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Chad Mendes tested positive for GHRP-6, but what is it?

In light of USADA announcing that Chad Mendes’ failed drug test was for GHRP-6, Iain Kidd explains what that is, and why an athlete would take it.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

UFC featherweight Chad Mendes was suspended for 2 years by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) after he'd failed an out-of-competition drug test. USADA also announced that GHRP-6 was the banned substance that Mendes had tested positive for, and will otherwise keep him out of action until June 2018.

GHRP-6 stands for Growth Hormone Releasing Hexapeptide, and is one of a class of drugs known as growth hormone releasing peptides. Something to note is that while it has growth hormone in the name, GHRP-6 is not the same as human growth hormone (hGH).

GHRP-6 is a substance which is designed to increase your body’s natural production of growth hormone. Much like clomiphene is useful for
increasing the body’s production of testosterone, GHRP-6 does the same thing for growth hormone, though in a different way. GHRP-6 can be used as needed without requiring any "cycling" or post-cycle therapy.

Growth hormone is widely perceived as being a performance enhancing substance, largely due to studies showing it can lead to
decreases in body fat and increases in levels of Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 is a performance enhancing substance which both increases protein availability, allowing for significantly more efficient muscle growth & repair, and inhibits cell death, which can aid recovery time from exercise and injury. Some people also believe extra hGH can lead to increased muscle growth on its own, but to my knowledge only animal studies have definitively shown this.

GHRP-6 acts as a mimetic of ghrelin, which is sometimes called the "hunger hormone." Ghrelin is used as a signal to increase appetite. One of the other effects ghrelin has is stimulating the pituitary gland to release growth hormone via the ghrelin/growth hormone secretagogue receptor in the pituitary. As a result, GHRP-6 can significantly increase appetite.

The basic mechanism of how GHRP-6 enhances performance is as follows: GHRP-6 indirectly increases hGH production in the pituitary, primarily via the release of ghrelin. That hGH then travels to the liver, where it signals the liver to produce IGF-1. As a result, an athlete taking GHRP-6 may benefit from decreased body fat, decreased recovery times and improved muscle tissue repair that IGF-1 brings. The increased levels of hGH and IGF-1
significantly improve body composition.

There is a definite "scale" of PEDs, with anabolic steroids at one end, and substances like 7-Keto-DHEA at the other. An anabolic steroid will give a major advantage, and allow a fighter to become larger or more powerful than would be physically possible naturally. 7-Keto-DHEA is a mild fat burner, which is primarily banned because of it’s use as a "masking agent" - that is, it looks the same as, or very similar to, other banned substances on drug tests.

GHRP-6 and other drugs intended to increase hGH and IGF-1 levels fall into the middle of that scale. While the competitive advantage is nowhere near that of an anabolic steroid, it’s also a definitive physiological advantage above and beyond what legal supplements will bring.

Increased levels of hGH can have a variety of negative effects on the body. Sufferers of Acromegaly, such as
Antonio Silva, have increased levels of hGH and as a result often present with large jaws, foreheads, skulls, feet, and hands. Internal organs can also become unnaturally large, which can be especially dangerous in the case of the heart.

GHRP-6 is typically injected, thought it may also be used in cream form. It would not be found in tainted supplements, as it is not active when ingested orally. Human growth hormone and IGF-1 are both produced naturally in the body, but GHRP-6 is not. Administration of GHRP-6, IGF-1 or hGH is banned by USADA.