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FAQs on terbutaline, the drug that got Prithvi Shaw suspended

Find out what terbutaline does to an athlete, and why it is on the WADA list of prohibited substances

Varun Shetty
Varun Shetty
The Prithvi Shaw incident has raised questions about India's anti-doping programme

The Prithvi Shaw incident has raised questions about India's anti-doping programme  •  Getty Images

We've seen how the BCCI arrived at the decision to suspend Prithvi Shaw after being tested positive for a banned substance called terbutaline. We've also heard from the anti-doping manager about the processes involved in educating the players about anti-doping. But what exactly does terbutaline do to an athlete, and why is it banned?
What is terbutaline?
Terbutaline is classified as a bronchodilator, which is any medication that relaxes muscles in the airways and allows easy circulation of air in and out of the lungs. It is available in the form of tablets, syrups, shots, and as the liquid inside inhalers. It is a prescription drug.
What does it do?
Terbutaline's primary function is to make breathing easier, so it is used to treat symptoms of lung problems like asthma or bronchitis, although it is sometimes used to slow down or delay contractions during pre-term labour.
In general, it is used to control symptoms like cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest.
Why is it on the WADA list of prohibited substances?
Aerobic exercise - or cardio, as it's called popularly - is dependent on getting oxygenated blood as quickly as possible to working muscles. So any exercise that exerts pressure on the heart and lungs can be positively affected by easing up the breathing - which is exactly what something like terbutaline would do.
Terbutaline is on the list of substances that are prohibited at all times (even in therapeutic use) by the WADA because it has been shown to enhance time to exhaustion and, among other things, the muscle power output in cyclists.
Does it affect a cricketer's performance? Not really, as per the BCCI's anti-doping manager Dr Abhijit Salvi.
"Terbutaline helps to open the airways and thereby ventilate the lungs effectively. It may be beneficial to cyclists, runners, etc, but wouldn't really help a cricketer perform better," Salvi told ESPNcricinfo.
Where have I heard of it before?
A couple of years ago, Yusuf Pathan was also tested positive for terbutaline and was handed a back-dated five-month ban.
Terbutaline is a fairly prevalent topic in the world of cycling as well. In 2016, British cyclist Simon Yates failed a drug test that prevented him from participating in the Tour de France. Yates, like many other cyclists and elite athletes, took the substance to treat long-term asthma.
But is it even possible for elite athletes to have asthma? Yes - their intense training methods and exposure to lung irritants affect their airways and can cause something called exercise-induced asthma.

Varun Shetty is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo