Is Crack a Performance-Enhancing Drug?

Toronto mayor Rob Ford bested Hulk Hogan in an arm wrestling match this morning. Which prompts an important question: Could Ford's alleged recreational use of cocaine have given him an edge?

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Toronto mayor Rob Ford, famous less for his legislating than his leisure activities, bested professional athlete Hulk Hogan in an arm wrestling match this morning. Which prompts an important question: Could Ford's alleged recreational use of cocaine have given him an edge?

First, we looked at the video evidence. the Daily Dot), Ford's victory was far from assured. Hogan appears to have a significant advantage until — suddenly and dramatically — Ford swings the contest, pinning Hogan. As Ford leaps up to celebrate, Hogan rubs his arm in pain.

Then we went to the experts. "Hulk Hogan is not really an arm wrestler, but he's a good arm wrestler," said Gene Camp, founder of New York Arm Wrestling Association. We spoke with Camp by phone in an effort to figure out if Ford's victory was due to his prowess or … something else.

Could the size difference between Ford and Hogan might have played a role? Ford appears to substantially outweigh Hogan. But unlike in Hogan's regular form of professional wrestling, Camp told us, weight doesn't matter as much. "I'm sure [Hogan] could get beaten by a guy who's 150 pounds if he's a champion arm wrestler." Camp described a Russian arm wrestler who came to town a while ago, and "won every weight class in the Empire State Championship. We still don't know how he did it." That guy was 150 pounds.

The important thing isn't weight, it's muscle. "Forearm, the upper arm, the bicep, the shoulder. Most important is the tendons," Camp told us. "If you're a veteran arm wrestler, that's it." He then described several strategies that the pros use to win matches, none of which seemed to match what we saw in the video above. The video also appears to show that Hogan has spent more time focused on muscle development than Ford, indicating that this might not be the determining factor.

Did this molecule assure Ford's victory?
(Image via Wikipedia.)

So we had to ask: Could this have been because of cocaine? First Camp assured us that, even though there was no testing in the sport, he didn't know of drug use in arm wrestling. "I'm the announcer," he insisted. "I don't see somebody snorting cocaine or popping pills before the event. I don't see it." Right, but could it play a role? "Seeing the way baseball is, with [Alex] Rodriguez and all these guys that are involved with drug-enhancing products," he said, "I imagine that it's in most every sport."

Guesswork, however, wouldn't cut it. Dr. Charles Yesalis, professor emeritus at Penn State University, had insight into the actual science.

"I know of no scientific study" of the topic, he told us by phone, "but I do know anecdotally of powerlifters using cocaine before big lifts." That's because cocaine, like an amphetamine, is used in sports to "reduce fatigue and increase aggressiveness," according to Yesalis. As for whether or not that coke use actually helped the lifters, Yesalis wasn't certain. The experiment was not conducted under rigorous testing conditions.

If Ford had used cocaine, the timing would have been tricky. "It would have to be [used], I would suspect, within 10 or 15 minutes" of the competition, Yesalis said. Which, given the number of cameras at the event, would have been tricky. An old report suggests that the timeframe of effectiveness when smoked is even shorter — coming in at five to 10 minutes.

It is also probably not the case that Ford's alleged use of cocaine over time would have helped him build the sort of muscle mass that Camp thought would be an aid. Coke and speed "are not training drugs," Yesalis pointed out. Unlike steroids or human growth hormone, used over long periods to build muscle, cocaine would only be helpful in that brief period before competition. And asked to speculate if it would be helpful even then, Yesalis was noncommittal. As an actual doctor, he apparently wasn't willing to just speculate.

We are. If Ford had smoked crack — an accusation, again, is based only on evidence acquired through hearsay, a video that few people have seen — it may have given him a psychological push for the arm wrestling match. But not necessarily any increased fortitude.

Our analysis yields a fairly conclusive response. No, Rob Ford did not smoke crack before beating Hulk Hogan at an arm wrestling match. Hogan let him win.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.