(By David Steen)
Testosterone and related compounds are neither toxic nor addictive. Still, their use is illegal in many countries and in some of them they are listed along with dangerous narcotics. The use of anabolic steroids can certainly cause side-effects, just as the use of most other medicaments. But there is no serious medical study proving the relation between use of anabolic steroids and serious disease.
On the other hand, such commonly prescribed drug as Viagra claimed 522 lives during first two years of use in USA alone. According to study by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, „majority of deaths were associated with standard Viagra dosages were due to cardiovascular causes and appeared to be clustered around the time of dosing. The majority of deaths occurred in patients who were less than 65 years of age, and who had no reported cardiac risk factors.“ Despite it, the drug is still sold to practically anyone and nobody goes to jail for buying it without prescription. It is my personal opinion that anabolic steroids shouldn´t be criminalized, but rather legalized, controlled and athletes who wish to use them should get full information, medical counselling and frequent assessment of side-effects.
The main reason for this belief is the fact that millions of mostly young, educated and devoted people use them anyway for what they believe is legitimate self-improvement. As for bodybuilding and power sports, there is hardly a single professional sportsman (and, yes, sports-woman) not using anabolic steroids.
Athletes know this, coaches know this, sports physicians know this and the organizers and referees at major bodybuilding events know just too well.
This all is true despite various laws enacted by lawmakers not familiar with the problem and acting on the base of the formula STEROID=HARMFUL, THUS STEROIDS=FORBIDDEN.
Except for some notoriously known facts, little is known about the real side-effects of this group of hormones. Publications and websites created with the noble aim of helping people avoid harmful steroid abuse practically do not quote any serious research and instead publish scary stories of individuals suffering some tragic consequences, presumably caused by steroid intake. When you prohibit a substance, black market and underworld seize the opportunity. When alcohol was banned in the USA in 1920, American Mafia entered the economy as a significant player. Moonshine (the illegally produced alcoholic beverages) caused more harm to those drinking it than legitimately produced alcohol would cause.
Today, most of anabolic steroids used by athletes are made in underground laboratories under substandard hygienic conditions from hormones of unknown quality usually smuggled from China (as a result of closing the legitimate and semi-legitimate producers). There is no supervision, no sterile handling and storage and obviously all the economic consequences of the black market. Cigarettes, on the other hand, are freely sold and abused by general public, although proven to cause heart disease, cancer and being addictive on top of that.
According to sociological studies, individuals self-prescribing anabolic steroids are more educated than the average of general population: in fact, they are mostly college students well aware of the possible consequences of steroid use. My main concern is that these young people are denied the chance to use steroids under medical supervision. If legalized, the most dangerous forms of steroid abuse would probably vanish.
Realistic aims are a good beginning. Fighting the HIV by telling people to stop having sex didn´t work. Giving them condoms seems to be a better strategy. Counselling on steroids should focus not on telling people scary stories but on giving them the least harmful alternative and explaining them the eventual deterioration of their health.
Probably the most annoying and unhelpful approach is to equal the use of steroids to the use of narcotics (both morally and legally). The two groups are in most aspects totally opposite: the former aiming for self-improvement, disciplined and hard working, the later trying to escape from the world and its problems, often personifying failure. When compared to narcotics users, athletes lose their trust in medical professionals and become suspicious of counselling.
As far as I am aware, there is also no study proving that prohibiting steroids leads to lower numbers of users. The countries where steroids are sold practically over-the-counter have, as far as I know, similar rates of steroid use as those where the substance is illegal.
Finally, with legalization of anabolic steroids one dangerous myth would be removed: and namely that it is possible to attain the huge musculature of top bodybuilders with hard training and proper diet only. Many a beginner starts with bodybuilding with these ideas in mind, later becomes disillusioned with his failure and finally starts to use steroids like everyone around. From my own experience I´m quite sure that many such young people wouldn´t choose this sport if they knew the whole truth behind it.
Black, Terry: Does the Ban on Drugs in Sport Improve Societal Welfare? Faculty of Business, Queensland University of Technology, 1996