WADA “entitled to ask certain questions” about Tizanidine

Officials found the muscle relaxant drug during a hotel raid at the 2021 Tour de France, now the anti-doping organisation is looking into its effects

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The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is set to study the effects of the drug Tizanidinen after it was found during a raid on a team hotel, as well as in the hair of three cyclists, at last year’s Tour de France. 

Tizanidine, also known as Zanaflex or Sirdalud, is a muscle relaxant effects of which are comparable to diazepam. The report into the results of the findings from the raid were published last year, however, the Scientific Director of WADA, Oliver Rabin, told L’Equipe that “in view of the latest events, we have put it on the agenda of the ‘list committee’ for the month of January.”

A research paper published in October 2021 by scientists from the Forensic Medicine in Strasbourg who created a hair test for detecting Tizanidine stated that “During an international three-week cyclist race in France, a special public health division of the police controlled a whole team. In addition to the control of the rooms and the medical devices and products by the police, a trained forensic pathologist was requested to collect head hair specimens from seven cyclists.” The report also noted that the drug is only available by prescription in France and cannot be obtained over the counter.

Directly after the original report emerged, the WorldTeam Bahrain Victorious, who were the subject of a hotel search at the 2021 Tour, released a statement declaring that:

“Team Bahrain Victorious and any of its riders have not been officially or unofficially notified about any findings related to tizanidine or other substances.

“The team would like to stress that the authors of the scientific article to which all allegations refer have unambiguously pointed out that tizanidine is not a prohibited substance in sport.

“The team is consulting legal advice about the nature in which this information was published during an ongoing investigation without the team being notified which has impacted the team’s reputation.”

Rabin outlined WADA’s intention to investigate the possible performance-enhancing effects of Tizanidine saying: “We do not know this substance too well because it is used for therapeutic purposes. What is interesting by looking at its profile is that we can legitimately ask ourselves the question of what could be the use for doping purposes.”

“In the profile of Tizanidine, except when there is an excess of muscle tone, as can be seen in certain degenerative pathologies, one can ask the question of its use. An effect on a normal muscle seems inconclusive.”

Rabin appeared doubtful of the drug’s effectiveness as a performance-enhancing tool, citing the possible side effects, including dizziness, drowsiness, hallucinations, vomiting and stomach pain, which may outweigh the benefit for someone with normal muscle function.

Nevertheless, WADA will analyse Tizanidine and decide whether it should be listed as a banned substance.

“We must not overlook the fact that some people who have to help athletes perform at a higher level are subject to certain pressures to try to find solutions to bring about new things, without there being any scientific rationality behind them,” Rabin added.

“But, quite honestly, sometimes substances can jump out at us and we include them very quickly. As much on Tizanidine, we are entitled to ask certain questions.”

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