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Use of Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sport

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Every athlete learns what steroids are at a very young age. They get told that it will make them super strong, but they also learn early how bad they are for them and why they should never be taken. Every athlete wants to get an advantage over the team that they are playing and performance enhancing drugs have been the solution to that for many years and is going to continue to be the case unless something is done about it, but what if the best way to get rid of the advantage this drug gives is not by getting rid of them? Instead how about we allow performance enhancing drugs to be used but they are monitored. Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED’s) are used many a multitude of athletes across the world to not only to enhance their performance, strength, or weight gain/loss, but also to help their bodies for medical reasons. These reasons are shown using medical marijuana and many other types of performance enhancing drugs.

The use of performance enhancing drugs have gone up more and more in the past few years because of the addition of more things being added on the ban list for sports. One example of a drug being added is a form of diuretic. A diuretic is a substance taken to help people use the bathroom more, and it helps with things like kidney stones. Diuretics have been banned from professional sports because it can also be used to conceal other banned drugs during a drug test. A diuretic is not actually considered a performance enhancing drug but because it can help hide the use of one, sports leagues have decided to ban it as well even though it can help an athlete with certain medical problems.

The case against allowing performance enhancing drugs in sports has to do with morals and coercion. Morally, people do not the use of performance enhancing drugs because they believe that it will give an advantage to the ones who use it, therefore giving a disadvantage for those who do not. The moral reason to prohibit doping need not be balanced against any autonomy claim of athletes who would prefer to dope because, upon closer examination, such claims have no force. The moral reason to prohibit doping does, however, need to be balanced against the enforcement costs imposed on all athletes by effective prohibition. Coercion is the force to do something based on force or by the use of threats and while players are not forced to take performance enhancing drugs, the use of them by other athletes causes the mindset of “if you can not beat them, join them” which makes athletes who do not take performance enhancing drugs, take them anyways so they can keep up with the competition.

The first official ban on “stimulating substances” by a sporting organization was introduced by the International Amateur Athletic Federation in 1928. Out of the thirteen Olympic swimming events, the East Germany swimming team won eleven of them in 1976. The use of performance enhancing drugs are not new, but the effectiveness of these drugs is far and beyond what they used to be. The media only wants to show the banning of those who use these PED’s because they want them to be frowned upon by the public eye, but in 1992 Vicky Rabinowicz interviewed a small group of athletes. She found that Olympic athletes, in general, believed that most successful athletes were using banned substances. Drugs are much more effective today than they were in the days of strychnine and sheep’s testicles. Studies involving the anabolic steroid androgen showed that, even in doses much lower than those used by athletes, muscular strength could be improved by 5–20%. Most athletes are also relatively unlikely to ever undergo testing. The International Amateur Athletic Federation estimates that only 10–15% of participating athletes are tested in each major competition. The World Anti-Doping Agency code declares a drug illegal if it is performance enhancing, if it is a health risk, or if it violates the “spirit of sport”. They define this spirit as follows. The spirit of sport is the celebration of the human spirit, body, and mind, and is characterized by the following values: ethics, fair play and honesty, health, excellence in performance, character and education, fun and joy, teamwork, dedication and commitment, respect for rules and laws, respect for self and other participants, courage, community and solidarity. The most commonly used argument against performance enhancing drugs is that using them gives an unfair advantage for those who use them, but this is not always the case. The ability to perform well in sporting events is determined by the ability to deliver oxygen to muscles. Oxygen is carried by red blood cells. The more red blood cells, the more oxygen you can carry. This in turn controls an athlete’s performance in aerobic exercise. EPO is a natural hormone that stimulates red blood cell production, raising the packed cell volume (PCV)—the percentage of the blood comprised of red blood cells. EPO is produced in response to anemia, hemorrhage, pregnancy, or living at altitude. Athletes began injecting recombinant human EPO in the 1970s, and it was officially banned in 1985. At sea level, the average person has a PCV of 0.4–0.5. It naturally varies; 5% of people have a packed cell volume above 0.5, and that of elite athletes is more likely to exceed 0.5, either because their high packed cell volume has led them to success in sport or because of their training. Raising the PCV too high can cause health problems. The risk of harm rapidly rises as PCV gets above 50%. One study showed that in men whose PCV was 0.51 or more, risk of stroke was significantly raised (relative risk = 2.5), after adjustment for other causes of stroke. At these levels, raised PCV combined with hypertension would cause a nine-fold increase in stroke risk. In endurance sports, dehydration causes an athlete’s blood to thicken, further raising blood viscosity and pressure. What begins as a relatively low risk of stroke or heart attack can rise acutely during exercise.

Taylor and Francis did a study on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports. In this study they asked one-hundred and eighty-five students at the University of Pennsylvania, one hundred of the students were women while the other eighty-five were men. They split people into three separate groups. One group read that a certain drug helped athletes gained an improvement in attention by 15%, another group read that those athletes gained and improvement of their memory by 15%, while the third group read a drug improved an athlete’s physical abilities by 15%. They proceeded to ask each group if the person taking the drug they read about, would gain an unfair advantage and ranked the advantage from 1-5 with 1 being no advantage and 5 being a massive over other competitors. They then asked if everyone took that drug, would there still be an unfair advantage. The results showed that the people thought if only one person took the drug there would be an unfair advantage with each group around the number 3.0, but with everybody using the drug, that number went down to about 2.0. These numbers show that people believe that if everyone has access to the same drugs as everybody else, they do not believe that there will be much of an advantage.

The use of marijuana is one of the most commonly used performance enhancing drugs. While marijuana does not directly give an advantage to users like steroids do, it is still considered a performance enhancing drug solely on the fact that it is proven to help with focus, concentration, and helps aid pains on certain areas of the body while also giving users a better sleep at nighttime. Lungu and Lucian bring up the fact that several National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, National Football League, and National Hockey League players have come out claiming to have used marijuana during their sporting careers. Most of the players that they speak about our Hall of Fame named players along with others who were very high caliber in their sporting profession. They go over the use and factors of marijuana and why it should be legalized for athletes. A reason that is commonly used is that smoking “weed” helps with not only the mental stages of the game but also helps alleviate pain.

In conclusion, the use of performance enhancing drugs will more than likely not be allowed in professional sports any time soon, but I do believe that it is time to start having the discussion on if we should. The use of performance enhancing drugs is not going to disappear because the major leagues and associations are not going to put the time and money into making every athlete take drug tests on a regular basis, and even if they did, the use of them would still happen. If the use of these performance enhancing drugs can be monitored by physicians, not only will we see what the human body can do at it’s limits, we will be able to keep the game fair at the same time.

Works Cited

  1. “A Moral Basis for Prohibiting Performance Enhancing Drug Use in Competitive Sport.” Taylor & Francis,
  2. “Judgments of the Fairness of Using Performance Enhancing Drugs.” Taylor & Francis,
  3. Lungu, and Lucian. “Going Green in American Professional Sports: Why Marijuana Usage Should Be Allowed and What Policy Changes Should Ensue.” SSRN, 18 Oct. 2019,
  4. Savulescu, J, and Clayton. “Why We Should Allow Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sport.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, British Association of Sport and Excercise Medicine, 1 Dec. 2004,

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