Doping Substances

There are several classed of illegal / banned drugs used in doping and most of them are either stimulants or hormones.

Anabolic steroids / Androgenic Substances

These are the most commonly used doping substances and refer to the drugs that resemble testosterone, a hormone which is produced in the testes of males and, to a much lesser extent, in the ovaries of females.

Because testosterone and related drugs affect muscle growth, raising their levels in the blood could help athletes to increase muscle size and strength. Athletes who use anabolic steroids also claim they reduce body fat and recovery time after injury. 

Anabolic steroids can cause high blood pressure, acne, abnormalities in liver function, alterations in the menstrual cycle, decline in sperm production and impotence in men, kidney failure and heart disease. They can also make people more aggressive. Examples of anabolic steroids include testosterone, stanozolol, boldenone, nandrolone and clostebol.

Human Growth Hormone

Human growth hormone (hGH) – also called somatotrophin or somatotrophic hormone – is a hormone that is naturally produced by the body. It is synthesised and secreted by cells in the anterior pituitary gland located at the base of the brain. The major role of hGH in body growth is to stimulate the liver and other tissues to secrete insulin-like growth factor IGF-1. IGF-1 stimulates production of cartilage cells, resulting in bone growth and also plays a key role in muscle and organ growth. All of these can boost sporting performance. Commonly reported side effects for hGH abuse are diabetes in prone individuals, worsening of heart diseases, muscle, joint and bone pain, hypertension and cardiac deficiency, abnormal growth of organs and accelerated osteoarthritis.

Synthetic Oxygen Carriers

Synthetic oxygen carriers, such as haemoglobin-based oxygen carriers (HBOCs) or perflurocarbons (PFCs), are purified proteins or chemicals that have the ability to carry oxygen. They are useful for emergency therapeutic purposes when human blood is not available, the risk of blood infection is high or when there is not enough time to properly cross-match donated blood with a recipient. The misuse of synthetic oxygen carriers for doping purposes carries the risk of cardiovascular disease in addition to serious side effects such as strokes, heart attacks and embolisms.

Blood Doping

Blood doping is the practice of boosting the number of red blood cells in the bloodstream in order to enhance athletic performance. Because such blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the muscles, a higher concentration in the blood can improve an athlete’s aerobic capacity (VO2 max) and endurance. There are two forms of blood doping. Autologous blood doping is the transfusion of one’s own blood, which has been stored, refrigerated or frozen, until needed. Homologous blood doping is the transfusion of blood that has been taken from another person with the same blood type. Although the use of blood transfusions for blood doping dates back several decades, experts say its recent resurgence is probably due to the introduction of efficient EPO detection methods. A test for homologous blood transfusions was implemented at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is funding research into developing a test for Autologous transfusions, and it is also leading the development of so-called “biological passports” which keep a record of an athlete’s blood and biological variables over time.

Blood doping also includes use of erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone naturally produced by the kidneys. It increases red blood cells.


Insulin enhances glucose uptake into the muscle and aids the formation and storage of muscle glycogen. Athletes might use it for events that require high levels of endurance. There is also evidence that it is abused by dopers in conjunction with growth hormones or anabolic steroids to boost muscle growth. Misuse of insulin can lead to very low blood sugar levels – a condition known as hypoglycaemia which can lead to the loss of cognitive function, seizures, unconsciousness, and in extreme cases can lead to brain damage of death.

Gene Doping

As per WADA, the non-therapeutic use of cells, genes, genetic elements, or of the modulation of gene expression, having the capacity to improve athletic performance is called gene doping. One example is altering the Myostatin protein. Myostatin is a protein responsible for inhibiting muscle differentiation and growth. Removing the myostatin gene or otherwise limiting its expression leads to an increase in hypertrophy and power in muscles. Advancements in gene therapy for medical reasons mean potential cheats might seek to undergo procedures to modify their genes to enhance their physical capabilities. While it is not yet known whether it has ever been done in practice, gene doping could in theory be used to increase muscle growth, blood production, endurance, oxygen dispersal and pain perception. Gene doping is defined by WADA as the transfer for nucleic acids or nucleic acid sequences, and the use of normal or genetically modified cells. There are currently no testing methods capable of detecting gene doping.

Other substances and masks
  • Most common masking agents are diuretics which prevent the detection illegal drugs because they quickly remove fluid from the body. They are also used to lose weight, which they could use to their advantage in sports where they need to qualify in a particular weight category. Examples of commonly used diuretics include furosemide, bendroflumethiazide and metolazone.
  • The sportsmen use narcotic analgesics and cannabinoids to mask the pain caused by injury or fatigue. However, they can make injuries worse.
  • Glucocorticoids mask serious injury because they are anti-inflammatories and affect the metabolism of carbohydrates, fat and proteins, and regulate glycogen and blood pressure levels.
  • Beta blockers, meanwhile, which may be prescribed for heart attack prevention and high blood pressure, are banned in sports such as archery and shooting because they keep the heart-rate low and reduce trembling in the hands.

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