Clenbuterol toxicity: a NSW Poisons Information Centre experience

Jonathan Brett, Andrew H Dawson and Jared A Brown
Med J Aust 2014; 200 (4): 219-221. || doi: 10.5694/mja13.10982


Objective: To describe the epidemiology and toxicity of clenbuterol in exposures reported to the NSW Poisons Information Centre (NSWPIC).

Design and setting: Retrospective observational study analysing data from all calls about clenbuterol exposure recorded in the NSWPIC database from 1 January 2004 to 31 December 2012. The NSWPIC coversthe Australian jurisdictions New South Wales, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory 24 hours a day and provides after-hours cover for the rest of Australia for 7 nights each fortnight.

Main outcome measures: Total number of exposures, source of call (hospital, health care worker, member of the public), time from exposure to call, reasons for drug use, clinical features and advice given.

Results: Callers reported 63 exposures to clenbuterol, with a dramatic increase from three in 2008 to 27 in 2012. Of the 63 calls, 35 were from hospital, two from paramedics, one from general practice and 21 direct from the public. At least 53 patients (84%) required hospitalisation. The commonest reasons for use were bodybuilding and slimming. The most common features were tachycardia (24 patients), gastrointestinal disturbance (16) and tremor (11). Exposure was also associated with cardiotoxicity including one cardiac arrest in a 21-year-old man.

Conclusion: Although a well recognised doping issue among elite athletes, clenbuterol use has spread out into the general public, especially during 2012, and should be considered in patients using bodybuilding or slimming products who present with protracted sympathomimetic features. The potential for misuse of this substance requires reconsideration of its current poison schedule registration and its availability.

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  • Jonathan Brett1
  • Andrew H Dawson2
  • Jared A Brown2

  • 1 Drug Health, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, NSW.
  • 2 NSW Poisons Information Centre, The Children's Hospital at Westmead, Sydney, NSW.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

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