Effects of tramadol, a potent analgesic, on sports and cognitive performance
Researchers from the University of Granada have published the first randomised clinical trial on the effects of tramadol, an analgesic drug, on sports and cognitive performance. The drug has been in the media spotlight as several cyclists and team staff have reported its frequent use in the cycling peloton. Side effects include drowsiness and reduced ability to concentrate or react to stimuli. The results are inconclusive.
SYNC 13/12/2021 13:09 CEST
UGR researchers Darias Holgado and Thomas Zandonai, two of the authors of this work.
Tramadol is a drug that belongs to the family of opioid analgesics, which is mainly prescribed to treat severe pain, such as back pain or post-operative pain.
Although not considered a doping substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the drug has been under the media spotlight as several cyclists and team staff have reported its frequent use within the cycling peloton to reduce the sensation of pain, despite its frequent side effects.
These side effects include drowsiness and reduced ability to concentrate or react to stimuli, which could be the cause of numerous crashes in the peloton. However, these rumours are based on mere speculation, and to date there has been no evidence of its effect on sporting and cognitive performance.
A study carried out by the University of Granada (UGR), with funding from the WADA and the supervision of the Spanish Medicines Agency, has provided the first scientific evidence to try to clear up the controversy surrounding the substance.
Tramadol is a drug belonging to the family of opioid analgesics, mainly prescribed to treat severe pain.
The work, which has recently been published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, uses a double-blind procedure (the effects of tramadol were compared with those of a placebo, in the same group of participants).
The results of a first study show an increase in physical performance (~5%) under the effects of tramadol, compared to those taking a placebo.
However, that result is not replicated in a second experiment where participants (a different group to experiment 1) performed the physical task alongside a cognitive task (responding to infrequent stimuli that are presented among a series of frequent stimuli to which they do not have to respond). At the brain level, in the second experiment, they found an effect of tramadol related to stimulus processing.
More studies needed
The UGR researchers say they are not yet in a position to make a recommendation to the WADA. “The results of the study are not conclusive, so we have to be very cautious about claiming that tramadol improves sports performance or that it has an effect on stimulus processing. This is the first study of its kind, so more research is needed to corroborate whether tramadol consumption has any effect on sports and cognitive performance,” says one of the authors of the study, Darías Holgado Nuñez, from the Department of Physical and Sports Education and the Centre for Research, Mind, Brain and Behaviour (CIMCYC).
Tramadol is not included in the WADA list of doping substances, but it is included in the list of substances under monitoring (substances that are studied to detect possible abuse). Soon, UGR researchers will start a new study related to this interesting line of research.
Holgado, D., Zandonai, T., Zabala, M., Hopker, J.,Perakakis, P., Luque-Casado, A.,Ciria, L, Guerra-Hernández, E. and Sanabria, D. (2017). Tramadol effects on physical performance and sustained attention during a 20-min indoor cycling time-trial: A randomised controlled trial. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2017.10.032