Restricted Substances

The concept of placing restrictions upon the use or possession of certain substances is a familiar one in many countries in the world. Restricted is a term that is generally applied in the sense of a limitation, as opposed to a prohibition.

In the criminal law context, many countries have regulated the possession and consumption of certain drugs by restriction as opposed to prohibition. In Holland and Canada, cannabis marijuana possession is not the subject of prosecution, when it is possessed in small quantities or where required for medicinal purposes. Alcohol is the most popular restricted drug in the world, as most countries tend to regulate the age and places where alcohol may be consumed, with significant penalties for a breach of such rules.

It is with these notions in mind that the regulation of certain substances in an athletic context should be examined. In sport, restricted substance is a broad concept. A restricted or prohibited substance also includes certain practices undertaken by athletes. Restrictions and prohibitions have a potential application to any substance that might be ingested by an athlete to enhance performance.

Restricted substances may include conventional drugs and narcotics used by society as a whole, such as alcohol. Drugs specifically manufactured to achieve improved athletic performance are almost invariably prohibited substances; anabolic steroids are a prominent example. Naturally occurring substances that can be consumed without resort to any chemical process, such as caffeine (through coffee, tea, and guarana among other sources) or ephedra (present in a wide variety of herbs) are proven stimulants and are regulated at most levels of international athletic competition.

The general classes of restricted drugs for the purpose of international sport are: local anesthetics; asthma and respiratory ailment/breathing dysfunction drugs; glucocorticosteroids, usually prescribed to treat arthritis or other osteoinflammatory diseases; caffeine; beta blockers, prescribed as heart medication; alcohol; cannabanoids such as marijuana.

The definition of what substances will be classed as restricted as opposed to prohibited is never closed. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), in consultation with both its own national anti-doping agencies and the scientific community, reviews its definition of both restricted and prohibited classifications on an annual basis. In 2006, WADA embarked upon a review of the technology used by athletes known as hypoxic tents to determine whether these devices should be classed as a form of restricted or prohibited substance. Hypoxic tents create an artificial atmosphere that simulates the lower percentage of oxygen found in the air at higher altitudes. In these conditions the body's production of the hormone erythropoietin (EPO) is stimulated, triggering the production of a greater number of red blood cells. The increase in red blood cells will permit the athlete to transport greater amounts of oxygen during exercise. WADA embarked on its investigation regarding the hypoxic tents to determine whether they were a performance enhancing practice that ought to be restricted or banned.

Conversely, naturally occurring hormones manufactured within the human body, such as testosterone and EPO, are invariably used in furtherance of illegal purposes in sport (muscle development and oxygen transport) and are prohibited substances.

The modern regulatory regimes promulgated by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and administered by the national anti-doping agencies throughout the world recognize that athletes may require certain substances to preserve and maintain heir own health, with very little if any true competitive advantage gained. The most prominent example of such substances is the various asthma and respiratory medications available by prescription through a medical professional. For an otherwise healthy person competing in an aerobic sport, medication that tended to open the airways might produce a competitive advantage for that athlete. However, a healthy, asymptomatic person could not legally obtain such a medication.

The WADA-sanctioned approach concerning restricted substances is known as the Therapeutic Use Exemption, or TUE. Most sports now administer a schedule of out of competition testing for their national team athletes, in conjunction with the national anti-agency (in the United States the national agency is the United States Anti-Doping Agency, USAGA); in some sports the testing is administered to a broader classification of athletes by the sport governing body. As out of competition testing may occur at any time, athletes are required to make a formal declaration in advance of the testing year as to what medications if any they may be taking and whether that medication is prescribed for a particular physical or mental health condition.

In every year, or so often as the national antidrug agency may determine, every athlete is required to apply for a TUE for any prescribed substance that they are taking or that they may take in future (if known); if the TUE is approved, any subsequent test that reveals the subject substance is a deemed negative test. If the athlete fails or refuses to apply for a TUE, and fails a doping test as a result, the general approach of WADA is to treat the result as one attracting a competition ban.

SEE ALSO Doping tests; Prohibited substances (competition bans); Therapeutic Use Exemption; World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).