The History of Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
In this lesson, you're going to learn about the fascinating early and modern history of performance enhancing drugs around the world and in various sports.

What is Doping?

We all do it. We all try and improve our abilities. Some of us train a lot. Some of us drink caffeine in the morning to get a nice jump-start to our day. But other people use not-so-legal means to improve their performance, especially in sports. Baseball and cycling in particular are synonymous with doping, a term for the use of performance enhancing drugs and other substances, such as blood. However, you might be surprised to learn that the history of doping actually goes back thousands of years.

Doping in the Pre-Modern Era

Back in the ancient days of the Olympic Games (776 BCE-394 CE) and ancient Greece in general, the Greeks drank and ate various substances in order to improve their performance. For example, they believed that drinks like brandy and wine or hallucinogenic mushrooms and sesame seeds would help improve their performance. There is also evidence that ancient Roman gladiators and Medieval knights would use various stimulants prior to commencing their often deadly games in order to improve their performance. However, we don't know what these substances were.

Ancient West Africans used plants like the Cola acuminita and Cola nitida in order to improve their performance in running competitions. They were effective because such plants contain high amounts of caffeine. Any morning coffee-drinker can relate to this! Ancient Native Americans of Peru either drank coca tea or chewed coca leaves in order to improve their performance and endurance in the high elevations of their lands. The coca plant contains compounds that have a stimulatory effect.

Doping in the Modern Era

What's important to note is that doping in any form was not considered to be a bad thing until fairly recently. It was done out in the open, even in organized sport. In the 1904 Olympic Games, a competitor named Thomas Hicks openly ran to victory with the use of strychnine and brandy given to him during the race. It wasn't until after World War I that efforts began to ban any form of doping, let alone establish consequences for its use. Of course, that hasn't stopped athletes from doping, now has it?

In the 20th century, athletes used all sorts of new compounds to try and improve their performance in sports. These include amphetamines, which are very powerful stimulants. Such drugs were used in many sports, including cycling. Steroids have been and continue to be used left and right. Baseball, cycling, running, strength competitions, the list goes on. Anabolic steroids are drugs that help the body stimulate muscle growth. Baseball players like Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds have either fully or basically admitted to their use.

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