The discussion on drugs and sports has expanded in recent years, becoming increasingly more complex on many different levels. Unlike the old days where illegal steroids were generally the only drugs tested for, today we have 3 inter-related categories of drugs that impact individuals and sports leagues:
A.) Performance enhancement (i.e. steroids, HGH)
B.) Prescription drugs (antidepressants, psychostimulants)
C.) Recreation drugs (marijuana)
Performance enhancement drugs are almost always banned, yet some feel as though cheating has become so rampant in recent years that individual athletes should be left to their own discretion when it comes to using these drugs. Prescription drugs, on the other hand, are almost always deemed acceptable by sports leagues, yet the side-, withdrawal-, and interaction-effects of many of these medications are often quite serious — including suicidal thoughts. Similar to prescription drugs, recreation drugs like marijuana are always banned, yet marijuana is now legal in many states and is also picking up speed in the science community when it comes to the efficacy of the drug used with various medical conditions.
The point here today is not to advocate for any kind of drug usage, but instead point out the inconsistencies amongst these drug classifications. Do athletes gain a competitive advantage using performance enhancing drugs? Many athletes say no, arguing that steroids don’t allow baseball players to hit better or throw more strikes. And what about prescription drugs, especially psychostimulants that, in theory, heighten awareness and attention and could arguably be seen as providing athletes advantages — yet these drugs are perfectly fine. And then there are recreation drugs like marijuana that might be legal in your state (and don’t provide any athletic advantage whatsoever – if anything marijuana negatively impacts athletic performance), yet leagues regularly test for this drug.
The confusion over these drugs will only continue to grow as we see more athletes put on psychotropic meds, and more states legalize recreation drugs like marijuana. Similarly, “hybrid” steroid/HGH-type supplements will always be manufactured, staying one step ahead of testing and allowing athletes to cheat until screening and bylaws catch up. What should be banned and what should be approved? Which drugs are dangerous yet OK to use? And what should sports leagues do in states where recreation drugs like marijuana are legal, even if the league still says the drug is banned?