"Anabolic steroids" is the familiar name for synthetic substances related to the male sex hormones (e.g., testosterone). They promote the growth of skeletal muscle (anabolic effects) and the development of male sexual characteristics (androgenic effects) in both males and females. The term "anabolic steroids" will be used throughout this report because of its familiarity, although the proper term for these compounds is "anabolic-androgenic steroids."
Anabolic steroids were developed in the late 1930s primarily to treat hypogonadism, a condition in which the testes do not produce sufficient testosterone for normal growth, development, and sexual functioning. The primary medical uses of these compounds are to treat delayed puberty, some types of impotence, and wasting of the body caused by HIV infection or other diseases.
During the 1930s, scientists discovered that anabolic steroids could facilitate the growth of skeletal muscle in laboratory animals, which led to abuse of the compounds first by bodybuilders and weightlifters and then by athletes in other sports. Steroid abuse has become so widespread in athletics that it can affect the outcome of sports contests.
Illicit steroids are often sold at gyms, competitions, and through mail order operations after being smuggled into this country. Most illegal steroids in the United States are smuggled from countries that do not require a prescription for the purchase of steroids. Steroids are also illegally diverted from U.S. pharmacies or synthesized in clandestine laboratories.
What are steroidal supplements?
In the United States, supplements such as tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) and androstenedione (street name "Andro") previously could be purchased legally without a prescription through many commercial sources, including health food stores. Steroidal supplements can be converted into testosterone or a similar compound in the body. Less is known about the side effects of steroidal supplements, but if large quantities of these compounds substantially increase testosterone levels in the body, then they also are likely to produce the same side effects as anabolic steroids themselves. The purchase of these supplements, with the notable exception of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), became illegal after the passage in 2004 of amendments to the Controlled Substances Act.
Commonly Abused Steroids
- Tetrahydrogestrinone (THG)
What is the scope of steroid use in the United States?
The 2005 Monitoring the Future study, a NIDA-funded survey of drug use among adolescents in middle and high schools across the United States, reported that past year use of steroids decreased significantly among 8th- and 10th-graders since peak use in 2000. Among 12th-graders, there was a different trendfrom 2000 to 2004, past year steroid use increased, but in 2005 there was a significant decrease, from 2.5 percent to 1.5 percent.
Steroid abuse affects individuals of various ages. However, it is difficult to estimate the true prevalence of steroid abuse in the United States because many data sources that measure drug abuse do not include steroids. Scientific evidence indicates that anabolic steroid abuse among athletes may range between one and six percent.