Medical Opinion: Taking corticosteroids when you have no medical need to

Posted on: October 16th, 2016

Corticosteroids will result in “vast” improvement in physical performance and also greatly enhance confidence and feelings of superiority.


Having been one of Ireland’s best swimmers for many years, Gary O’Toole has long since retired and works as a doctor.

He also commentates on swimming occasionally on TV and does other media work.

O’Toole, an Orthopaedic surgeon, has developed a specialisation for sports injury knee surgery.

He has been an outspoken critic of doping and was something of a whistleblower in exposing the crimes of swimming coach George Gibney who abused swimmers he was coaching.

In this piece on Newstalk, O’Toole discusses the issue of corticosteroids and cortisone.

He specifically talks about athletes who may take corticosteroids under therapeutic use exemption.

O’Toole discusses the benefits they have when the people taking them are doing so to gain a performance edge rather than to treat a condition they are claiming on their TUE application.

He said giving sportspeople courses of corticosteroids when they have no medical condition that requires them not only vastly aids physical performance but also the mental side.

“Their performance will improve vastly when compared to people who are getting placebos; a placebo is no drug at all. They have an effect on athletic performance.”

O’Toole then goes on specifically to use the example of David Millar and the Tour de France.

Millar, who has served a drugs ban, recently said corticosteroids had aided his weight loss and increased power.

He was speaking when asked for comment by the media after it emerged Bradley Wiggins had received corticosteroids under therapeutic use exemption (TUE).

Wiggins took the substances under TUEs – that were fully sanctioned by the UCI and within the rules – to treat respiratory problems and a pollen allergy.

“He takes the injection,” O’Toole said of Millar’s experience, “and then a couple of days later he said he could cycle like the wind, that he just felt amazing.

“Well, that is related to the known steroid euphoria that can result from getting steroids; it’s the central psychiatric influence of the steroid in the body.”

He said this resulted not only in an improvement in physical capability but also enhanced the athlete’s belief that they were “better than everyone else”.

The drugs allowed them “stand out from the crowd” in that regard.

O’Toole believed those who administer the drugs needed to consider whether they were aiding performance in a healthy athlete or simply compensating for, or neutralising, a condition/health complaint.