Stepping on to slippery path of a drug cheat

By Steve Deane

In February, the Australian Crime Commission issued a report alleging the widespread use in professional sport of peptides - performance enhancing drugs that are cheap, accessible and very likely being used in New Zealand. Herald reporter Steve Deane put his body on the line to find out how easy the drugs are to obtain and their effect on sporting performance.

Reporter Steve Deane established an excercise programme with a personal trainer at a gym before injecting peptides bought from US websites. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Reporter Steve Deane established an excercise programme with a personal trainer at a gym before injecting peptides bought from US websites. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The needle hurts more than I expect as it slides into my belly's fatty tissue. Depressing the plunger on the 1ml insulin syringe brings another stream of pain, but it's far from severe.

Inside the syringe - and now inside my body - is a substance called GHRP-6 - a peptide popular with athletes who dope. It's banned by the World Anti Doping Authority, but its legal status in New Zealand is unclear. The government's regulatory agency, Medsafe, first advised it wasn't a prescription medicine - and therefore legal to import - but later reversed that stance.

Legality aside, Customs isn't really looking for peptides that might be entering our border. It's not a priority, a Customs officer who works in drug detection told me. Our laws are so weak there is unlikely to be a prosecution for a peptide seizure, and if there is, the penalty will be a paltry fine.

I've been looking into peptides since the Australian Crime Commission report alleging widespread peptide use and links between professional sport and organised crime was published in early February.

I discovered peptides were cheap, accessible, virtually undetectable - and very likely being used in New Zealand.

To prove this, I mimicked the actions of a top athlete who had decided to cheat. The plan was to purchase a peptide, take it as part of a training programme, and then have my urine screened against the WADA banned substances list.

A few clicks of a mouse and a credit card was all it took for three peptide shipments from three different US-based websites to be heading my way.

Finding a how-to guide and instructional video on the internet was easy, while a prescription from my doctor provided the syringes and injecting water required to reconstitute the solid substance and introduce it into my body.

Two weeks before my first injection I'd engaged a personal trainer and embarked upon a gym programme. The idea was to establish a training baseline before taking the peptide to be able to tell what effect, if any, it had.

I also took urine samples before, during and after my peptide cycle.

For a month I trained and ate like an athlete and, eventually, cheated like an athlete. Based on my experience it was easy. Far too easy.

What is GHRP-6?

A growth hormone releasing hexapeptide 6 stimulates growth hormone pulse release from the brain's pituitary gland.

Its effects are said (but not proven) to include increased bone mineral density, increased lean muscle mass, improved strength, rejuvenation, strengthening of joints and improved recovery from injury.

Its side effects may include hot flushes, loud stomach rumbling, white blood cell increase, sweating and increased appetite.

Classified as a research chemical, it has not been approved for human use. A study in mice showed significant differences in body composition, muscle growth, glucose metabolism, memory and cardiac function.

Banned by the World Anti Doping Authority, its increased importation and use was highlighted as a major problem in the Australian Crime Commission report into links between organised crime and elite sport.

Popular with body builders, GHRP-6 is also prescribed by anti-ageing clinics.

Administered via a regular 1ml insulin syringe, it is injected subcutaneously usually around the abdomen region.

United States websites sell a 5mg vial for US$15 to US$30 - enough for 50 doses for a 100kg person. In New Zealand it is classified as new medicine, meaning it is illegal to sell it, market it or conduct clinical trials without a permit, but not strictly illegal to import it.

Disclaimer: The peptide project

This project was my idea and undertaken by me voluntarily. I researched and believe I fully understood the potential risks before beginning and assumed any such risks willingly. I believe I took all steps reasonably necessary to safeguard my own health and wellbeing. For example, the substance I took, GHRP-6, was examined by a chemist at Auckland University, who confirmed its chemical makeup and purity. The needles and injecting water I used were sourced via a prescription from my GP. I consulted a nurse about correct injecting technique. APN New Zealand and the editors of the Herald insisted I did not do anything that would break any laws during this investigation. I checked with the Ministry of Health and Medsafe and consulted a lawyer before importing GHRP-6 from the United States, buying it online. To the best of my knowledge and belief, all steps undertaken in this investigation were legally permissible.

-Steve Deane

- NZ Herald

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