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.'

Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Morrissey pictured in 2013
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
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

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Consultant - Bristol - Computer Futures - £18-25k

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures are currently...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Real Staffing - Leeds - £18k+

£18000 - £27000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Sales - Trainee Recruitment Co...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester - Progressive Rec.

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Progressive Recruitment are cu...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices