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Steroids and Sports: Legalization of Steroids


Steroids are controlled drugs which, although can be prescribed by physicians and hence used for medical treatment, are still taboo among the sports fraternity. While the use of these synthetic substances do have side effects and are considered harmful when used in uncontrolled amounts, the legal structures in most countries prohibit their free use in sports. The intention of such legal prohibition of steroids in sports is driven by the need to ensure fair play, equitable competitive environment and natural superior standards in sports of all kinds and at all levels. However, while many experts argue for banning steroids due to their perceived side effects, the drugs have not been conclusively established as producing irreversible damage if used in controlled amounts. The US Control Act of 1990 is archaic, as this author would like to believe, and needs to be altered in view of the social and physical changes that have occurred over decades of human civilization. Various authors and experts have clearly documented the beneficial effects of steroid use in sports and medicine. Thus, steroids enhance muscle growth, lean body mass, improve hemoglobin and RBC levels in human blood, increase calcium retention in bones, and impart superior body strength in athletes and other sportsmen. Also, steroids have been found to be increasingly effective in treatment of osteoporosis, AIDS, and anemia, among other diseases. The present legal structures banning steroid use in sports, or if these are not prescribed by authorized physicians, are neither effective in restricting the use of the drugs, nor promote free choice and will of individuals. In any case, such prohibition does not prevent sportsmen from resorting to their clandestine use of steroids to enhance their performances nor achieve a level playing field. Hence, the author argues for legalization of steroids so that the benefits of the drugs may be optimized and fair play in sports also ensured.

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Use of Steroids in Sports: An Introduction

Modern sports is no more a simple event where a participant uses his or her sporting skills for winning the game and taking home the prized trophy or championship. Today sports events are major money spinners, well organized and also viewed extensively and are, above all, a globalized business where the stakes are often sky-high. Sportspersons invest huge sums of money, labour and time to prepare for an event that can establish a person as an icon and hence assure lifelong status, riches and fame. Sports bodies and governments put lots of money into training systems and also maintain costly infrastructures for equipping their sportsmen and women for all major national and international sporting events. While the abilities of sportspersons have been seen to improve in course of time, whatever the sports or game, the record-breaking achievements of sportspersons are often not simply due to their inherent physical or genetic superiority over others but actually due to the use of synthetic substances or drugs. In fact, many records have been discovered to have been broken by sportsmen and women by using performance enhancing drugs such as steroids. The ability of such drugs, and more particularly steroids, to enhance the physical strength, energy and sports prowess of humans is well known and acknowledged. Obviously this does not need substantiation in the present context. What is at issue here is the question whether to legalize steroids in sports or not. While countries and major national as well as international sporting institutions the world over have gradually built legal structures for regulating and preventing the use of drugs like steroids in sports, the major underlying motive for such action has been to ensure that a participant in any sporting event does not have an undue advantage over another participant. Obviously, equality in opportunity, competitive structure and fairness of judgment are all essential factors for ensuring proper choice of the winner of a game or tournament. The controversy is in the way that this is sought to be achieved. The prevailing methods are those of mandatory regulation and prohibition. However, the intense debate in recent years is whether the use of steroids in sports should be legalized or not and is worth examining further.

Benefits and Use of Steroids in Sports

Hoffman and Ratamess (2006) observe that steroids are synthetic derivates of testosterone, the male sex hormone and also maintain that increased testosterone levels facilitate better protein synthesis, which in turn help develop muscle size, strength and mass of the body (p. 182). They also provide the benefits that can be derived from using steroids which are set out in Fig. 1 (Appendix). The California Narcotic Officers’ Association state that anabolic steroids are man-made chemical compounds that are designed to re-create testosterone, the natural male sex hormones already present within the body (NEFA, They also maintain that steroids offer various benefits, which are provided below for a better understanding:

  1. Steroids improve the synthesis of proteins and also increase their utilization
  2. They also prevent tissue from breakdown, as also help decrease the ejection of minerals like calcium, potassium and sodium as a part of the excretion process.
  3. Steroids help enhance the blood hemoglobin levels and improve RBC count
  4. They increase the retention of calcium in the human body
  5. Steroids also promote muscle growth, breakdown of fats and increase of lean body weight

Geddes (1991:p. 979) observed in a journal article that steroid had come to be widely used by amateur as well as professional athletes and body builders. Primarily these may be used for muscle bulk formation or improving performances. He also observed in the article that steroids were even being increasingly used by college and professional football players, and by both male and female athletes in various Olympic sports in many countries. Even Bhasin et al (1996: pp. 1-7; 2001: pp. 27-38) aver that increase of testosterone levels help improve the synthesis of proteins and this in turn facilitate better muscle size, bodily strength and body mass.

Medical Benefits of Steroids

Boje (1939) first enumerated the role of exogenously produced male sexual hormone in influencing athlete performances (pp. 439-469). Steroids have been used medically for many years. They have been used in treating hypogonadism. They have been used in treating impotence in men and also found application in reversing the harmful effects of chemotherapy and extended use of corticosteroids. Steroids have been used in treating chronic anemia and osteoporosis. Research has also been undertaken to alter the beneficial anabolic and harmful androgenic characteristics of steroids. Doeker et al (1998: 46-48) as well as others have clearly demonstrated that the androgens can successfully be used to treat growth delay. The same is also true for treating osteoporosis in women by using these compounds (Geusens et al., 1986: 281-289). While steroids do improve muscle strength, treatment with anabolic steroids has even increased lean tissue and also enhanced functional performance in AIDS patients (Strawford et al., 1999: 1282-1290). Again, patients receiving dialysis were found by Johansen et al. (1999: 1275-1281) to be well treated by using steroids. Also, patients ridden with obstructive pulmonary disease, that had become chronic, were found by Ferreira et al (1998: 19-28) to respond well to steroid use while patients recovering from myocardial infarction were similarly found by Nahrendorf et al (2003: 37-378) to also reinforce the claim of many experts that anabolic steroids were useful when prescribed by physicians in specific small doses. In addition, research has also demonstrated a positive effect on healing from muscle contusion injuries (Beiner et al., 1999: 2-9).

Use of steroids is controlled by the Anabolic Steroid Act (1990) in the US. Various states have designated steroids as either Schedule II or Schedule III drugs. The Control Act itself treats anabolic steroids as similar to drugs like opium and morphine and mandates a prescription from an authorized physician for using these compounds, which are often perceived as causing some serious side effects due to prolonged or uncontrolled use. However, there is no conclusive evidence to establish beyond any doubt that use of steroids do always cause adverse reactions that are irreversible. The distribution or possession of anabolic steroids is still a felony under the Control Act. The law also provides for penalty and jail terms with the severity of punishment varying with perceived degree of offenses committed. But such penal measures have failed to prevent the widespread use of steroids even by high school students. The penalty and stigma attached to steroid use even prevent the scope for research on the subject which would have been possible if the students and other users could have been more transparent on their use of the drug. The stringent laws against steroid use have not been able to prevent the same from assuming widespread proportions among adults and children, among male and female both. Thus the law has not able to deter drug trafficking, or protect the young from drug after effects or ensure a fair sports environment at even the highest levels of sports like the Olympics.

Arguments for Legalizing Steroids

This paper takes the line that steroid use needs to be legalized. Various reasons may be cited in support of this considered viewpoint. For one thing, the existence of stringent laws have neither prevented the proliferation of drugs like steroids whose use and benefits in the medical field is well known and acknowledged. In this respect, they cannot be clubbed with such substances like opium or heroin. The law allows the controlled use of steroids if prescribed by physicians. Hence, it is difficult to support the provisions of the Control Act as they stand now. Even the ill effects of prolonged steroid use have not been conclusively established. The existing laws also restrict freedom of the individual to choose and decide as he or she feels appropriate. While the welfare of athletes and other sportsmen using these drugs (or not) need to be ensured, over legislation has only resulted in restricting access of patients, particularly adults, to these drugs, which are considered by many experts to be quite effective in a host of medical conditions. Legal restrictions have also not prevented many sportsmen, many of them legends in their field, to take recourse to these performance enhancing drugs. If legalized, steroid use would at least ensure a fairer competition in sports, since every person could then choose or not choose to use steroids for enhancing their performances, and yet maintain the highest standards of fair play, competitive spirit and ideal sports conduct. In fact, whether in sports or medicine, steroids have been found to increase muscle strength and lean body mass. They also boost up male libido and contribute to a better sex life even among higher aged males. Obviously, it is better to enhance the good effects than to keep in place an archaic mechanism to control the drug use, which is ineffective to achieve its ends and also prevents the exercising of the right to the individuals’ free choice.

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This author obviously goes along with many others who opine that steroids should be legalized. The laws in place have not been successful in controlling the widespread use of drugs like steroids, which even now are readily available over the counter as prescription drugs. The reason for such use is that the experts are still to decide whether steroids are as harmful as some researchers have made them out to be or not, whereas steroids are increasingly becoming effective in a variety of medical applications. The side effects of steroid use have been documented over the years. But the use of these performance enhancing drugs still continues among sportsmen and even among school going children. This requires a re-look on the issue whether steroid use should be prohibited or legalized. Old and archaic laws serve no purpose and need to be adapted to the changing social and physical environments. Perceptions have changed. Human values have altered. But a relevant question is whether humans are not capable of taking reasonable care of themselves and whether fairer sports cannot be ensured by legalizing steroid use. This author, at least, would like to follow the path of legalization of steroids.


Beiner, J.M., Jokl, P., Cholewicki, J. and Panjabi, M.M., 1999, “The effect of anabolic steroids and corticosteroids on healing of muscle contusion injury”, American Journal of Sports Medicine Vol. 27, pp. 2-9

Bhasin, S., Storer, T.W., Berman, N., Callegari, C., Clevenger, B., Phillips, J., Bunnell, T.J., Tricker, R., Shirazi, A. and Casaburi, R., 1996, “The effects of supraphysiologic doses of testosterone on muscle size and strength in men” New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 335, pp.1-7.

Bhasin, S., Woodhouse, L. and Storer, T.W., 2001, “Proof of the effect of testosterone on skeletal muscle”, Journal of Endocrinology, Vol.170, pp. 27-38.

Boje, O., 1939, “Doping”, Bulletin of the Health Organization of the League of Nations, Vol. 8, pp. 439-469.

Ferreira, I.M., Verreschi, I.T., Nery, L.E., Goldstein, R.S., Zamel, N., Brooks, D. and Jardim, J.R., 1998, “The influence of 6 months of oral anabolic steroids on body mass and respiratory muscles in undernourished COPD patients”, Chest Vol. 114, pp. 19-28

Geddes, J.A., 1991, “Anabolic Steroids and the Athlete”, Canadian Family Physician, Vol 37, pp. 979-983

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Geusens, P., Dequeker, J., Verstraeten, A., Nils, J. and Van Holsbeeck, M., 1986, “Bone mineral content, cortical thickness and fracture rate in osteoporotic women after withdrawal of treatment with nandrolone decanoate, 1-alpha hydroxyvitamin D3, or intermittent calcium infusions”, Maturitas Vol. 8, pp. 281-289.

Hoffman, J.R., and Ratamess, N.A., 2006, “Medical Issues Associated with Anabolic Steroid Use: Are they Exaggerated?” Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, Vol. 5, pp. 182-193

Johansen, K.L., Mulligan, K. and Schambelan, M., 1999, “Anabolic effects of nandrolone decanoate in patients receiving dialysis”, Journal of American Medical Association, Vol 281, pp. 1275-1281

Nahrendorf, M., Frantz, S., Hu, K., von zur Muhlen, C., Tomaszewski, M., Scheuermann, H, Kaiser, R., Jazbutyte, V., Beer, S., Bauer, W., Neubauer, S., Ertl, G., Allolio, B. and Callies, F., 2003, “Effect of testosterone on post-myocardial infarction remodeling and function”, Cardiovascular Research, Vol. 57, pp. 370-378

National Educational Foundation of America (NEFA), Prepared for the California Narcotics Officers’ Association, “Understanding Anabolic Steroids”, 2009. Web.

Strawford, A., Barbieri, T, Van Loan, M., Parks, E., Catlin, D, Barton, N., Neese, R., Christiansen, M., King, J. and Hellerstein, M.K., 1999, “Resistance exercise and supraphysiologic androgen therapy in eugonadal men with HIV-related weight loss”, Journal of American Medical Association Vol. 281, pp. 1282-1290

Doeker, B., Müller-Michaels, J. and Andler, W., 1998, “Induction of early puberty in a boy after treatment with oxandrolone”, Hormone Research Vol. 50, pp. 46-48


Fig. 1: Some Benefits of Steroid Use:

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Table 1: Ergogenic effects associated with anabolic steroid use.
Increase in lean body mass
Increase in muscle cross-sectional area
Decrease in body fat percent
Increase muscle strength & power
Enhance recovery between workouts
Enhance recovery from injury
Increase in protein synthesis
Increase in muscle endurance
Increase in erythropoiesis, hemoglobin, and hematocrit
Increase in bone mineral density
Increase in glycogen storage
Increase in lipolysis
Increase in neural transmission
Reduced muscle damage
Increase in pain tolerance

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