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Is This Dr. Evil?
George Dohrmann
October 09, 2006
A legend in the sports netherworld, chemist Patrick Arnold--inventor of THG--breaks his silence on his role in the BALCO scandal and hints of a future filled with scary science
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October 09, 2006

Is This Dr. Evil?

A legend in the sports netherworld, chemist Patrick Arnold--inventor of THG--breaks his silence on his role in the BALCO scandal and hints of a future filled with scary science

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Proviant Technologies' lab sits just off Interstate 57, surround by cornfields. The 38,000-square-foot building is divided into several areas, each as large as a high school gym. Arnold and Boodram lead a tour of the facility while wearing white lab coats and hair nets. The first stop is the chemistry lab area, where Arnold develops new products. The room includes three long stations, each counter covered with elaborate equipment to separate, analyze and purify compounds. Next is chemical manufacturing, where ingredients pour from various pipes into eight huge tanks. The machines are mixing 6-OXO today, Arnold says, before exiting to the bottling area, where three employees (the company has about 30) fill and label bottles of a supplement that is part of Sylvester Stallone's new line of sports supplements. To increase its business, Proviant (which also manufactures soy products, including yogurt) is doing more contract work for companies like Stallone's.

In Arnold's office, bottles of supplements sit on every shelf. Books and research papers are strewn everywhere. It's a sign that Arnold is hard at work on his next creation. A hint of what that might be can be found in one of his company's latest products: Ergolean AMP. Last spring UCLA's Olympic lab tested that supplement at the request of The Washington Post. Dr. Donald Catlin determined that it contained methylehexaneamine, an amphetaminelike compound patented in 1944 for use as a nasal decongestant. Catlin considers it an illegal performance enhancer like amphetamines and will push for it to be added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of banned substances. Arnold, as always, defends the science of his product. Methylehexaneamine, he argues, is a component of geranium oil, which is a substance found in nature and is "not even closely related to amphetamines."

Clearly, Arnold will continue to push supplements to the edge of what Catlin and others consider safe, yet he's not targeting just bodybuilders anymore. "The whole antiaging industry interests me," he says. "There are so many avenues I haven't explored in that. The bodybuilding side is so saturated and has this stigma, and I'm almost afraid to come out with something that works because someone [in law enforcement] will come after you. But a lot of the stuff that increases muscle and helps lose fat also helps the quality of life for older people. And athletes will turn to the antiaging world because it will be easier to get the drugs they want there than from the bodybuilding world."

It is already happening, Arnold says, and he points to last year's drug case involving five Carolina Panthers and a South Carolina doctor specializing in antiaging therapies who provided them with human growth hormone and steroids. "From what I know about the NFL, players do a cycle of steroids in the off-season, when the testing is lax, and then they use HGH during the season to help retain what they gained," Arnold says.

This doesn't bother him. If the NFL is full of cheaters, well, the players have made their choice. What does concern him is the ignorance surrounding the science of steroids. For example, he says, take the belief that steroids won't help a baseball player increase his average: "A person taking testosterone is going to be focused and able to tune everything out," he says. "That's an aspect of steroids and how they affect hitting that people overlook: enhanced CSN [central nervous system] activation. It's reaction time."

He finishes that statement in a huff, irritated at having to refute yet another drug misconception. The sports world is full of them, he says. That and all the negative attention he's gotten from the BALCO scandal is why he says he's done with athletes and coaches. He warns, however, that there are chemists--or would-be chemists--willing to take his place. They call or e-mail from time to time to ask his opinion about compounds they are working on. "People's eyes are open now," he says. "They saw what I was doing, manipulating steroid molecules. There are books that list hundreds of analogs of testosterone and their [effects], and I wouldn't be surprised if someone who had only a rudimentary knowledge of chemistry was doing it right now."

It's a scary thought, that there is a legion of wannabe Patrick Arnolds out there, kids with great minds chasing a legacy they may one day regret. Arnold, however, will not warn them off that course. He hopes not to be remembered as the evil BALCO chemist, yet he knows that infamy has its perks.

"A positive from all of this," he says, "is that it showed I have the knowledge and expertise to come up with products that work." As he speaks, his hulking right biceps twitches under his shirt, and it is impossible not to see that the once-skinny kid is pretty big now.

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