Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : April 2005

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(410) 685-3993 | (410) 685-7878 | (800) 492-1964

Richard Vincent
Director, ext 3040
Carol P. Waldhauser
Assistant Director, ext 3041

"Anabolic Steroids 101"
By Carol P. Waldhauser

Folklore has it that some Egyptian competitors boosted their self-confidence with the powdered hooves of an ass and that some early Greek Olympians used herbs and mushrooms as stimulants for endurance. Today, we know that some individuals abuse anabolic steroids in an effort to enhance performance. Along with the recent congressional hearings regarding alleged reports of anabolic steroid abuse, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has initiated a national multimedia public education initiative designed to alert the public to the dangers of anabolic steroids. But how much do you know about how and when steroids became popular and the risks involved in their use?

Ironically, steroids only became popular during and after World War II, when it was discovered that malnourished people could gain weight and build themselves up more rapidly if they were given the male sex hormone testosterone. Accordingly, it appears that the Soviet Union was the first to put this hormone to use on a wide scale to build up their athletes.

Testosterone has two major types of effects on the developing man. Androgenic effects are masculinizing actions, examples of which include initial growth of the penis and other male sex glands, deepening of the voice and increased facial hair. Testosterone also produces anabolic effects, which can include (but are not limited to) increased muscle mass, increases in the size of various internal organs, control of the distribution of body fat, increased protein synthesis and increased calcium in the bones.

Androgenic vs. Anabolic
In the 1950s, drug companies began to synthesize various steroids that offered fewer of testosterone’s androgenic effects (masculinizing) while emphasizing its anabolic effects (such as promoting constructive metabolism and tissue-building). These are referred to as anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of testosterone. They can be injected, taken orally or used transversally.

Anabolic steroids are controlled substances that are used to medically treat conditions such as body-wasting in patients with AIDS as well as other diseases that occur when the body produces abnormally low amounts of testosterone (such as delayed puberty and some types of impotence).

According to Dr. Nora D. Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “while anabolic steroids can enhance certain types of performance and/or appearance, they are dangerous drugs and, when used inappropriately, they can cause a host of severe, long-lasting and often irreversible negative health consequences.” Ironically, the doses prescribed to treat most medical conditions are said to be 10- to 100-times lower than the doses that are abused for performance enhancement.

Concerns about body image and athletic performance may be leading teens (as well as adult men and women) to use anabolic steroids, despite the serious side-effects of these drugs. “In December 1999, when our ‘Monitoring the Future’ survey showed that anabolic steroid use by 8th and 10th graders had increased, and that the perceived risk about steroids had declined among 12th graders, we knew we had to take steps to reverse this trend before it gained momentum,” explained Dr. Alan I. Leshner, former Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

In boys and men, the abuse of anabolic steroids can stunt the height of growing adolescents, reduce sperm production, shrink the testicles and cause impotence and irreversible breast-enlargement. In girls and women, abuse of anabolic steroids can enhance the development of masculine characteristics such as deepening of the voice and excessive body hair. Research confirms also that these drugs can lead to premature heart attacks, strokes, liver tumors, kidney-failure and serious psychiatric problems. Plus, abusers who inject anabolic steroids risk contracting or transmitting diseases such as HIV or hepatitis.

Abuse of anabolic steroids differs from the abuse of other illicit substances, mainly because the initial use of anabolic steroids is not driven by the immediate euphoria that accompanies most drugs of abuse (i.e., cocaine, heroin and marijuana). Furthermore, the reported psychological effects of steroids, including increased aggressiveness and a stimulant-like high, are considered by some, at the outset, to be “the ultimate” for increasing the amount of work and the intensity of a training session. But these very psychological effects can also produce major difficulties, especially with high doses. For example, one concern is that a psychological dependence seems to develop in some users who feel well when they are on steroids but become depressed when they are off them. Because many users take the drugs in cycles, their mood swings can interfere with their social relationships and other life functions. Also, there has been a great deal of discussion about a kind of manic rage that has been reported by some steroid users.

“I’ve seen total personality changes,” explains Dr. William Taylor, a leading authority on anabolic steroids. “A passive, low-key guy goes on steroids for muscle enhancement, and the next thing you know, he’s being arrested for assault or disorderly conduct.”

In summary, anabolic steroids are capable of increasing muscle mass, strength and endurance, although it has been difficult to separate the psychological stimulant-like effect of these drugs from the physical effects on the muscles themselves. Anabolic steroids can produce a variety of dangerous and sometimes irreversible side effects. To learn more about steroids, visit or Steroids305.html. If you or someone you know needs help with this or other issues that affect quality of life or quality of work, contact

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: April, 2005

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