Test for stimulant was made a routine process this year: The drug clenbuterol offers athletes two benefits, as a stimulant and as an anabolic steroid - as long as its users are not caught. Oliver Gillie reports

THE DRUG found in the urine of two British weightlifters could until recently be used without fear of detection. A test to detect the drug, clenbuterol, in body fluids first became available last year and only began to be used in routine screening this year.

Dr David Cowan, director of the UK Drug Control Centre at King's College, London, said: 'Sports competitors may have thought they would beat the testing system but they were wrong.'

Clenbuterol is not available on prescription in Britain, although it is prescribed in Germany for asthma.

It is also used for doping race horses in the United States and has been used illegally in Ireland to increase weight in beef cattle. Two Irish farmers who were accidentally exposed to the drug died of side effects.

'When clenbuterol is given for asthma minute amounts are used,' Dr Cowan said. 'It is prescribed in 10 to 20 microgram doses for asthma while athletes who take it have been using it in milligram quantities (that is a hundred times the prescribed dose), according to documents like the underground steroid handbook.'

Clenbuterol has two actions that athletes find helpful - it acts both as a stimulant and as an anabolic steroid.

As a stimulant it increases adrenalin production, the body's fight and flight hormone, enabling an athlete to endure and compete for longer periods of time.

But in doing so, it overrides the body's control mechanism which tells the athlete when he or she has had enough and should rest. As a result there is a danger of death following excessive exertion.

One of the particular advantages that clenbuterol may give an athlete is dilation of the windpipe and associated tubes in the lungs, enabling him to obtain more oxygen and so stretch one crucial limiting factor to performance.

The anabolic steroid effect of clenbuterol is probably very similar to that of methandienone, the steroid found in tests on Jason Livingston, who was sent home from Barcelona at the same time as the two weightlifters.

Methandienone is better known as Dianabol, its trade name when marketed by Ciba Geigy, the Swiss pharmaceutical company. It has not been made by Ciba Geigy since 1969 but is still made in India, the United States and Mexico, and is distributed in Europe on the black market.

Steroids stimulate muscle development in women and in boys. Adult males do not seem to develop increased muscle as a direct result of taking steroids. When male students are given the drug in double blind trials and follow a prescribed training schedule they do not develop more muscle than students given dummy tablets. However, athletes who take the drugs when training according to their own schedules do put on more muscle than athletes given dummy tablets. The reason for this is almost certainly the psychological effect of steroids, which are closely related to the male hormone testosterone.

Men become more aggressive and competitive when taking steroids. This enables them to push themselves further in training and so put on more muscle than when not using the drugs. They also help to give athletes an extra edge in competition. Women who take them develop extra male competitiveness but also risk developing the secondary male characteristics such as body hair and voice change.

Steroids also have numerous side effects. They can cause muscle cramps that interfere with performance and the accumulation of fluid which puts an extra load on the heart. This may increase blood pressure and so incur a risk of stroke in vulnerable people.

At the Drug Control Centre in King's College scientists now perform six broad screening tests on each sample of urine.

These tests, in effect, screen for hundreds of drugs. Samples that fail the test are then examined in more detail.

'We work to a very high standard,' Dr Cowan said. 'We must be absolutely certain that we do not accuse anyone falsely. Our findings have to be able to stand up in a court of law because any athlete who believed he was wrongly accused has recourse to the courts.'

However, the system is not yet entirely foolproof. There is still the possibility of athletes using drugs to assist in training between competitions, particularly in Germany and the United States where random testing is not yet fully accepted or implemented.

It is also possible to cheat by using the natural male hormone testosterone. The internationally accepted test for testosterone measures it with reference to another natural hormone, epitestosterone.

When testosterone is taken alone, the ratio of the two substances is distorted. However, it is possible to evade detection by taking epitestosterone as well. Dr Cowan can detect such evasion by measuring the proportion of testosterone in the body with reference to another natural substance, luteinising hormone, which cannot be mimicked.

'A competitor who is very smart might beat our tests but he would always be gambling,' Dr Cowan said.

'I don't think I could do it with absolute certainty and I know how the tests work.'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Biomass Sales Consultant

£20000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitment Company...

Java Developer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My Client are a successful software hous...

Senior Analyst - Financial Modelling

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This really is a fantastic chance to joi...

MS Dynamics NAV/Navision Developer

£45000 - £53000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: **MS DYNAMICS N...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game