'Doping' drug Clara Hughes tested positive for now permitted: expert

Ephedrine, the drug Clara Hughes tested positive for at the 1994 cycling world championships in Sicily, is now permitted in low doses in athletes, according to Dean Kriellaars, the founder of The Sports Medicine and Science Council of Manitoba.

Unclear whether Clara Hughes would be suspended today if she tested positive for ephedrine

Tested positive for ephedrine during 1994 world championship 4:18

Ephedrine, the drug Clara Hughes tested positive for at the 1994 cycling world championships in Sicily, is now permitted in low doses in athletes, according to Dean Kriellaars, the founder of The Sports Medicine and Science Council of Manitoba.

In her new book Open Heart, Open Mind, Hughes reveals she was suspended for three months after testing positive for the stimulant.

The cycling and speed skating Olympian told CBC's Adrienne Arsenault she does not know how it found its way into her sample.

"I do know that I didn't cheat. I can look myself in the eye and know ... that is my truth," Hughes said in her recent interview.

Kriellaars believes Hughes is telling the truth. He's the former chair of the Sports Medicine and Science Council of Manitoba's substance-use committee.

He said ephedrine use was rampant during the time Hughes tested positive, and many athletes innocently consumed the drug.

The stimulant is found in many seemingly benign products including, cold medications and Chinese herbal supplements.

Health Canada notes ephedrine is sometimes sold under different names including Ma Huang and Chinese Ephedra.

Ephedrine use was so common in sport, Kriellaars said in 2006, regulators began to allow small amounts of the drug.

Today, the World Anti-Doping Agency allows up to 10 micrograms per millilitre in urine for competing athletes.

While ephedrine may have a performance-enhancing effect, the health costs of abuse can be serious.

Health Canada warns against using ephedrine for "weight loss, body building or increased energy," adding it may cause such conditions as irregular heartbeats, seizures, psychosis and even death.

Right now in Canada, the only approved use is as a nasal decongestant. 

According to the Sports Medicine and Science Council of Manitoba's annual survey of local athletes, current use of ephedrine ranges from two per cent to 20 per cent in the province.

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