- GEN - Health dangers: Fact and fiction

 Thursday, December 14
Juicers: Scare tactics don't work
 By Tom Farrey asked readers who have used anabolic steroids about their experiences using the drugs and whether they believe the health warnings issued by doctors and coaches. Below is a sampling of the letters that received, with identities protected where requested:

Health impacts
What's known about the health effects of steroids:

Muscle and bone injuries: Like any athlete who puts on lots of muscle, the muscle mass can exceed the strength of the tendons' attachment to bones, resulting in injuries.

Infertility: Most men who use high doses become infertile while using steroids and for some time afterwards, perhaps six months or more. Several researchers believe there is a risk of sterility with prolonged use at high dosage levels, but no cases have been documented.

Heart disease: Doctors suspect that long-term abuse of steroids can cause unhealthy enlargement of the heart and a weakening of the main chamber, based on anecdotal reports. But no studies have demonstrated that link unequivocally.

Stroke and heart attack: Steroid abuse has emerged as a possible cause of thrombotic stroke, the kind caused by a blood clot. If demonstrated, it would be the first life-threatening short-term effect. But no direct evidence exists.

Prostate diseases: Men may be at a higher risk of prostate cancer for taking the muscle-building hormones, but no link has been firmly established.

Liver disease and cancer: Specific steroids can cause a range of problems for the liver, including jaundice. Steroids taken orally are harder on the liver because the liver must process the hormones before reaching the blood system.

Aggression: Many, but not all, steroid users report feeling higher levels of aggressive behavior. Some report mood swings and psychotic episodes, or so-called "roid rage."

Cosmetic changes (men): Most common effects are oily skin, acne, increased body hair, an acceleration in male pattern baldness. Some effects are permanent.

Cosmetic changes (women): Acne, breast shrinkage, deepening of the voice, loss of scalp hair, growth of facial hair and enlargement of the clitoris. Some effects are permanent.

Birth defects: Some European women who have taken high doses of steroids, including members of the former East German swimming team, have reported incidents of birth defects with their children.

Source: The Steroids Game, by Charles Yesalis and Virginia Cowart; research.

I have used in the past, on and off for a total of two years. None of the reports of side effects are completely accurate. I had studied up on the risks and precautions necessary to take and followed them judiciously. The only effects I experienced were an irrepresible confidence, muscle growth, fat loss and strength gains. I never went overboard with the amounts I took and cycle on and off every two months.

I feel steroids are safe if they are legitimate (i.e. not counterfeit) and the user knows what he/she is doing. I've taken cold medicines that had more severe effects on me than steroids. I'm not saying everyone should go out and use them, but I am saying it's ridiculous athletes should be worried about going to jail for building a good physique or being good at a particular sport.

Washington, D.C.

When I was a junior in high school two years ago, I wasn't starting on the JV football team. I knew I had to prepare for my senior year, so a few friends and I started juicing. I went from third-string strong safety to starting after just three weeks.

I could tell there was a major difference in me. I was getting a lot stronger and more aggressive. I went from weighing 130 to 155 pounds. My bench press went from 210 to 260 pounds, and my squat went from 300 to 410 pounds. My 40-yard time was at 4.98. After a few weeks I was running a 4.61.

The side effects were not so great. I would get huge, painful zits on my face. My attitude was really bad. Everyone could tell I was using them. My face got puffy. The worst thing that happened to me was I got kidney stones. I'm not sure if the 'roids did it, but I had to have surgery three times. Really painful.

But besides that, it was good. I got more respect on the football field. I had other teams saying, "Watch out for number 9!" Which was me. That was a great feeling.

College Station, Texas

As a gymnast for 12 years, I was obliged to take both steroids and cortisone shots to keep competing. I must certainly say that both have taken their toll on my body. I am now a college cheerleader and have consistent health problems because I don't take the drugs anymore. My body became somewhat dependent on them, and as long as I took them, I was not in pain, and every skill was relatively easy. Now, going back to working out, tumbling, etc. and competing all naturally, it is much more difficult, and I feel a little behind everyone else.

With the help of steroids and cortisone shots (when I was injured and would normally be resting in bed), I was out competing for national championships. It gave me an artificial sense of superiority and ability to contend. Now, I feel as though my body was cheated in a way -- it is almost harder for me to be on the same level as everyone else naturally. Emotionally, it has also been very battering as well.

I deeply regret ever taking steroids, for it has cost me dearly afterwards.


I'm a 22-year-old who played rugby in college. I have only done one cycle of steroids but plan to do more in the future. I feel that the public has many misconceptions about steroids and that when used correctly, steroids can increase lean muscle tissue as well as improve sports performance. The horror stories and scare tactics reported from steroid use are a result of abuse as well as people taking steroids without researching them first. All drugs have side effects that can be very dangerous when used incorrectly, and steroids are no exception.

The side effects that I can report from my cycle include: increased libido, increase in body hair growth, acne, and most importantly, a tremendous increase in lean muscle tissue. Of these side effects, I would only consider the acne and body hair to be negative.

Brandon Taylor

I'm sure many people have been dissuaded from taking steroids because they believed what they were told by doctors and health authorities regarding anabolic/androgenic steroids -- much the same way that many children have been discouraged from venturing from their beds after bed time for fear of the boogeyman. The boogeyman never existed, but it's probably safer and easier to have the children in their beds anyway. Even if it's a lie.

My point is this: I don't deny that steroids can, if abused, cause health problems. However, the risks have been grossly exaggerated. It's time for the medicos to re-evaluate their approach to the subject and regain some credibility. They also have to recognize that their dismissive attitude towards those who wish to enhance their physique or athletic performance lacks insight. Our desire to excel in these things is no mere whim. It is our pursuit of happiness, something nobody should be denied.

Gold Coast, Australia

I'm a former football player at a predominant NCAA Division I school. I knew nothing about steroids except that I was told they were bad for you and you shouldn't take them. After doing research, I concluded that the side effects of steroid use were grossly exaggerated, and I would use them. I mentioned to another player (that) I thought might "use" and found out that a decent number of the top players were using steriods.

So at age 19 I began using. In under a year I had gained 40 pounds, and I have been able to keep it all. I have been using for almost two years now and have still kept all the weight (while) spending months at a time not using. I have received no side effects. I have a perfectly healthy heart rate and blood pressure. I have had no testicular atrophy, hair loss or acne. Steroids aren't candy, but they are not the evil substance many want us to believe.


I am glad finally brought to light the rampant use of illegal steroids in athletics today.  It is the proverbial elephant in the room that everybody knows about, but no one wants to speak of. The usage of these steroids is probably much more widespread than anyone realizes. As a former member of my high school football team and now an amateur boxer, I can safely say that 50 percent of the athletes that I know have used or currently use a substance banned by most professional sports.

I myself currently use nandrolone decanoate, commonly known as Deca-Durabolin. I inject it bi-weekly to maintain a constant level in my blood.  Because of the rarity of side effects as well as significant anabolic effects, it is the most commonly used steroid among my peers.  It is quite expensive, however, running me $30 dollars per injection.  For this reason, many people I know use European or Mexican counterfeits that are very similar, but not as good.

I make no apologies for my usage of illegal steroids. The sad truth is that I have no hope of succeeding in boxing without them.

Barry P.
New York, N.Y.

I'm a 27-year-old former college football player. I feel that the information provided by the press and other forms of media is absolute (falsehoods). I have personally used steroids and know at least 50 others who have. I have never seen or heard of a legit case of "roid rage" or any health complications from the use of steroids.

The thing that bothers me the most is that a doctor will prescribe weight loss drugs, painkillers and cosmetic drugs to just about anyone that walks into the office. But if a person walks in and ask for steroids, they get the "those things are so dangerous, they will kill you speech."

Siloam Springs, Ark.

I still take steroids in high school. All those idiots test us for is weed. I let my 'roid rage win us football games. The system can't stop me.

Lebanon, Tenn. Senior Writer Tom Farrey can be reached at


Crossing the Line: Black-market steroids

Steroid smuggling: Crime but no punishment

Audio chat wrap: Former NFL player, steroid user Steve Courson

NCAA drug-testing program catches few cheaters

National Institute on Drug Abuse website for steroids