports doping in Malaysia?

Strategies employed are aimed at :

  • Prevention.
  • Eradication:
    • Of existing wrong practices and abuse.
    • Of habits and attitudes which has inclination to doping.
  • Monitoring :
    • Out-of-competition testing programme.
    • Of training and performance parameters.


Since there is a long list of drugs that can affect performance, athletes should consult their doctors, the local sports authority or Doping Centre before they take any medicine before any National or International sporting event. A comprehensive list of banned substances can be found in the 2005 Prohibited List International Standard at www.wada-ama.org .

Prohibited substances and methods

All of the following substances and doping methods are prohibited. Using it is cheating.

Type and Description Side-Effects
Anabolic agents

  • Androgenic anabolic steroids are artificial versions of the male hormone, testosterone.


  • Since it is illegal to use these agents without a doctor’s prescription, they are obtained through ‘black market’ at fitness centres or gymnasiums.


  • Examples of anabolic agents are :
    • Danazol (a medicine used in men to reduce swelling of the breast).
    • Clenbuterol (a beta2-agonist used to accelerate growth in animals).

  • Side-effects associated with the use of anabolic steroids are :
    • Baldness.
    • Acne.
    • Increase in facial and body hair; liver damage; changes in sexual attributes (females exhibiting male characteristics, and vice versa).
    • Mood swings.
    • Potential infertility.


  • Many anabolic steroids need to be injected, thereby, exposing users to the dangers of needles that may not be sterile or shared.

Types of prohibition : In and out of competition


  • Beta-2-agonists are most commonly found in asthma medications.


  • Only Salbutamol, Salmeterol and Terbutaline in inhaler forms are permitted to treat and prevent asthma attacks.

  • Some of the common side-effects of beta-2-agonists include fine tremor of the hands, headache and palpitations.

Types of prohibition : In and out of competition

Agents with anti-estrogenic activity

  • These agents may be illegally used to counteract the side effects associated with anabolic steroids, such as the enlargement of the breast.


  • Examples are :
    • Tamoxifen (used in breast cancer and infertility).
    • Clomiphene (for infertility).
  • Side effects include :
    • Hot flushes.
    • Stomach discomfort.
    • Swelling.


Types of prohibition : In and out of competition

Diuretics and other masking agents

  • Masking agents potentially conceal the presence of a prohibited substance in urine or other samples. Some examples are diuretics, probenecid and plasma expanders.


  • Athletes often use diuretics to lose weight or get rid of anabolic steroids from their system.


  • Examples of diuretics (medicines that are used remove water from the body) are furosemide and amiloride.


  • Examples of plasma expanders are dextran and albumin.
  • The side-effects of diuretics include :
    • Thirst.
    • Dehydration.


Types of prohibition : In and out of competition

Peptide and glycoprotein hormones and analogues

  • Hormones act in the body by stimulating growth, influencing behaviour, altering sensitivity to pain and sex drive.


  • Chemicals with structure similar to hormones (or analogues) produce similar effects.


  • Substances that come under this group are erythropoietin (EPO), human growth hormone (HGH), human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) and corticotrophin.
  • Growth hormones are used to increase muscle size and strength. Their side effects comprise :
    • Lack of warmth and affection from parents.
    • Acromegaly – overgrowth of hands, feet and face.
    • Problems with joints and muscles – ause difficulty in training.
    • Diabetes.


  • Erythropoietin stimulates the production of red blood cells.
    • This causes an increase in blood thickness, which can potentially had to blood circulatory problems (stroke, heart attack).

Types of prohibition : In and out of competition


  • This class includes :
    • Amphetamines.
    • Caffeine (large concentration).
    • A number of active ingredients in cold and flu preparations (e.g. pseudoephedrine).

  • Side effects include :
    • Increased heartbeat.
    • Effects on the body’s ability to regulate temperature.

Types of prohibition : In and out of competition

Narcotic analgesics

  • These are strong painkillers and many are illegal substances, not just in sports.
  • Athletes may tend to use them to mask the pain to train harder.
  • Examples of narcotic analgesics are codeine and morphine.

  • Narcotics are potentially addictive.

Types of prohibition : In competition

Prohibited methods

  • Enhancement of oxygen transfer.
    • Blood doping and the usage of products that artificially enhance the uptake, transport or delivery of oxygen.
  • Chemical and physical manipulation.
    • Tampering, or attempting to tamper by using substances or methods which alter the characteristics of samples collected for doping tests.
  • Gene doping.
  • The use of genes and / or cells with the purpose of enhancing performance.
Last reviewed : 20 April 2012
Writer : Dr. Nour Hanah bt. Othman
Reviewer : Nur Azibahwati bt. Aziz