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.'

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
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
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

Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

£15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Software Developer - Newcastle - £30,000 - £37,000 + benefits

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home