Firstly, it is crucial to acknowledge that steroids originated from the testicles. Even in ancient times, it was understood that the development and maintenance of male sexual characteristics were linked to the substances found in the testicles.
This fundamental truth was further explored by a scientist named Berthold. In 1849, he conducted several experiments on roosters by removing their testes. He observed that these birds lost most of the typical male characteristics, including sexual function. This led to the acceptance that the primary purpose of the testicles was to define and enhance the key male sexual properties.
Berthold also discovered that if the testicles were removed and transplanted to the abdomen, the sexual function of the birds remained unaffected.
Moving forward, in 1929, an attempt was made to extract a highly potent substance from a bull’s testicles. By 1935, a more refined form of this extract was obtained. The following year, a scientist named Ruzicka synthesized this compound, which was later identified as Testosterone. Testosterone became the first-ever anabolic steroid and continues to serve as the foundation for all other derivatives of anabolic steroids to this day.
In 1936, Testosterone was used in an experiment that demonstrated how a castrated animal could increase its body weight by receiving Testosterone. It didn’t take long for similar experiments to be conducted on humans, revealing the potent anabolic effects of this substance and its ability to modify the human body in various ways.
However, it was between 1948 and 1954 that pharmaceutical companies such as Searle and Ciba took these experiments to a new level. They successfully synthesized over a thousand different derivatives and analogues of Testosterone. This marked the beginning of the modern history of anabolic steroids.
During the 1954 World Weightlifting Championships in Vienna, the US national team’s physician John Ziegler witnessed the Soviet team’s athletes dominating the competition. It was then that he learned about their alleged use of Testosterone injections as part of their training program. Some say that over drinks with the Soviet team’s doctor, Ziegler was told about this practice. True or not, it spurred him to give his weightlifters the same enhancement and also work with a pharmaceutical company to create a new substance with even better strength-enhancing effects. Thus, Dianabol was born. However, studies later showed that the use of anabolic steroids had no athletic benefits and several negative side effects.
The initial problem arose from the fact that the dosages administered were often too low to yield any significant effects. Moreover, the studies conducted lacked the crucial elements of being double-blind and randomized. A double-blind study ensures that neither the researchers nor the participants are aware of whether they are receiving the actual medication or a placebo. On the other hand, a randomized study involves the random distribution of the real medicine among the test group. Additionally, in those early studies, there was no control or standardization of nutrition and exercise. Shortly after these flawed studies were completed, the Physicians Desk Reference stated that anabolic steroids did not contribute to enhancing athletic performance. Despite this, the International Olympic Council banned the use of anabolic steroids in 1967, and by the mid-70s, most major sporting organizations followed suit.
Just before the Olympic ban on steroids, the German Democratic Republic, a communist country, began producing new anabolic steroids for their athletes across various sports. Their research remains the most comprehensive collection of information on the use of steroids in athletes to date. Despite their small size, they consistently outperformed both the United States and the Soviet Union in various sports, dominating the top ranks at the Olympics and World Championships. In 1972, the International Olympic Council implemented a comprehensive drug-testing program that focused on detecting excessive levels of Testosterone in athletes. This test, known as the “Testosterone: Epitestosterone test,” measures the ratio of Testosterone to Epitestosterone. If the Testosterone level is six times higher than the Epitestosterone level, it can be concluded that the athlete has used some form of doping. This is because Testosterone typically does not exceed six times the natural level of Epitestosterone found in the body.
GDR’s doctors were already one step ahead, as they had successfully created a fast-acting form of Testosterone that evaded detection during drug tests. They even devised a clever protocol that allowed their athletes to continue using steroids, only ceasing temporarily to pass the tests. To further conceal their actions, the German company Jenapharm developed an Epitestosterone that restored the normal ratio in the body without interrupting steroid usage. These doping techniques were so sophisticated that they remained undetected for a significant period of time. However, everything changed in late 1989 when the U.R.S.S. ceased to exist as a communist state. A massive amount of information regarding the government’s involvement in systematic anabolic steroid administration and cover-ups was leaked to the western media.
As fate would have it, the Germans were eventually caught in the early 1990s, leading to a scandal that further tarnished the reputation of anabolic steroids. Ironically, it was during this same period that anabolic steroids began to be utilized by the medical community to enhance the survival rates of AIDS and cancer patients. It was discovered that the loss of lean body mass was closely linked to the high mortality rates associated with these diseases.
Before 1988, steroids in the US were only available with a prescription, as determined by the FDA. The FDA is responsible for classifying drugs as either over-the-counter or prescription-only. During this time, steroids could only be obtained through a physician’s prescription, even though they were not yet considered controlled substances.
Controlled substances are subject to stricter regulations compared to uncontrolled prescription drugs. For instance, contact lenses can only be legally obtained with a prescription, but they are not considered controlled substances. The increased control over steroids led to a more thorough examination of doctors who prescribed them, resulting in harsher penalties for any improper dispensing.
In 1988, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act introduced a new prescription category for steroids, imposing severe penalties for their illegal sale or possession with intent to distribute. This meant that possessing or distributing steroids became a felony offense. Subsequently, the United States Congress amended the Controlled Substances Act in 1990, adding steroids as a controlled substance under “Schedule III” classification. This placed steroids in the same category as drugs like amphetamines, methamphetamines, and opium, carrying similar penalties for buying or selling them.
It is worth noting that the American Medical Association, the FDA, the DEA, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse did not support this legislation and classification. In fact, they all protested against it.
In the early 2000s, the spotlight once again fell on steroids with the emergence of “prohormones,” a creation of Patrick Arnold that hit the market. This marked the beginning of a more prominent era in the history of steroids in baseball, as Major League Baseball had yet to implement a steroid testing program. While steroids occasionally made headlines when athletes tested positive or admitted to using them, they strangely faded from the media’s attention for the next decade.
Fast forward to the present, and it’s clear that steroid use is far from diminishing. A survey conducted among 12th graders in 2000 revealed that 2.5% had tried steroids at least once in their lives. By 2004, that number had risen to 3.4%. Furthermore, a recent internet study confirmed that anabolic steroid usage among weightlifters and bodybuilders persists, showing no signs of slowing down in the world of athletics.
Moreover, the legitimate use of anabolic steroids for various medical conditions continues to be prevalent. From addressing andropause or menopause to aiding in the recovery of burn victims, from enhancing the quality of life for AIDS patients to combating breast cancer and osteoporosis, the medical applications of these steroids persist.
The story of anabolic steroids is not a tale that has already been told and concluded, but rather an ongoing narrative that is being written every day by a diverse group of individuals including scientists, lawmakers, doctors, and athletes ranging from bodybuilders to champions.