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Important Things You Should Know About the Side Effects of Performance-Enhancing Drugs

Updated on July 1, 2017

Performance-enhancing drugs are drugs or substances used by athletes primarily to enhance their physical performance while engaging in their favorite sports or competing in various sports activities.

Doping is the term given by sports competition-regulating bodies to the use of performance enhancing drugs in sports. Since these drugs are taken by athletes primarily to improve physical performance, use of these drugs before sports competition are strictly not allowed.

The term also refers to the type of substances used by the military to enhance performance during actual fight.

The different types of performance-enhancing drugs used by athletes are described below:


Stimulants also called “uppers” are substances that are taken by individuals to temporarily make them awake, alert and able to move about in a speedy manner. They are taken to enhance a person’s physical, mental and motor functions. Examples of stimulants are caffeine, nicotine and amphetamines.


The most popular form of stimulant is caffeine which can be found naturally in coffee and tea, chocolates and cocoa. It is synthetically added to soft drinks and many energy drinks. It is also used to treat premature babies with sleep apnea.

An example of stimulants commonly used by high peformance athletes are caffeine-containing drinks and amphetamines, substances that make you awake and improve concentration and appetite when fatigue and loss of appetite start to set in. These substances are used by athletes to stimulate body functions to make them perform at an optimum level.

An article published by the US National Library of Medicine reported that caffeine supplementation before exercise increases performance both for long-term and short-term physical performance.

The effects of caffeine in the body can be described as biphasic which means that when taken in moderate amounts, caffeine can fight fatigue, enhance mood and promote alertness. However, when taken beyond acceptable amounts, it can result to anxiety and restlessness.

Side effects of taking performance-enhancing drugs

It's very important to know the effects of continuously taking these substances to improve physical performance not only to your body but also to your well-being.

1. Some drugs that improve performance are also anabolic which means they have the ability to build muscles. However, this can be harmful especially to younger users like teenagers and adolescents because they could prevent the normal process of growth among these groups of people.

2. Certain performance-enhancing drugs are also androgenic, meaning they have the ability to make the user develop male characteristics. Women who are on these type of drugs experience irregularity in their menstrual cycle, their clitoris grow abnormally large, they have excessive growth of body hair and they develop deep masculine voice.


Another most commonly used form of stimulant is nicotine, the primary substance that makes tobacco addicting. It can be obtained in the form of cigarettes, cigars, nicotine patch, nicotine gum, synthetic cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

Nicotine acts as a stimulant when taken in low doses and is the substance that makes you addicted to cigarette and tobacco. Within 10-20 seconds after inhalation, nicotine is absorbed into the bloodstream, crosses the blood-brain barrier and enters the brain.

Nicotine is considered a cognition enhancer because it provides a longer attention span especially in patients with Alzheimer's disease and it enhances memory and improves the ability to remember things.

Nicotine is also known among smokers to improve concentration. I would always hear smokers say that they can think better while smoking. I used to wonder how this is so and here's the reason why. When a person smokes cigarette, blood that contains nicotine enters the lungs and within the next 7 seconds, enters the brain.

As nicotine enters the brain, the body releases a number of chemicals and hormones. This is when a person begins to feel that his concentration and focus have improved as one of the chemicals released is the neurotransmitter acetylcoline. Acetylcoline is a neurotransmitter that acts in the central nervous system to sustain attention leading to better concentration and focus.


Amphetamines are substances known to enhance a person’s mood and cause unexplained happiness or euphoria. They belong to the phenylethylalamine group which has the ability to increase the amount of the "feel-good" hormones norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, the substances responsible for putting you in a great mood.

Amphetamines are the first widely-used artificial smart drugs or cognition enhancers.

Amphetamines are used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. It is a stimulant drug and was known to treat obesity. Amphetamines enhance the activities of dopamine and norepinephrine.


Diuretics are substances that have the ability to increase the flow of urine and accelerate the excretion of sodium that disrupt the activity of fluids in the body. It is often used by athletes to remove water from the body in order to lose weight and to conceal the presence of other prohibited substances in the body.

Because of this behavior of athletes, the Wold Anti-Doping Agency has banned the use by athletes of any type of diuretics in and out of competition.

Diuretics are chemical compounds that inhibit or induce the body to release hormones that regulate the production of urine in the body. These substances are often used especially by wrestlers to remove excess fluid from the body to comply with weight requirement for their particular sport.

The negative effects of taking diuretics are:

  • hyperkalemia (high potassium content in the blood)
  • hypokalemia (low potassium content in the blood)
  • hyponatremia (low sodium content in the blood)
  • hypovolemia (low content of blood plasma)
  • hyperuricemia (high uric acid content in the blood)
  • metabolic acidosis (a condition where the kidneys are not able to remove excess acid in the blood) and
  • metabolic alkalosis (a condition where there is high ph content in the tissues).

Lean mass builders

These substances are used by bodybuilders to increase muscle and lean body mass and may also be used to reduce fat. Types of lean mass builders include:

1. human growth hormones

2. beta-2 agonists

3. selective androgen receptor modulators

4. Anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are usually taken by weight-training athletes primarily to improve muscular strength and to increase body mass. The dosage used for this purpose is usually a combination of injectabales and oral steroids which is 10 to 40 times more than what is prescribed for medical purposes.

Harmful effects of anabolic steroids:

  • It can cause virilization in women
  • It can cause severe birth defects in unborn children
  • It can cause atrophy of the testicles
  • In adults, it can lead to reduction of blood levels in the gonadotropin and testosterone
  • It can interfere with the normal process of growth in children

5. Drugs similar to the male sex hormone testosterone and dihydrotestosterone.


Painkillers, also called analgesics are drugs used to relieve pain. Paracetamol, also called acetaminophen in the US, when taken acts directly in the brain, not on the body's nerve endings. It is very safe and have no serious side effects but can damage the liver when taken beyond its recommended dosage.

The Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) and aspirin prevent the release of substances that lower the production of prostaglandin, a chemical found in the body that reduces pain and inflammation

Athletes use painkillers to make their bodies numb to pain to be able to compete way past their body’s pain threshold. This condition increases blood pressure and the muscle cells are supplied with much-needed oxygen. Over-the-counter prescription drugs from ibufropen to the more powerful painkillers are often used.


Sedatives are used by athletes to calm the nerves during athletic competition. They are usually taken by athletes who compete in archery to maintain stable hands and arms. The most common drugs taken are marijuana and Valium.

Types of sedatives:

  • barbiturates
  • benzodiazepines
  • nonbenzodiazepines
  • antihistamines
  • herbal sedatives

Harmful effects of sedatives:

Masking drugs

These substances are often taken to conceal the intake of other types of performance-enhancing drugs. A common example is epitestosterone used to restore testosterone levels in the body which has been depleted after anabolic steroid intake.

Some types of masking drugs are:

  • Epitestosterone
  • Plasma Expanders
  • Secretion Inhibitors

Use of performance enhancing drugs in sports.

In sports, the use of performance-enhancing drugs is called “doping”, a term used by sports competition-regulating bodies. “Doping” is considered unethical by international sports organizations and strictly prohibited primarily for health reasons, equal opportunity and fair play.

The most common drugs used by athletes to boost their performance are anabolic steroids. The most common of these drugs are testosterone, wintrol and clenbuterol.

Anabolic steroids are substances that manifest similar effects to what testosterone does in the body. They are responsible for giving the males their masculine characteristics such as deep voice, body hair, and masculinity. It is called anabolic because they aid in protein synthesis by acting as building blocks in the production of muscle tissues.

Have you tried any of these performance-enhancing drugs?

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© 2011 Zee Mercado


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