The enigma of inhaled salbutamol and sport: unresolved after 45 years

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During the past 45 years, there have been more changes on the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) Prohibited List (the List) to the status of inhaled salbutamol than any other substance. With 658 athletes, 6.1% of all participating athletes approved to inhale salbutamol at the 2008 Beijing Games, it is one of the medications used most frequently by Olympic athletes. Nevertheless, since the 2008 Games, WADA has made numerous changes to inhaled salbutamol on the List including prohibiting its use, then a year later permitting it without prior notification and recommending a pharmacokinetic study if an athlete exceeds the urinary threshold of 1000 ng/mL. Recently, an elite athlete undertook two pharmacokinetic studies and the results have raised several questions. These include whether WADA should continue to permit nebulized salbutamol as an acceptable method of inhalation and there is some justification for nebulized salbutamol to be prohibited in sport. Another question is whether the modified advisory on salbutamol in the 2017 List appropriately informs athletes of the risks of exceeding the urinary threshold and the recent changes may not inform athletes optimally. Finally, concern is expressed at the persistent failure of WADA to apply a correction down to a specific gravity of 1.020 when an exogenous substance is identified in the urine of a dehydrated athlete. It is recommended that this should be implemented.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)977-982
Number of pages6
JournalDrug Testing and Analysis
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2017


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