The History of Anabolic Steroids
Steroids literally were born out of testicles. Already in ancient times it was known that the development and maintenance of male sexual characteristics was related to what was contained in the testicles.
This basic truth was further developed by a scientist named Berthold. He conducted several experiments on cockerels in 1849, removing the testes from these birds, and witnessing how they lost most of the characteristics common to the males of their species, including the sexual function. So it was accepted that the testicles’ main use was to define and boost what are now considered to be the primary male sexual properties.
Berthold also discovered that if the testicles were removed and transplanted to the abdomen, the sexual function of the birds was unaffected.
Later on, in 1929, a procedure to produce an extract of powerful activity from a bull’s testicles was attempted, and in 1935 a more purified form of this extract was obtained. A year later, a scientist named Ruzicka synthesized this compound, which was Testosterone. Testosterone was the first anabolic steroid ever created and remains the basis for all other anaboic steroids derivations up to now.
Testosterone was then used in 1936 in an experiment demonstrating that a castrated would increase its body weight by receiving Testosterone. It didn’t take long to carry similar experiments on human beings, showing that this was a potent anabolic substance, capable of modifying in various ways the human body.
But it is between 1948 and 1954 that these experiments were taken to a different level by pharmaceuticals companies like Searle and Ciba, which managed to synthesize over a thousand different Testosterone derivatives and analogues. This is where the modern history of anabolic steroids begins.
In 1954, a physician named John Ziegler attended the World Weightlifting Championships in Vienna, Austria, as the US national team’s physician. Athletes from the U.R.S.S. dominated the competition, breaking several world records and winning gold medals in every weight category. According to an anecdotal reports, Ziegler invited his counterpart, the Soviet team’s doctor, to a bar and, while getting drunk, he was told that the Russian weightlifters had had months of Testosterone injections before the competition as part of their training program. Whether that story is true or not, the US team began their efforts to defeat the Soviets using the same kind of enhancement.
The team doctor began giving Testosterone to his weightlifters. While evaluating the results, he also worked very closely with Ciba, the large pharmaceutical firm in the US at the time, working on synthetizing a new substance, with strength enhancing effects better than Testosterone. In 1956, Methandrostenolone was created, and given the name Dianabol. In the following years, little pink Dianabol tablets became part of professional weightlifter’s training programs.
It is at this time that physicians around the US began to research steroids and numerous studies were performed on athletes taking them, in an effort to understand effects and side effects on the human body. As these early studies showed that anabolic steroids offered no athletic benefit whatsoever, but had several flaws.
The first issue was that dosages were usually too low to really produce much of an effect at all. In addition, it was neither common in these studies not be double-blind or randomized. A double blind study is one where neither the scientists nor the subjects of the study know if they are getting a real medication or a placebo. A randomized study is where the real medicine is randomly dispersed throughout the test group. Also, in those early studies nutrition and exercise were not controlled or standardized. Not long after those flawed studies were concluded, the Physicians Desk Reference claimed that anabolic steroids were not useful in enhancing athletic performance. Despite this, in 1967, the International Olympic Council banned the use of anabolic steroids and by the mid 70’s all most major sporting organizations also banned them.
Just prior to the ban on steroids in the Olympics, the communist Germany Democratic Republic began synthesizing new anabolic steroids for their athletes, in various sports. Their researches remains the most extensive collection of information on the use of steroids in athletes ever complied. Despite the small size of their country, they managed to consistently dominate the top ranks of various sports, competing with both the United States and the Soviet Union at the Olympics and in various World Championships. In 1972, the International Olympic Council began a full scale drug-testing program, based on detecting excessive levels of Testosterone in athletes. Known as the “Testosterone: Epitestosterone test”, levels of Testosterone vs Epitestosterone are measured. If the Testosterone level is 6 times larger than the Epitestosterone level, it can safely be concluded that some form of doping has been used by the athlete. This is because Testosterone is commonly no more than 6 times the natural level of Epitestosterone found naturally in the body.
But GDR’s doctors were already ahead, having synthetized a form of Testosterone that left the body quickly, bypassing all tests. They then developed a protocol to allow their athletes to continue with their steroid usage, stopping it only to pass the drug test. In addition, the German firm Jenapharm, who had been supplying the government with steroids for their athletes, developed an Epitestosterone to bring the ratio back to normal, without discontinuing steroid use. These doping methods were so advanced that they remained undetected for many years. Until late 1989, when the U.R.S.S. collapsed as a communist state. A huge amount of information leaked to the western media about government sponsored programs of systematic anabolic steroid administration and concealment.
Eventually, in the early 1990 the Germans got caught and the ensuing scandal was one which helped give anabolic steroids the bad reputation they have had ever since.
Ironically, it was also in the early 1990 that anabolic steroids started to be used by the medical community to improve survival rates of AIDS and cancer patients, when it was discovered that loss of lean body mass was associated with the high mortality rates typical of these diseases.
In the US, Before 1988 steroids were only prescription drugs, as classified by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). FDA is the government body that determines which drugs will be classified as over-the-counter and which will only be available through physician’s prescription. It is at this time that steroids became available only by prescription, even though they were not controlled substances yet.
A “controlled substance” is something that is more regulated than uncontrolled prescription drugs. As an example, contact lenses can only be legally purchased with a prescription, but they are not controlled per se. This stricter control of steroids created a more intense examination of the doctors prescribing them and consequently harsher penalties for wrongful dispensing. In 1988 the Anti-Drug Abuse Act put steroids in a totally different prescription category, one that stipulated very severe penalties for illegal sale, or possession with intent to distribute. Therefore steroid possession and/or distribution became a felony. Next, the United States Congress added steroids to the Controlled Substances Act as an amendment known as the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990. Steroids were now placed in “Schedule III” classification, along with drugs like amphetamines, methamphetamines, opium, carrying the same penalties for buying or selling them. This legislation and classification was passed without the support of the American Medical Association, the FDA, the DEA, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, all of whom actually protested this law.
In the early 2000 steroids again made the news by the introduction of “prohormones” which were first developed and marketed by Patrick Arnold. It is at this point that the history of steroids in baseball begins to become more prominent, as Major League Baseball had no steroid testing program in effect during this time. Steroids remained in the media, occasionally making an appearance when an athlete tested positive, or admitted using them, but for another decade, they remained uncharacteristically out of the medias attention.
Currently, steroid use is far from declining. Among 12th graders surveyed in 2000, 2.5% reported using steroids at least once in their lives, while in 2004 the number was 3.4%. A recent internet study also concluded that anabolic steroid use among weightlifters and bodybuilders continues and there are no signs of it stopping in athletics any time soon.
In addition, the legitimate use of anabolic steroids for a variety of medical problems also continues, ranging from the treatment of andropause or menopause, and ranging from speeding the recovery in burn victims to helping improve quality of life in Aids patients, to helping fight breast cancer and stave off osteoporosis.
The history of anabolic steroids is not something that has already occurred and been written, but rather it is a continuing history being written every day by scientists, lawmakers, doctors, and of course, athletes, from bodybuilders to champions.