The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) forbids its athletes from consuming several psychoactive substances. These substances have a variety of physical and psychological effects on athletes; most of which, over the long-term, can lead to serious health complications. Here’s a quick list of some of these banned substances.   

Drug class: Stimulants 

Examples: Caffeine, amphetamines, and cocaine 

What they do: Stimulants increase activity in the central nervous system, which is composed of the brain and the spinal cord. They cause feelings similar to an adrenaline rush, which will make the user more energetic; this has obvious implications for athletes. Of course, there are significant differences in the potency per milligram of each stimulant: a cup of coffee is, by the milligram, definitely a more moderate pick-me-up than a line of cocaine. Nevertheless, crashes, or a sudden drain in energy, follow the high one experiences from all stimulants.

Drug class: Anabolic agents 

Example: Steroids 

What they do: Steroids, among the most well-known anabolic agents, promote muscle growth and weight gain. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), steroids are generally used to encourage speedy growth of farm animals; however, they may also be prescribed for various medical reasons, including to counteract body deterioration symptoms of individuals suffering from AIDS or other diseases. Obviously, the muscle growth effects can be and, in many cases, are abused by athletes to improve their performance. Yet, consistent use of steroids is discouraged for reasons other than being unsportsmanlike. Increased feelings of aggression, depression, and nausea, as well as reduced fertility in both men and women are but a few of many symptoms that accompany long-term use of anabolic agents. 

Drug class: Alcohol and beta blockers 

Example: Propranolol

What they do: Beta blockers are commonly used to treat ailments such as hypertension. They are also used to treat of generalized anxiety disorder. The term ‘beta’ refers to a class of brain cell receptors (adrenoreceptors) responsible for producing cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP). These promote brain cell activation by inhibiting the beta receptor. Beta blockers also inhibit cAMP production, which leads to inhibiting of a given brain cell from firing. This can have a variety of effects, depending on the cell being inhibited.

Used as heart medication, beta blockers slow one’s heart rate and lower blood pressure, making them especially dangerous for athletes to consume. The effects of alcohol require no explanation. 

Drug class: Diuretics

Example: Water pills

What they do: Diuretics encourage the excretion of water and sodium from the body. They cause an increased intake of sodium to the kidneys, which, along with water, exits the body in urine. Like beta blockers, diuretics are commonly used to lower blood pressure. Athletes may also use them to hide bodily evidence of previous substance use — these drugs are often refered to as masking agents — that would normally be obtained via urine testing. Athletes may also benefit from the increased urination consequent to diuretic ingestion to lose ‘water weight’ for competitions.