39Anabolic Steroids

Ergogenic or performance-enhancing drugs


Origin and uses
  • These drugs are available legally only by prescription to treat conditions that take place when the body produces abnormally low amounts of testosterone, such as delayed puberty and some types of impotence. They are also prescribed to treat body wasting in patients with AIDS and other diseases that result in loss of lean muscle mass.
  • Athletes and others abuse anabolic steroids to improve performance and also to improve physical appearance. These drugs increase lean muscle mass, strength, and endurance, but they have not been found to improve acrobatic skills, cardiovascular capacity, or recovery from activity.
  • Anabolic sterioids are swallowed or injected. Athletes who cheat in this way take doses 5 to 10 times larger than those prescribed medically. Body builders and weight lifters may take doses up to 200 times larger.
  • Selling anabolic steroids for non-medical use is illegal. Most of these steroids come from the “black market,” and like any illegal substance they may be mixed with other substances that may be toxic.

Immediate and short-term effects
  • Anabolic steroids cause unpleasant side effects like acne, high blood pressure, and increased cholesterol levels (which can lead to heart problems). Users can also have sexual problems.
  • People who inject anabolic steroids run the added risk of getting or passing on HIV/AIDS or hepatitis, which causes serious damage to the liver.
  • Many users report feeling good about themselves while on anabolic steroids. Even so, researchers report a range of other psychological effects including anxiety, crankiness and aggression (“roid” rage), insomnia, depression, mania, and psychosis. Depression often occurs when the drugs are stopped and may contribute to dependence on anabolic steroids.

Effects and harms from long-term use
  • In teenage and young adult males who use large amounts (in some cases equal to 100 to 200 mg testosterone weekly), anabolic steroids may cause baldness, shrinking of the testicles, reduced sperm count, increased risk of tumours of the testicles and prostate, and enlargement of breasts.
  • Women who use anabolic steroids are at risk of “masculinization,” including development of body hair, breast reduction, deepened voice, and lighter periods or no periods at all. Many of these effects are permanent.
  • Both sexes may experience liver damage and cancer, acne, increased chance of ruptured tendons, damaged joints, jaundice, swelling of feet and ankles, increased blood pressure, and cardiac problems such as increased risk of heart attack and enlarged heart.
  • Anabolic steroids are dangerous for teenagers because they may affect growth.
  • Research also shows that some users might turn to other drugs to deal with some of the negative effects of anabolic steroids.

Steroids and dependence
  • Users do not appear to develop tolerance. This means that larger doses are not needed over time to achieve the same effects. However, dependence on steroids does occur. Users can experience both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking steroids. These include nausea, headache, sweating, dizziness, irritability, and depression.

Steroids and the law
  • In Canada, anabolic steroids are regulated by the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (Schedule IV). Trafficking and related offences can result in imprisonment for up to three years. The International Olympic Committee banned steroid use in 1975. Since then, most sports organizations have put steroids on their list of banned substances.

Use of steroids in Nova Scotia
  • There is no information available on the use of anabolic steroids by Canadians.
  • Among Nova Scotia students in 2007, 1.7 percent said they had used steroids in the past year.
  • In 2007, among Nova Scotia students, use is more common among boys (2.5 percent) than girls (0.7 percent).