How Performance-enhancing Drugs Work

Masking Pain

Along with training and performing to be a world-class athlete comes the pain of injuries. Sometimes, athletes try to mask their injury pain with drugs, including narcotics, protein hormones and local anesthetics.


Narcotics are used to treat pain and include substances such as morphine, methadone, Vicodin, Percocet and heroin. Narcotics are highly addictive, and the "high" associated with their use can impair mental abilities such as judgment, balance and concentration. Also, athletes who continue to compete with an injury run the risk of further damage or complications.

Protein Hormones

Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is a naturally occurring protein hormone that is secreted by the pituitary gland and stimulates the production of hormones from the adrenal cortex. These adrenal cortex hormones are important in reducing inflammation in injuries and allergic responses. So, by using ACTH to stimulate internal adrenal cortex hormones, an athlete could mask an injury. Possible side effects include stomach irritation, ulcers, mental irritation and long-term effects (weakening bones and muscles).

Local Anesthetics

Local anesthetics, like those your dentist or doctor use, are used to mask pain in the short-term without impairing mental abilities. They include novocaine, procaine, lidocaine and lignocaine. Athletes may use them so that they can continue to compete while injured. The major problem with their use is the possibility of further aggravating an injury.