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When Drug Use In Sports Was Not Cheating

Drugs were considered acceptable food for athletes before the 1920s, which happens to be the decade of alcohol prohibition in the United States.

Performance enhancing drugs are nothing new. The ancient Greeks ate hallucinogenic mushrooms as well as sesame seeds to improve performance, and gladiators used stimulants to stave off fatigue in the arena9. In the 19th century, it was the turn of stimulants such as strychnine, cocaine, and caffeine10.

As technology advances there can be no level playing field. Sports science is pushing the boundaries of physical performance and it is difficult to see where it will end. In the war against performance enhancing drugs, the lines of legality and fairness are increasingly blurred.

  1. Wadler G, Hainline B: Drugs and the athlete. 1989 Philadelphia: Davies.
  2. Propkop L: The struggle against doping and its history. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 1970, 10(1):45-48.
The war on drugs in sport

Substances and methods are prohibited in sport for various reasons including:

  1. Performance enhancing effects
  2. Health and safety of the athlete
  3. Illegality

Prohibited Substances and Methods

Ancient Greek athletes are known to have used special diets and stimulating potions to fortify themselves. Strychnine, caffeine, cocaine and alcohol were often used by cyclists and other endurance athletes in the 19th century. Thomas Hicks ran to victory in the Olympic marathon of 1904 in Saint Louis by help of raw egg, injections of strychnine and doses of brandy administered to him during the race! By the 1920s it had become evident that restrictions regarding drug use in sports were necessary.—History of Drug-Free Sport

PDFA » Prohibition Never Ended