Legalize Dud Drugs

According to Engber['s article], Human Growth Hormone (HGH or GH) has little to no performance enhancing-benefits. … I have the benefit of working down the hall from several exercise physiologists.  I forwarded [his] article to my colleague, John McLester. … “Oh yeah, I agree with [Engber]. This isn’t even controversial in exercise physiology. … There is no evidence of [benefit from bigger muscles]. It seems that the muscle that is developed is abnormal and not mature. I’ll point you to some studies (see below). …

With [Major League Baseball]’s adoption of mandatory testing for steroids, many thought that home run rates would drop dramatically. They didn’t, and many felt that the lack of a test for HGH could be part of the explanation. Well, it’s time for the scientists working on such a test to start something else more important.

That is John Bradbury.  He interprets:

The illegality of growth hormone actually promotes its use in sports. … The banning of a drug by anti-doping authorities sends a loud and incorrect signal that it works. … Therefore, I believe that legalizing growth hormone is needed to send the signal that it doesn’t work, largely to undo the widespread common belief that growth hormone does improve performance. … Think of the powerful effect it would have if MLB pulled growth hormone off its banned list. I can’t imagine a more powerful signal of a drug’s lack of potency as a performance enhancer. If we are going to be paternalists, let’s be effective paternalists.

Added 5Mar: See also here, HT Tyler.

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  • Violet

    Lots of non-performance incrementing drugs are banned in sports like e.g. finasteride. Another example would be Clomifene (which is used for recovery from anabolic steroids and block effects of estrogen).

    It is quite widely known that HGH alone or in very large doses does not help performance (and may actually decrease it).

    However it may make training with anabolic agents more effective.

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      What is the point of sport leagues banning drugs that have no effect on sport performance?

      • Nick Tarleton

        Harmful side effects.

      • Nick Tarleton

        Also the view of athletes as “role models”, in conjunction both with harmful side effects and with the overall view that drugs=bad.

      • Violet

        In case of HGH probably signaling.

        If HGH was legal and athletes took HGH to boost performance it would create a signal that there is “legalized doping” (even if it in reality didn’t boost the performance).

        Finasteride is banned because it might be used to hide the traces of the use of banned substances (anabolic steroids in this case).

      • http://www.isegoria.net Isegoria

        A drug can have little or no effect when used by itself, but a synergistic effect with other drugs. That’s the contention with HGH: it reduces fat slightly, without putting on significant muscle, when used alone, but when combined with testosterone (or other anabolic-androgenic steroids), it supposedly amplifies the muscle-building effect — or so it was thought for a while.

        Finasteride, which Violet mentioned above, is better known as Propecia, the male pattern baldness drug. It blocks the transformation of testosterone, the most popular performance-enhancing steroid, into DHT, the hormone that triggers hair loss. So finasteride isn’t a performance-enhancing drug — or, at least, there isn’t good evidence that it is — but it is linked to steroid use.

        Clomifene is a women’s fertility drug that doesn’t simply stimulate the ovaries; it also “reboots” the male organs after they’ve stopped producing testosterone, which happens with long-term steroid use.

  • bruce

    Didn’t Jose Canseco say you take steroids to bulk up and growth hormone to get cut? Was he wrong?

    • vanveen

      yes, hGH reduces subcutaneous fat. it also seems to make you less susceptible to serious injury, but that could be an illusory benefit.

      it is mostly about looking fit and impressive (and that is well known). i would wager most professional athletes (and even all-american high schoolers) would bet against the proposition that hGH enhances performance when taken by itself.

      • ECM

        Actually, a substantial drop in bodyfat *is* a performance enhancer since you’re quicker with less dead weight hanging on your frame so HGH *is* a performance enhancer, especially when coming off a bulking cycle of steroids and you need to lean out.

  • Marshall

    With [Major League Baseball]’s adoption of mandatory testing for steroids, many thought that home run rates would drop dramatically. They didn’t, and many felt that the lack of a test for HGH could be part of the explanation.

    I think that this is wrong.
    Home runs in MLB peaked in 2000, and have been (mostly) declining ever since.

    1990 – 3,317 HRs hit
    1995 – 4,081
    2000 – 5,693
    2005 – 5,017
    2007 – 4,957
    2008 – 4,878
    2009 – 4,655
    Source: Baseball Almanac and Graph of the Day

    • Shek

      He was referring to home run rates, which have not dropped with any significance following the introduction of testing and are not that far off of the 2000 figure, which is the maximum.

      See the graphs at this post, which uses the Lahman Database.

      What Caused the Steroid Era?

    • tim

      Out of curiosity, why did you leave out 2006′s 5,386 home runs? It’s not like it contradicts your hypothesis or anything.

  • dzot

    While HGH doesn’t directly enhance performance, it does hasten recovery. Theoretically, faster recovery would allow more intense training which should improve performance at the margin.

    It’s a stretch to say the least.

    (BTW, I wonder what making HGH available to, say, everyone over 50 would do to reduce overall heath care costs.)

  • Brenton

    Just because testing is implemented doesn’t necessarily mean that doping stops, or even significantly lessens. I don’t know why people assume it does.

  • bruce

    I don’t plan to start taking anything for another ten or fifteen years. But, when I’m 55-65+? I want the option. My life depends on it.

    I don’t mind keeping the Gentlemen versus Players distinction for young athletes. But us old farts deserve a legal, professional ‘take what works is the whole of the law’ senior sports league out there, testing the cutting-edge exercise/drug routines for us.

  • Leiito

    why not legalize all drugs, tax them and use the money to educate people but if they still want drugs, they can get them in a supervised setting? Not that it’s a new idea, it’s been proven to work in many countries and it’s certainly better than the war on drugs that resulted in milions of non-violent people incarcerated, trillions spent on prosecuting and jailing them and still there were never more addicts, drugs were never cheaper, terrorists and organized crime are the only ones to benefit. Not to mention the government has no business telling people what they can do with their bodies.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    I just added to this post.

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  • http://twitter.com/BuySteroidsUK Buy Steroids UK

    banning hgh and steroids certainly made them a desirable forbidden fruit.