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History of Performance Enhancing Drugs

Performance enhancing drugs have been around for hundreds of years. The Incas of South America used the burned leaves of coca trees to give them great amounts of energy when faced with battles, hunts, etc. Today we know that the ashes of the coca tree’s leaves actually contained cocaine. The first recorded drug related death in sports was of a European cyclist in 1886. The drug responsible for the death of the cyclist was a mixture of heroin and cocaine, nicknamed the “speedball”. Tom Hicks of the United States collapsed after winning the marathon in the 1904 Olympics. It was later found that Hicks had drunk a mixture of brandy and strychnine (Dolan, 1986). As you can see, the use of drugs to try to enhance performance is not a new idea; athletes have been experimenting with drugs for years.

Probably the most recognized performance enhancing drugs are anabolic steroids. Steroids have been used in medical practice for years. As with most drugs, steroids can be helpful when used under medical supervision. The muscle-building capabilities of steroids were soon discovered by the athletic world. Steroid use by athletes was already under way by the mid 1950’s. Steroids were first introduced to the United States by the late Dr. John Ziegler. Along with being a physician and scientist, Dr. Ziegler was also and athlete. He was a leading weight lifter in the United States. In 1956 he traveled to Vienna, Austria for a wrestling championship meet. While he was there, he talked to a Russian trainer who told him that the Russian athletes had discovered a miracle drug, anabolic steroids. The athletes had enormous strength gains from this new drug. Dr. Ziegler wanted to help his country keep up with the Russian competition, so when he came home he started prescribing them for his weight lifter friends. He worked with a pharmaceutical company to market steroids under the brand name, Dianabol. Some of the lifters asked for larger and larger doses of the steroids. When Dr. Ziegler refused, the athletes obtained their steroids from other sources. In time, the doctor realized the incredible harm that steroids caused and turned against them. Right before Dr. John Ziegler died in 1984 he said he wished he had never heard of steroids (Dolan, 1986). Of course steroids aren’t the only performance enhancing drugs. Amphetamines are another popular performance enhancing drug. The popularity of amphetamines in sports is because of the drugs’ ability to give the body an enormous sense of energy. Just like steroids, amphetamines are used in medical practice for a number of benefits. But also, just like steroids, amphetamines are widely abused. Before World War II, amphetamines could be obtained without a prescription, and it wasn’t until 1970 that the United States government passed strict laws against amphetamine abuse (Dolan, 1986). Of course there are many other drugs that are being abused. These listed are just a few of the many being used in athletics. All in all, drug use by athletes was getting out of hand.

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