We’ve all heard of the commonly known performance-enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids and amphetamines but how clued up are you on those substances that are less well known? Included in the WADA banned substance list there are also commonly prescribed drugs for well-known ailments, so it’s important to make sure that everything you’re taking is legal.

Let’s start by explaining why certain substances get banned:

In order for a drug to be banned by WADA, it must meet one of two sets of criteria.The first involves satisfying two of three from the list below:

· The drug must be performance enhancing in nature, methods can also be included in this branch.

· The drug must be potentially dangerous to the health of the athlete.

· The drug must be against the spirit of sport.

A drug can also be banned if it’s determined to be a masking agent for performance-enhancing drugs, personal identification, etc.

Here is our list of banned substances that you might not know about:


While some painkillers are allowed, such as codeine & paracetemol, there is a category of painkillers that is strictly prohibited – opioids. This includes substances such as morphine and pethidine which are available on prescription only.

Athletes put their body’s through a lot of stress and injuries can be common, so why have these painkillers ended up on the list of banned substances? Because they decrease the sensation of serious injuries and allow athletes to continue training for competition even after these serious injuries. They work by blocking pain receptors to the brain and can leave users with a ‘high’ sensation or drowsiness. Their greatest danger, however, is their ability to slow reaction times and cognitive function which poses a threat to the safety of any athlete.

Pseudoephedrine – nasal decongestant (commonly known as Sudafed)

Pseudoephedrine is commonly used as a decongestant for the treatment of nasal and sinus congestion. A common brand of pseudoephedrine hydrochloride is Sudafed, which you’ve probably heard of but you may not have known it was a banned substance!

Pseudoephedrine as it mimics the effects of adrenaline and is reported to act as a stimulant by increasing alertness and awakedness.

Pseudoephedrine is prohibited above 150 micrograms per millilitre, under WADA’s Prohibited List. Athletes should not take pseudoephedrine 24 hours prior to or during competition.

Salbutamol (asthma drug)

Salbutamol is a substance that is inhaled through the use of an inhaler to relieve the symptoms of asthma as well as other lung conditions such as coughing, wheezing, a tight chest and feeling breathless. Salbutamol relieves these symptoms by relaxing the airways into the lungs, widening the airways and making it easier to breathe. Salbutamol is banned by WADA as it is part of a class of drugs known as Beta 2 Agonist which have anabolic (tissue building) effects.

WADA does accept that asthmatics should be allowed to use inhalers and so they have set a ceiling for the amount of the drug that can show up in tests. The maximum amount detected in urine must fall below 1000ng/ml to be allowed.

Meldonium (heart drug)

WADA began monitoring the drug in 2015 following evidence that athletes were using it and as a result banned the substance in 2016. Meldonium is primarily used to treat heart-related conditions, such as angina pectoris and heart failure, that block blood and oxygen to the heart muscle. . According to a study the use of meldonium in professional sports can lead to ‘improved rehabilitation after exercise, protection against stress and enhanced activation of the central nervous system functions.’

Methylphenidate – ADHD medication (also known as ritalin or concerta)

Methylphenidate is a stimulant medication that is prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This medication speeds up the heart rate and respiration while also increasing the levels of the neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.

Methylphenidate is banned by WADA as it increases focus and drive in competition and can overcome any distractions. In doing this the drug allows athletes to ignore nagging aches and pains, therefore making it possible to train more intensely for longer periods of time.

Want to make sure that you aren’t taking anything on the WADA banned substances list? Check out the WADA website for more info.