Guest Post: Steroid Use through History

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We all know how competitive humans are, especially when it comes to sports. Athletes are pushing themselves harder and harder every day to be the best and achieve what nobody has achieved before. Sometimes they resort to various substances to enhance their performance, but many of those substances are actually quite harmful and forbidden.

Still, this has been happening ever since people discovered that some substances help them improve their athletic performance. The ancient Greeks used sesame seeds, while the Australian Aborigines chewed the pituri plant. On the other hand, Norse warriors were fond of hallucinogenic mushrooms and we there is a lot of evidence that many other ancient cultures had similar traditions.

Isolation of testosterone

The idea that testosterone could be isolated from the testicles dates back to 1931, when chemist Adolf Butenandt managed to secure approximately 15 mg of androstenone (a male hormone) by extracting it from many thousands of litres of urine. However, scientists were aware of an even more powerful androgen than androsterone at this point and pharmaceutical companies started isolating this stronger hormone that we know as testosterone. It was in 1937 that human trials started to develop our understanding of testosterone.

First attempt at cheating

In the seventh decade of the 19th century, a group of swimmers in Amsterdam were charged with taking drugs to become faster and for the next 80 years or so, all athletes who wanted to cheat turned their attention to finding stimulants that would help them speed themselves up.

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Synthetized testosterone

In 1935, the male hormone testosterone was first synthesized and historical records show that German soldiers were given testosterone during World War II to boost their performance and aggressiveness on the battlefield. That is the period when testosterone started being used widely in competitive sports, but people knew very little about the dangers of loading up on testosterone.

Performance-boosting steroids

The Soviet Union and East Germany were the countries that are said to have been the first to explore the use of testosterone in assisting physical performance. In the 1952 Olympics, the Russian weightlifting and wrestling teams dominated those sports, partly due to synthetic testosterone. With just a few side-effects, the use of testosterone seemed to be a success.

Needless to say, the US jumped on the bandwagon. John Ziegler, the team physician to the US Olympic squad, collaborated with chemists to create a drug that would improve performance capabilities, but wouldn’t have the androgenic side effects, including various skin-related problems, such as infamous brown spots. They came up with methandrostenolone, later sold as Dianabol, which is now one of the most widely used anabolic steroids in the world. Even Conan the Barbarian, i.e. Arnold Schwarzenegger, confessed to experimenting with steroids during his reign as Mr Olympia. It should be mentioned that they were not illegal at the time.

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This drug was approved for use by the FDA in 1958 and it was supposed to be used by the elderly as a medical intervention. However, bodybuilders were first to get wind of its potential and use it. Some US Olympic squad members were given only small doses under the watchful eye of Zielger, but they soon experienced negative side-effects, such as enlarged prostate and testicular shrinkage. Despite such glaring adverse side-effect, the IOC didn’t ban this substance until 1976. In the meantime, many athletes were using steroid, completely ignoring the dangers lurking, which allowed pharmaceutical companies to continue working on finding more efficient and less damaging solutions. The athletes using performance-enhancement drugs were mostly bodybuilders, shotput throwers and football players. The drugs helped them train harder and recover from injuries much faster.


In the 1980s, steroid use continued in what we call a “grey market” area. Even some top athletes continued to use them and we all remember Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, probably the most famous athlete who had his 1988 Olympic medal taken away from him become he had used prohibited substances to boost his performance. Despite the scandal, many non-competitive athletes and bodybuilders began to use steroids during this period, as well.

Another famous incident took place in 1984, when a bodybuilder contracted AIDS from sharing a needle for steroid use and four years later the sale of anabolic-androgenic steroids for non-medical purposes was made illegal under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. In 1990, possession of anabolic-androgenic steroids without a prescription was made illegal in the U.S.

Present day

Unfortunately, despite all the efforts, bans and controls, we have every reason to believe that many athletes are still using various types of steroids to improve their performance. When it comes to the general public, except for medical conditions requiring a prescription, androgenic anabolic steroids are illegal in many countries and are not sold over the counter.

It’s difficult to predict what is going to happen with the use of steroids, but we can safely assume that some types of performance-enhancement drugs will forever be present on the market. What we can hope, though, is that their side-effects will be less negative than before and that people in charge of controlling their use will be doing a better job.

Author Bio:

Diana Smith is a full time mom of two beautiful girls interested in topics related to home improvement, DIY and interior design. In her free time she enjoys reading and preparing healthy meals for her family.

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