Medical and pharmacological approach to adjust the salbutamol anti-doping policy in athletes

Respir Res. 2015 Dec 24;16:155. doi: 10.1186/s12931-015-0315-2.


Background: Salbutamol abuse detection by athletes is based on a urinary upper threshold defined by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). However, this threshold was determined in healthy, untrained individuals and after a dose of salbutamol inhaled that might not really mirror the condition of asthmatic athletes and the experts's guidelines for asthma management. We aimed to revise this threshold in accordance with recommended clinical practice (that appear to be different from the actual WADA recommendation) and in exercise conditions.

Methods: For the present open-label design study, we included 12 trained male cyclists (20 to 40 y/o) with asthma. Differently from the previous pharmacokinetic study supporting the actual salbutamol urinary upper threshold, we decided to administer a close to recommended clinical practice daily dose of 3x200 μg.d(-1) inhaled salbutamol (instead of 1600 μg.d(-1) as authorized by the anti-doping policy). Urine salbutamol concentration was quantified by liquid chromatography-tandem ion trap mass spectrometry and corrected for urine density, at rest and after a 90-min cycling effort at 70-80 % of the maximal aerobic power.

Results: The maximum urine salbutamol concentration value peaked after the cycling effort and was 510 ng.mL(-1). That is twice lower than the actual WADA threshold to sanction salbutamol abuse, this "legal" threshold being based on pharmacokinetic data after a daily dose that is 8 fold the total dose sequentially administrated in our study. Considering its 95 % confidence interval, this threshold value could be more stringent.

Conclusion: By using conditions in accordance with the experts' clinical and safety guidelines for asthma management in athletes undergoing an intense exercise bout, our study suggests that the urine salbutamol concentration threshold could be lowered to redefine the rule supporting the decision to sanction an athlete for salbutamol abuse.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Adrenergic beta-2 Receptor Agonists / administration & dosage*
  • Adrenergic beta-2 Receptor Agonists / pharmacokinetics
  • Adrenergic beta-2 Receptor Agonists / urine
  • Adult
  • Albuterol / administration & dosage*
  • Albuterol / pharmacokinetics
  • Albuterol / urine
  • Asthma / diagnosis
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Bicycling*
  • Bronchodilator Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Bronchodilator Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Bronchodilator Agents / urine
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Doping in Sports / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Policy Making*
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Urinalysis
  • Young Adult


  • Adrenergic beta-2 Receptor Agonists
  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Albuterol