Unmasking ‘Doping’ In Sports

Paul Wright
Local anti-doping and sports medicine expert, Dr Paul Wright

Jamaica is still reeling from the news that not one, not two, not even three, but five of our athletes have returned adverse analytical findings for banned substances. This follows closely on the heels of American sprinter Tyson Gay’s admission that he, too, has tested positive for a banned substance and would not be participating in next month’s World Championships. Last month, the nation was rocked by the news that sprint queen, Veronica Campbell Brown, had tested positive for a diuretic, also prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

While Jamaicans anxiously await the outcome of the cases against the athletes in question, let us take a look at the various categories of substances on WADA’s 2013 ban list. Substances included on this list must fall into two of these three criteria:

  1. Performance enhancing
  2. Harmful to health
  3. Contrary to the spirit of sport


Non-approved substances – These are any pharmacological substance not specifically addressed in any section of the prohibited list and with no current approval by any governmental regulatory health authority for human therapeutic use. These include drugs under pre-clinical or clinical development or discontinued, designer drugs and substances approved only for veterinary use.

Anabolic agents – These are synthetic substances that have the effects of building tissue and storing energy. The most popular anabolic agent is steroids. WADA’s list includes more than 60 exogenous (not ordinarily capable of being produced by the body naturally) and endogenous substances which the body is capable of producing naturally, but can also be administered as a drug.

Peptide hormones, growth factors and related substances – Peptides occur naturally in the body and can also be taken in supplement form. However, there is are a variety of peptides that encourage the body to release growth hormones, which stimulates muscular growth with fewer side effects than anabolic steroids. Peptide hormones increase production of red blood cells, which improves the blood’s ability to carry oxygen.

Beta-2 agonists – All beta-2 agonists are prohibited except inhaled salbutamol, inhaled formoterol and inhaled salmeterol at their recommended doses  over 24 hours, in accordance with the manufacturers’ stipulations. Excess traces of these substances in an athlete’s urine sample will be considered as an adverse analytical finding unless s/he prioves that the result was from the maximum recommended dosage, as indicated by WADA.

Some beta-2 agonists commonly prescribed for the treatment of asthma are also on the prohibited list. For example, terbutaline requires a Therapeutic Use Exemption Certificate (TUE) – more on that below.

Hormone and metabolic modulators – In general, these drugs interfere with hormone functions, such as suppressing the conversion of male sexual hormones into female sexual hormones. They increase muscle strength and size and stimulate energy.

Diuretics and other masking agents – Diuretics are products that help to eliminate fluid from the body by elevating the rate of urination. Masking agents are compounds that are taken with the purpose of hiding or covering up the presence of specific banned substances. They have the potential to conceal the substance in the urine. Diuretics can be regarded as masking agents because they dilute the urine, which results in lower levels of the banned substance being excreted.


Stimulants – Stimulants increase heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and metabolism. Two of the athletes in question, Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson, returned traces of a stimulant called oxilofrine. According to local anti-doping and sports medicine expert, Dr Paul Wright, the stimulant works by increasing a person’s heart rate, which facilitates more blood going to the extremities during running and therefore making them run better.

Narcotics – Narcotics have no performance enhancing qualities. However, they may be used by athletes use to disguise or improve their resistance to pain.

Cannabinoids – Cannabinoids have no positive effects on performance – in fact, it had the adverse effect. They are prohibited because of their pain relied properties.

Glucocorticosteroids – These are used to stop the inflammation process by breaking down muscle mass to reduce significant swelling. All glucocorticosteroids are prohibited and require a TUE* when administered orally, intravenously, intramuscularly or rectally.


Athletes may be granted permission to use substances that fall under WADA’s prohibited substances list if they are found in prescribed medication they are using to treat an illness or condition. However, they must ensure that they follow the appropriate process for their sport and competition level. Click here for the guidelines to obtaining a TUE.


The use of dietary supplements is common amongst athletes from many sports. However, a number of athletes have found themselves in trouble because of substances found in these products. In recent times, a rash of local track and field athletes have blamed their adverse analytical findings on the supplements they were taking. This is the case with Powell and Simpson now, as it was with 400m runner Dominique Blake earlier this year and five other athletes, including Yohan Blake, in 2009.
While the use of supplements is not sanctioned outright, WADA does not support their use. Here is the reason:  “In many countries, the manufacturing of dietary supplements is not appropriately regulated by the government. This means that the ingredients on the inside may not match those listed on the outside of the box or package. In some cases, the undeclared substances found in the supplement can include one that is prohibited under anti-doping regulations. Studies have shown that as many as 20 percent of supplements on sale to athletes can contain products that are not declared on the label but that could lead to a positive doping result. A large number of positive tests have been attributed to the misuse of supplements.” For more on WADA’s stance on dietary supplements, click here.
Want to know more? Contact the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO).
What are your thoughts on the issue of doping in sports? What do you think about athletes using dietary supplements? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.