sarm, the new ped

Sunday, March 26, 2017

There has been an ongoing arms race in the chemistry world that pits athletes who dope and against the lab techs who test their urine samples looking for that illegal performance enhancing drug. The battle rages fiercely in the background, while the general public has become blasé about it, almost accepting the fact that many pro athletes use PEDs and when another star is suspended, the fallout is muted. The latest to do the perp walk is Joakim Noah who was suspended for 20 games, a quarter of an NBA season.

The drug in question for Noah was a selective androgen receptor modulator (SARM), LGD-4033, a substance that has been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency since 2008. It’s an interesting drug because, while it can be easily available on the internet as a supplement (labelled not for human use), there is a good chance that perhaps this drug may actually have a significant positive use in the future. LGD-4033, tentatively named Ligandrol, was discovered by Ligand Pharmaceuticals and is now undergoing human testing by Viking therapeutics.

This class of drug, selective androgen receptor modular, are non-steroidal anti-inflammatories that are supposed to act like anabolic steroids, building up muscle and decreasing fat, but without the side effects that occur when the androgen receptors are also affected. The goal is to affect muscle and bone while leaving androgen levels (like testosterone) at normal levels. Testosterone is responsible for male sex characteristics and too much hormone may lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, acne, increased hairiness, liver disease, aggressive behavior and more. The anabolic to androgen effect ration of testosterone is 1 to 1, but some SARMs have ratios as high as 90 to 1, meaning if the correct dose can be found, the benefits would well outweigh the side effects.

The key is to get the dosing right. If the drug can be used to build muscle and prevent osteoporosis. The studies are ongoing at the present time. Phase 1 trials in 2012 in more than 70 adult males found that lean body mass could be increased and the more of the drug used, the better the outcome. Phase 2 studies began in November 2016, looking at 120 patients who were recovering from hip surgery to find out whether body mass could be maintained in people who were going to be increasingly sedentary as they recovered from surgery. This is the phase that also begins to look at side effects, safety and how the drug is metabolized (pharmacokinetics). If the drug still looks promising, then it’s off to phase 3, where thousands of patients will get the drug and their results, including side effects and complications, will be compared to a similar large group of patients who will be given placebo drugs as a control group.

For Joakim Noah, he was caught by chemists who tested his urine and found a drug that is not yet available for human consumption. For Noah, choosing this PED might have let him slip under the radar of the testing lab. The risk that was his downfall is that the characteristics of the drug in the human body aren’t yet well known. How long does it take for the body to metabolize and get rid of it? Does it interact with other medicines? Is it affected by other foods or how it’s stored? Lots of questions that will need to be answered before it is approved for human use.

The bottom line is that Noah cheated. For whatever reason, whether it was to recover from an injury or to try to escape the inevitability of age on his performance, he cheated. His inability to perform legally on the basketball court affected not only him, but also every other player on the court. Charles Barkley, Basketball Hall of Famer, said:” I’m not a role model… Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” Barkley may have been right when he talked about parenting, but was absolutely wrong with respect to PEDs. High school and college players look at Joachim Noah and wonder if they can make it to the big leagues without also having to use a performance enhancing drug. How many will choose to live better by chemistry instead of by spending hours in the gym? May be Noah can think of an answer while he serves his suspension.


Photo attribution: Getty Images

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