This Week In Running A Gym - Roids

The other day I posted a link to an article on our FB page. The article took a look at drug use and CrossFit. For those who won't take the time to read it, the conclusion is that by using a rough correlation with muscularity, maybe half of the top 10 men CF Games athletes could be doping. I use those hedging words because it's an imprecise instrument and we have nothing provable that we could hang our hat on. But it got me thinking about performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and the many issues surrounding them. Before going much further I must confess I've never used PEDs, which will only be too obvious by those who see me. I have no first-hand knowledge of the effects or psychology of using, nor am I a chemist that actually understands the mechanisms of what effects these drugs have on your body. So I'm using this as a sort of working paper to formulate my current understanding and open it up to your thoughts and discussion. This is more of an opinion and survey so I don't want to get bogged down in the sciency stuff and try to quote all my sources.

Many of the effects of PEDs are misunderstood and overstated in the public narrative. Make no mistake, pumping chemicals into your bloodstream is going to have some serious ramifications. But even vitamins can be harmful if taken wrong. The key issue regarding the health of any drug is the method of application. In fact, steroids and many of the other PEDs are regularly used in normal medical treatments.

The question is if they can be used by healthy people as a way of enhancing their performance without also incurring negative side effects to outweigh the positives. This is certainly a question I'm not equipped to answer, but then again, few are. One of the troubles with talking about PEDs is that so little research is done about them and their actual effects in both the short and long term. By making drugs illegal and restricting research, it leaves the question to be answered by people willing to take the risk and experiment on themselves.

So that's what we have. This experimentation has been going on for decades now and a reasonably large body of anecdotal evidence has been built up. Guys (mostly) have been sharing tips and gear and comparing notes and writing about them on message boards and blogs and books for the last 30+ years. When I've read those books and websites and personal experiences, I don't see a lot of horror stories, even long term. I do see a lot of attention paid to learning from past mistakes and mitigating side effects. But of course this is anecdotal evidence and selection bias, but it is significant enough to leave an impression on me: that maybe this stuff can have a net positive use.

On the health side of the equation, I'm left with a big question mark about the long-term effects, but it seems like the great lab/gym rat self-experiment has managed to find a consensus about a method that eliminates or minimizes the short-term drawbacks. Again the question is whether the positives outweigh the negatives. How you answer that will depend on your situation and risk tolerance.

The other side of the discussion has to do with the morality of PED use. Is it right for people to do something potentially harmful to themselves? We don't let people smoke crack, after all. This idea is based on the belief that by making something legal, society condones it and that by making it illegal, we inhibit its use. Can we adults agree that this simply isn't true? Many bad things are legal and we prefer it that way. Street drugs are plentiful in spite of a 30 year war on them. I'm of the belief that you need to put the truth out there and let people make their own choices, which means letting them make bad ones too.

Is it an unfair advantage in a competitive sport? Yes, but only because there are rules restricting it. There is a damnable difficulty with trying to drug test a population of hundreds or thousands, and even if you could handle the logistics and cost of doing it, the nature of the beast is that new drugs get invented for which there is no test. Enforcement is reactive in nature while doping is proactive, so you're never going to be able to ensure that any sport is perfectly free from doping. But I think an even bigger question is what we mean by “fair.” Is someone born with more red blood cells or better vision or muscularity really on a level playing field with their competitors? Genetics isn't fair, so we already start with an unequal situation. In light of that, isn't it fair to say that PEDs actually equalize the natural unfair advantages some athletes are gifted with?

I'll close my thoughts there. I'd love to hear yours in the comments or at the gym.

By Morgan on Wednesday, November, 19, 2014