As you read the chapter on performance-enhancing drugs, it is likely that you may think this area of drug abuse represents a tangent from your previous week’s studies and is a relatively new and esoteric realm of drug abuse. However, quite to the contrary, the abuse of drugs for the explicit purpose to gain a physical performance advantage in competition and battle has been in existence and documented since at least 300 B.C. and the first Olympic games. By the end of the 19th-century, recorded accounts are archived of professional athletes consuming a wide variety of drugs for the purposes of enhancing their physical prowess, including caffeine, alcohol, cocaine, opioids, and amphetamines. However, over the centuries, not all attempts to enhance performance through the ingestion of chemicals and drugs were successful; strychnine and nitroglycerin were two examples of substances that ended up causing more harm than help to those that used them. Occasional deaths were reported as a direct result of overdosing on some of these powerful drugs; the first recorded death of a professional athlete in such a manner occurred in the late 1800s with the collapse of a cyclist who was discovered to have used a combination of cocaine and heroin, commonly known as a ”speedball,” in a race to deleterious effect.
The advent of modern-day performance-enhancing drug use began in the 1930s with the manufacture of anabolic steroids, patterned after the male sex hormone testosterone. This class of drugs was noticeably different from its predecessors in that this drug actually changed (often permanently) aspects of an individual’s physiology rather than simply their experience or behaviors for a period of time. These effects were long lasting and often generalizable across a wider range of activities. Anabolic steroids were originally designed to help address the affects of severe anemia, malnutrition, and starvation in soldiers, victims of war, and other patients whose bodies were severely degraded. However, it quickly became apparent that the gains seen when administering these drugs two waylaid individuals could also be used to magnify the prowess and abilities of healthy individuals as well. It wasn’t long before coaches and athletes began to experiment with these drugs as a way to enhance performance, or produce ergogenic effects, across a variety of sports and competitive events.