Research into the Culture of Drug Use in Student Athletes

Junior (College 3rd year) ・Healthcare&Medicine ・APA ・10 Sources

The purpose of this paper is to give an in depth look at the vast topic of the culture of drugs in sports. Performance enhances and prescription drugs are a growing problem in professional football, as more players in recent years have fallen victim to drug testing; resulting in lengthy suspensions and fines. Many players are willing and allowed to take narcotic painkillers and non-steroidal painkillers in order to play through injuries. This was analyzed to see the overall impact that these drugs were having on professional sports and the health of players in these sports. I will also be discussing the impact of nonperformance enhancing “drugs” such as marijuana and how it could be used as a substitute for prescription pain killers that players are so often given to play through the pain. I will be laying out the impact that these drugs have on players and medical research behind them and the affects that they carry when used.

Key words: Drugs, Narcotics, performance enhancer, non-performance enhancer, non-steroidal

Research into the Culture of Drug Use in Student Athletes

Doping is a term used to describe the use of prohibited substances in sports. These prohibited substances are listed in the World Anti-Doping Code and include drugs, anabolic agents, hormones, growth factors, diuretics, stimulants, narcotics, cannabinoids, glucocorticosteroids, alcohol, beta-blockers, and other non-approved substances. In today’s world of sports, some of the biggest stars have been involved in scandals dealing with use and misuse of drugs that are performance-enhancing, prescription, and even recreational such as marijuana. This research paper analyses the use of drugs among the athletes. In particular, the research will focus on the use of performance enhancing and nonperforming enhancing drugs. Some of the drugs under review include marijuana, heroin, and anesthetics. The study will also incorporate the effects of the drugs on the users and literature review on the same.


The use of performance enhancing drugs in sports dates back as far as 393 BC, during the time of the original Olympic Games (Yesalis & Bahrke, 2002). This trend has carried on to professional sports in today’s day and age of professional sports. The term “Doping” is used for athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs. Doping is the use of performance enhancing drugs that are a violation of sports ethics (Yesalis & Bahrke, 2002). A lot of drugs can be considered “performance-enhancing,” but not all are considered illegal depending on the impact of the effects that they carry when taken. The athletes take the drugs either to enhance their performance, for therapeutic use or recreation (Morse, 2013). The drugs work by altering the body function and improving the reproduction of hormones which hence makes them have more ability and withstand the pressure that comes with the strenuous exercises (Creado & Reardon, 2016). Although to some extent the drugs can indeed help the athlete in their performance, most often it seeks to the unfair advantage which further reveals their selfish needs and the desire to be ahead of the rest. The drugs have adverse effects on the user and their concertation which can potentially harm the body and even lead to death. The various reasons why people take the drugs include numbing pain, reducing weight, stimulating the body for better performance, enhancing delivery of oxygen to body cells and hide the use of other medications.

Therapeutic Use

In the course of training and actual physical exercised, athletes are prone to getting injuries that may see them dropping out of the competition of taking a break. Some of the common injuries may include having some fractures, bleeding and neck injury (Creado & Reardon, 2016). Under a typical circumstance, the pain would indeed hinder the athletes from progressing with their training since they are only human and the matches use up a lot of the body’s energy. Usually, there is a lot of practice behind the events and the athletes hence feel that a lot would be at stake if they failed to continue with the competition. It is, therefore, tempting for the athletes take the drugs so that they can continue with their performance smoothly and get their deserved prizes. Although the use of drugs is considered illegal for the athletes, some of the drugs are used to treat some of the common ailments. Some of the conventional medicines that are used to mask pain include narcotics, protein hormones and other anaesthetics (Creado & Reardon, 2016).


Marijuana, also called cannabis sativa, weed, herb or pot is a common non-performing drug that most athletes use (Morse, 2013). The drug is a favorite among many youths due to its stimulating effects. Marijuana is however among the most illegal drugs in the world and most users risk jail. In fact, in America, only 20 states allow the use of marijuana for its citizens (Morse, 2013). The increased use of marijuana has been accelerated by the recent research that links it with medicinal use. Marijuana is effective for treating depression, chronic pain, nausea and anxiety (Morse, 2013). Marijuana also has an anti-inflammatory effect meaning that it could also speed up recovery (Loria, 2017). Marijuana tends to mimic the body’s endorphins and this means that the user becomes less receptive to pain and they can hence exercise longer for a particular sport (Morse, 2013). Marijuana is also a mood enhancer and most of the users are always in an elated mood, a factor that makes them long for more drugs (Reardon & Creado, 2014). However, very little research has been done to indeed reveal that marijuana can help to alleviate pain. In fact, in most cases, before a patient can buy the marijuana tablets from the pharmacists, they must carry a prescription card from their doctors(Burnett & Reiman, 2017). Most athletes may hence take advantage of this fact and seek the medical card acknowledging that it will give them the full right to abuse marijuana.

Reardon and Creado (2014) contend that the use of marijuana as a pain reliever or as a stimulant has adverse effects on the patient. Research shows constant abuse of the drug increases the heart rate meaning that the user is prone to a heart attack and it is worse if they had a preexisting heart condition. Using herbs also drops the anxiety level for the athlete meaning that he is likely to try out risky adventure and this could be fatal for them(Sharma, 2016). For instance, a cyclist may overestimate the speeds that they are taking and end up having a crash.


Heroin is among the non performing drugs common among the athletes. Heroin is indeed great for relieving pain when used in controlled amounts, but it can also be used for recreational purposes and to enhance performance (Morse, 2013). The use of heroin among the athletes have, however, raised questions since one may never understand of the user is sincere about it. In most case, the sporting event creates a sense of excitement for the athletes. Heroin is responsible for the release of dopamine in the brain that results in the good feelings (Creado & Reardon, 2016). In particular, winning an individual sporting event heightens the competition spirit excitement for the athletes who hence look for all means to maintain the status. Taking heroin for the winners enables them to train harder for the sports and sustain momentum that they would otherwise not have if they were not on any drug (Morse, 2013). The athletes are also likely to aim higher and go for the strenuous sporting activities since they have more belief in themselves.

Heroin, however, is addictive and this means that the players may not give their best performance, there is a high likely hood that the athletes would use the excuse of pain to use the drug while the real agenda would be to perform better than other people. When athletes take heroin, they develop euphoria, and they hence get addicted to the good feeling that the drug gives to them (Creado & Reardon, 2016). Heroin is potent in that it tends to bind the brain receptors that can differentiate pain and reward (Creado & Reardon, 2016). Although the athlete may be injured, therefore, they are immune to any pain, and this means they can well extend their performance. However, soon after one takes heroin, they could stop feeling the pain, it subsides quickly which hence explains the addiction that results from the use of the drug (Reardon & Creado, 2014).

Taking heroine for an extended period can be fatal for the athletes since they cannot function without it and it also has great withdrawal effects (Morse, 2013). The short-term implications for the use of heroine include depressed respiration, nausea and vomiting, pain suppression, clouded thoughts and spontaneous abortion (Creado & Reardon, 2016). In the short term, the user may be numb to any pain but constant and long-term use is likely to cause arthritis, collapsed veins, bacterial infections, and the user may contract infectious diseases such as HIV AIDS.


Narcotics help to reduce pain in individuals, and they include morphine, methadone, heroin, Percocet, and Vicodin. The problem with the narcotics is that they are addictive and this means that it may also blur the user’s focus that focuses merely on using the drugs for their recreational purposes (Creado & Reardon, 2016). The drugs have the potential to impair one’s judgment, balance, and concentration. It is worth noting that if the athlete takes advantage of the numbing feeling of the drugs and they proceed with the performance; their injury might worsen with fatal complications.

Athletes are also prone to using Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) as a supplement to the naturally occurring one. The naturally occurring protein stimulates the adrenal cortex to produce hormones (Morse, 2013). The hormones are essential in helping to reduce inflammation and reduce allergic responses (Veliz et al., 2015). The athletes can hence mask an injury because there will not be any visible swelling on the body but he could indeed be suffering inside. When excessively used, the drug can irritate the stomach, cause ulcers and lead to weakened bones and muscles (Creado & Reardon, 2016).

In extreme cases, the athletes may use local anesthetics such as those that doctors use in the hospitals. An athlete may use the anesthetic when the pain is unbearable, and they are also afraid of dropping from the race (Reardon & Creado, 2014). Some of the narcotics used include novocaine, lidocaine, lignocaine, and procaine. Although the athlete can indeed pretend that they are not in pain, they could have grave dangers such as when one experiences internal bleeding and the wound deteriorate.

Enhance Performance

The ultimate goal for any athlete is fame, recognition and the tones of money that results from the win. Most athletes, however, are too lazy and unmotivated to engage in actual exercises and they tend to look for shortcuts so that they can have an advantage. There are instances also where the athletes feel that they have put in all their effort and yet they have not achieved their desired goal. The athletes may hence be tempted to use drugs so that they can finally meet their objective and receive their prize. Being the best is also an ego booster, and the athletes would do anything to ensure that there are revered by their competitors for their excellent performance. Performance enhancing drugs could include those that help build body mass and improve one’s fitness so that they can perform well in a particular sport (Creado & Reardon, 2016).

Apart from enhancing one’s mass and the body strength, some athletes also use drugs to improve their performance by increasing their blood supply. The athletes are hence likely to engage in blood doping, inject oxygen carrier’s protein hormones that aid in the production of oxygen. Erythropoietin (EPO) is secreted by the kidneys when there is low oxygen in the environment (Creado & Reardon, 2016). The hormones stimulate the bone marrow stem cells to produce increased red blood cells which also improve the blood circulation and consequent oxygen in the body (Morse, 2013). Athletes who have to ensure extended exercise period are usually tempted to take the hormones which give them the agility to continue with the race.

The hormones help increase the blood supply by about 7-10 percent (Reardon & Creado, 2014). When the red blood cells, however, increase in size, they may consequently increase the density of blood and thus could hinder the blood from smoothly flowing to the blood vessels (Creado & Reardon, 2016). The result is that it has a counteractive effect since the athlete lacks the oxygen that he was dire need of when he was taking the hormone. There is a likelihood of death resulting from a heart attack and stroke since the heart has to put extra effort to pump blood to the blood vessels.

Recreational Purposes

Some athletes may also take drugs without the intention of enhancing their performance but for relaxation. Drugs such as caffeine and alcohol serve as an excellent means of relaxation and also help to calm the athletes after a vigorous play (Morse, 2013). While indeed the recreational drug may not be illegal, it obstructs performance and in extreme cases, it may lead to addition and thus impairing performances (Veliz, Epstein-Ngo, Austic, Boyd & McCabe, 2015). At first, when an individual takes the alcohol and caffeine, they may not realize the long-term effects. A drunkard, for instance, cannot be rational and make sensible decisions which may involve compromising their training and performance. Players who are addicted to alcohol may even take some time off so that they can comfortably take the drug without scrutiny. Sports that however entail the use of machinery such as car racing could be harmful if the athlete engaged in them while drunk (Veliz, Boyd & McCabe, 2017). An athlete who is under the influence of the drugs also can potentially harm fellow athletes by verbally abusing them of physically hurting them (Veliz et al., 2015). The risk factors and why the recreational drugs may be abolished from the athletes is that they take time to be expelled from the body and this may alter the actual performance.


This research used qualitative and quantitative techniques. The main mode of acquiring data was through interviews, case studies, observation and literature review. We observed about 25 students school students when they were on drugs and when they performed while sober. Our observation was conducted across ten schools in California to give us a broad perspective of the differences. We also had case studies where we evaluated the effects of marijuana use among two groups in the local championship. We also offered open ended interviews to twenty random people to evaluate their opinion of the use of drugs in the athletes and the effects it has in the sporting world. Finally, we had a thorough analysis of literature that has covered drug use among the sports men, to better gain an insight of the missing links and knowledge of the effects of the drugs on the athletes.


The main mode of analysis was ANOVA, correlation and mean. We used a mean to evaluate the number of interviews who felt that the use of marijuana was therapeutic and not illegal. Correlation analysis was effective in evaluating the relationship between the use of drugs and athlete’s performance. A positive correlation indeed would indicate that there is a strong link while a negative correlation would denote a weak relationship.


This research proves that the use of drugs for the athletes gives them an undue advantage. However, from our observations, the athletes are likely to perform better even when they are hurt and this means that the drugs have therapeutic use. In fact, about 59% of the twenty people who were interviewed stated that they would also consider using marijuana because it would help to mask their pain and reduce inflation. In particular, ten of the athletes that we interviewed reckoned that by using marijuana, they were consequently able to work out longer even after an injury and their anxiety levels were considerably low. The interviewees, however, noted that marijuana and heroin were addictive and they may in the end impair the athlete’s judgment and negatively affect their performance. Most people hence felt that drug used should be completely banned and doctors should use alternatives to using marijuana as a pain killer.


This study does reveal that the use of drugs among the athletes enhances their performance, helps to mask pain and anxiety and they also assist in recreational activities. Although the use of drugs is a highly controversial issue in sports, it is allowed in some incidences. Athletes are prone to getting severe injuries during the games and most cases they are prescribed for painkillers. While the painkillers could be effective, most of the athletes desire to use stronger versions that will automatically numb their pain and allow them to progress with the exercises. There have been instances where the athletes use anesthesia, like the one used in the hospitals to numb their pain. With no pain therefore, it means that the athletes acquire the freedom to progress with their exercises without caring about the pain. While indeed it could be good in the short term, the effects are far stretching and they could end up ruining the athletes’ health. For instance, when an athlete strains his ankle, it is imperative that they seek professional medical help and refrain from playing for some time. When the athletes hence use the therapeutic drugs to numb their pain, they progress without having a mental breakdown. Narcotics hence would not be best for the sports men because it means that they strain their bodies even when they are injured (Creado & Reardon, 2016). Playing with an injury can also deteriorate the condition and this means that the athlete may end up paying a bigger price than he would have before if he simply rested and waited to heal before resuming their sports (Reardon & Creado, 2014). Narcotics in his case are not appropriate because they encourage the athletes to be selfish without minding their health.

The use of marijuana has gained much precedence among the athletes. Marijuana is used as a pain killer since it helps to reduce pain (Richards, 2013). There is however some blurriness because one cannot really estimate where a person is using the marijuana as a pain reliever or as a recreational drug. Using marijuana is addictive and this could mean that the athletes cannot function normally without using it (Reardon & Creado, 2014). Marijuana reduces anxiety prompts the hence encourages the sports men to forge ahead with their matches regardless of the circumstances that they are in (Reardon & Creado, 2014). Marijuana is also likely to ruin one’s sporting career because it may restrict someone from their actual course due to addiction. Most of the people who take marijuana end up addicted and unable to control their lives which also cost countries great returns from the sporting events (Richards, 2013). Besides, there has not been sufficient research to indicate that indeed marijuana can be used for medicinal use. It could therefore be that the excitement that results from being high makes the athlete assume their pain. While marijuana could indeed help to numb the pain, it could also be that it works in the short term which means that for the numbness to prolong, they have to take more drugs hence being addictive.


Athletes started using drugs soon after the sporting competitions commenced. Back then, the competitors would even eat herbs and animal products so that they would build muscles and get ahead of the pack. While indeed it was not considered illegal, few people used them. Hence this did not raise much suspicion from the relevant authorities. The athletes then could take wine, eat animal lives and testicles and herbal medicines to gain potency. The most common drug that they could use was doop which was a thick fluid which could give them the vigour they would use during the sports. Most relied on a staple meat diet because of the extra proteins, a vital ingredient for the athletes. The athletes knew that by winning the various sporting events, they would be guaranteed huge amounts of cash and recognition just like in today’s world.

The use of drugs in sportsmen has also gained much popularity in the 21st century. The thrill that results from winning prompts the sports men to engage in short cuts that will guarantee them victory. The popularity has resulted from the wide testing practices that have been adopted by major sporting firms. In fact, it has become imperative that every athlete have a blood test to evaluate if they are on any drugs. The athletes that are found guilty of drug used are usually barred from playing any sports for some time and in extreme cases, for eternity. Using the drugs does indeed give the athletes an unfair advantage over the other players. For instance, some sports such as boxing require that one is masculine and full of energy. It is hence not uncommon to find that the aspiring athletes take steroids so that they can build up their muscle power and have the energy to push through the strenuous exercises. The steroids give the athlete the right vigor and they are hence able to compete better with the rest than when they were not on any drugs.


Burnett, D. & Reiman, PhD, MSW, A. (2017). Where Can I Find the Research that Proves Marijuana Does Indeed Have Medicinal Value?. [online] Drug Policy Alliance. Available at: [Accessed 13 Dec. 2017].

Creado, S., & Reardon, C. (2016). The sports psychiatrist and performance-enhancing drugs. International Review of Psychiatry, 28(6), 564-571.

Loria, K. (2017). Evidence shows that marijuana works for pain, the medical reason most people want it — but doctors still have questions. [online] Business Insider. Available at: [Accessed 13 Dec. 2017].

Morse, E. D. (2013). Substance use in athletes. Clinical sports psychiatry: an international perspective, 1-12.

Richards, S. (2013). Is Cannabis Really That Bad?. [online] The Scientist. Available at: [Accessed 13 Dec. 2017].

Reardon, C. L., & Creado, S. (2014). Drug abuse in athletes. Substance abuse and rehabilitation, 5, 95.

Sharma, M. (2016). How do performance-enhancing drugs affect athletes? | OUPblog. [online] OUPblog. Available at: [Accessed 13 Dec. 2017].

Veliz, P., Epstein-Ngo, Q., Austic, E., Boyd, C., & McCabe, S. E. (2015). Opioid use among interscholastic sports participants: an exploratory study from a sample of college students. Research quarterly for exercise and sport, 86(2), 205-211.

Veliz, P., Boyd, C. J., & McCabe, S. E. (2017). Nonmedical use of prescription opioids and heroin use among adolescents involved in competitive sports. Journal of Adolescent Health, 60(3), 346-349.

Yesalis, C. E., & Bahrke, M. S. (2002). History of doping in sport. International sports studies, 24(1), 42-76.

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