Dr. Keith Wailoo of Rutgers University has an essay in today's New York Times about the American Medical Association's research into "pep pills" in sports. This study took place 50 years ago.
In 1957, the American Medical Association began an investigation of “pep pills” in sports. In track and field alone, a dozen runners had run the four-minute mile in the three years since Roger Bannister first did it. How could this be possible, the doctors wanted to know, without stimulating drugs? Were athletes using amphetamines to stimulate the nervous system, reduce fatigue and improve performance?
Adding to suspicions, some athletes admitted turning to drugs for extra pep. Bruno Banducci, an offensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers in the 1950s, acknowledged using the amphetamine Benzedrine to maintain his endurance. “We players did this on our own,” he said, taking team doctors off the hook.
Australian Olympic swimmers were under a similar cloud; even high school athletes were suspected. For others, the goal was relief and tranquillity after the tough performance. Al Aber, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, and other teammates said their team doctor prescribed tranquilizers to ease muscular and nervous tension.
An article by John Hoberman, a University of Texas professor, also examined this topic in greater detail, especially in regard to milers, in Sport and History in 2006.