Saturday, July 27, 2013

Drugs and Cycling

If you’re a fan of cycling then I imagine you're fairly sick of hearing about all the boring performance enhancing drugs that cyclists (and plenty of other athletes) use to help boost their natural abilities. Things like EPO (to improve the blood’s ability to carry oxygen), anabolic steroids including Testosterone (to increase strength and aid in muscle recovery) and Human Growth Hormone (to improve muscle regeneration).

There are also other forms of doping that don’t involve taking drugs but rather transfusing a rider’s own blood (which has been previously removed and stored on ice) prior to a difficult race – this is a slightly more natural way of boosting the red blood cell count and, until recently, more difficult to detect than artificial forms of doping.

But there are plenty of other drugs out there that are a lot more fun than these. The Private Cyclist talked to some experts in this field and is now proud to present this handy guide to (some of the other) drugs in cycling.

MDMA is the active ingredient in Ecstasy, and it has exhibited the typical life-cycle of many recreational drugs. Initially discovered by accident in 1912, the military experimented with it as an interrogation tool in the 1950s before its therapeutic benefits were discovered and a number of psychotherapists began to use it, among other things, as a marital aid. The term Marital aids describes tools (drugs or otherwise) that are used to enhance or promote intimacy between sexual partners and should not be confused with Marital AIDS, which is a sexually-transmitted disease passed on to a partner after marriage which, if you are a supporter of this proposed U.S. Senate bill, is the only time that two people should be having sex, unless they’re gay in which case it should be never.

I’m not sure if there is a hierarchy here but I wonder which is considered worse – sex between non-married heterosexuals or sex between married homosexuals?
It’s at this point that I start to get a little concerned about the effect my Google search history will have on the targeted advertising in my web browser – hopefully I don’t get too many ads for the Willing Abstinence National Coalition (WANC).

Anyway, enough about abstinence, back to the drugs…

After MDMA was used clinically to enhance pleasure between married couples, by the 1970s people realised that it could be used to enhance pleasure in other areas of life such as dance-parties, house-parties and Tupperware-parties.
By 1985 authorities in most developed countries, who obviously wanted to distance themselves from Tupperware-party promotion, quickly made the drug illegal and banned it in all but special clinical applications. MDMA is not generally considered a performance-enhancing drug (unless the performance is trance music or intense stroking) but can probably improve one’s physical connection with the bicycle and make the commute home from the discothèque a little more bearable – something which German cyclist Jan Ullrich was obviously not adverse to. Ullrich received a 6 month ban in 2002 after testing positive to amphetamines while on an injury-induced break from cycling. Apparently he didn’t mind the odd night out on the town!
Ullrich claimed the positive test result was due to some Ecstasy pills he had taken the previous night for purely recreational purposes. The German anti-doping authorities agreed that they were not performance-enhancing, hence the relatively short ban. In hindsight, it may have simply been a ruse to distract the anti-doping organisations from the most definitely performance-enhancing blood-doping violations that Ullrich was implicated in during the Operación Puerto investigation in 2006.

LSD is a hallucinogen that was first produced by Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann in 1938. It wasn’t until five years later that Hofmann unintentionally ingested the drug while synthesising it and discovered the powerful psychedelic effects that it brought on. Three days after this experience, Hofmann took part in a famous self-experiment by intentionally ingesting a dose of LSD (or acid) and taking the first acid trip riding home on his bicycle. Since then it has been used therapeutically, tested by the military and hit the height of its popularity as a recreational drug in the 1960s.

It has been used by many notable people including Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, which is both interesting (as the drug is usually associated with artists and musicians) and lucky (as it allows me to link back to a previous article about Quantum Mechanics that references the significant contribution Feynman made to this important scientific field).

LSD was eventually prohibited for personal use but, like most other things that authorities have ever tried to ban, it has continued to be used to great effect by artists, musicians and even cyclists to enhance their creativity and ability in their chosen field.

A cyclist who I spoke to described an intense experience riding home at night on acid that was reminiscent of the famous scene from Hunter S. Thompson’s book-turned-film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where a flock of hallucinogen-induced bats begin swooping the author’s car as he drives through the desert (with his faithful attorney) on the way to the Mint 400 motorcycle race.

A bicycle messenger also reported a colleague pedalling furiously through the streets of Sydney who thought he was actually flying, again under the influence of LSD. Others have reported heightened skills and awareness while riding in the dark and vivid hallucinations of devilish men running along beside them.
Magic Mushrooms are another common psychedelic used recreationally. There are many varieties that grow in the wild meaning that Psilocybin mushrooms (as they are known scientifically) are available free of charge to those with a keen eye who reside in a favourable climate. To those with a less keen eye, results can be dangerous (and in some cases life-threatening) if they are mistaken for poisonous varieties. One respondent reported mastering a unicycle in a matter of minutes during a night on Magic Mushrooms but unfortunately the skills were not retained. By the next day the familiar pattern of two unbalanced pedal strokes followed by an ungainly dismount resumed.

If you want to see any permanent skill improvements then it would be necessary to make a proper commitment to mushrooms, which might be difficult, unless you can convince your local café to offer a (mind)-altered breakfast menu.
Cocaine is a recreational drug whose effects include an overwhelming feeling of wellbeing, euphoria and heightened alertness. It is often associated with the professional crowd, owing to its relatively high price (in its pure form – although Crack Cocaine is a cheaper crystalised concoction of cocaine and baking soda if you’re after something a little more ghetto). And while it might be more common to find lines of cocaine being snorted in bathrooms at trendy inner-urban bars in the legal precinct, a few professional cyclists have also been known to indulge.
While Marco Pantani lost his life to cocaine in 2004, Tom Boonen’s has so far been spared, along with that of a cat he swerved to avoid while driving his Lamborghini.

Boonen is well known for his multiple Paris-Roubaix wins and a Road World Championship, but is most famous for testing positive for cocaine on three occasions, driving an expensive sports car (badly)…and having a 16-year-old girlfriend. But apparently that’s legal in Belgium – the 16-year-old girlfriend, not the cocaine.
Obviously it helps if you understand Flemmish, but Google Translate does a fine job with this cartoon.

Filled with euphoria and a sense of invincibility, one cyclist related a story about buckling a road bike wheel while riding home on cocaine…after attempting to jump a stair gap. If you are going to ride on cocaine, then it’s important to keep in mind that while you may feel invincible, it will NOT transform your road bike in to an 8-inch travel downhill bike.
Although less spectacular, the correct method for navigating stairs on a road bike is depicted above-right.
There aren’t many sports where marijuana would provide you any benefit. This drug is much more likely to enhance activities that involve lying on a couch, watching TV and eating snacks…such as viewing live TV coverage of the Tour de France. Obviously it’s important to be aware that too much marijuana can end up robbing you of your ambition, although “not if your ambition is to get high and watch TV” – a profoundly honest and refreshing response from Bridget Fonda’s character in the film Jackie Brown.
A pocket full of pre-rolled joints can make for a nice, social addition to a weekend of mountain biking and one rider that I spoke to also recalled bongs being carried in backpacks and then sparked up in between downhill runs at Mount Lofty in Adelaide. Recreational use is definitely more common amongst mountain bikers, perhaps because there is less likelihood of being stopped for a random drug test compared with being on the road bike.
Obviously there are plenty of other drugs that you could mix with cycling and I would be interested to hear about any personal experiences. Please feel free to leave comments below – but probably avoid including your real name and address as law enforcement officers have been known to peruse this blog in search of incriminating evidence for their kitty porn investigations.

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