The history of anabolic steroids is an exciting one, and one that shows just how far mankind has come in improving the human form. To discover the true history, it’s important to look back at least 150 years, when it was discovered that hormones play an important role in the development and health of animals.
The Discovery of Sex Hormones
Though hormones and testosterone weren’t technically discovered until much later, it was in 1849 that a man by the name of Berthold discovered the importance of the testicles in the animal kingdom. In a series of experiments, Berthold removed the testicles from birds known as cockerels and then observed the changes. He noted that these birds lost many of the traits that were common among the male species, including their ability and drive to mate with female birds. Then, Berthold decided to re-implant the birds’ testicles in their abdomens to see if they would regain some of those traits. Oddly enough, they did. It was at this point that science knew how important the testicles were to men.
Extraction of Testosterone
More than 75 years later, in 1929, scientists decided to analyze bull testicles further. They extracted semen from the testicles and checked it for activity. In 1935, scientists were able to concentrate the extract and make it even more active. Finally, in 1936, a scientist by the name of Ruzicka became the first in history to fully synthesize this compound, dubbed “testosterone”, in a laboratory. They did this by constructing it from human cholesterol – a very close relative of testosterone.
To further prove their findings, these scientists gave the lab-created testosterone to dogs that had been castrated. They found that adding testosterone boosted the dogs’ blood nitrogen levels and even caused significant weight gain. In fact, there were even rumors that Nazi soldiers used testosterone supplements to increase their size and strength, but this has never been proven and there are no documents to back this claim.
Starting in 1948, two of the world’s most popular pharmaceutical companies of the time, Ciba and Searle, set about making a variety of testosterone derivatives. These companies altered the esters of the compounds so that some were short-acting, some were long-acting, and some were more potent than the others. By 1954, these two companies had created well over a thousand derivatives – all of them known as anabolic steroids. This was the birth of the steroid era, where the true history of steroids begins, and when the true nature of what these products could do was discovered.
Steroids in Sports
The history of steroids in sports is largely argued, but most people agree that a doctor by the name of John Ziegler was largely responsible for bringing steroids into sports for the very first time. In 1954, it is rumored that Ziegler met with Russian weightlifting coaches in a bar following the World Weightlifting Championships that were held in Austria that year, and he asked them how their athletes were consistently winning against the Americans. Ziegler claims the Russian coaches admitted to injecting their athletes with testosterone as they trained, which vastly improved their strength.
Ziegler then set about giving his athletes performance enhancers, too. Though he originally started by giving them testosterone, exactly as the Russian team had done, Ziegler wanted his athletes to be bigger and stronger. He contacted Ciba, who was largely into developing and manufacturing testosterone derivatives (other types of steroids) during those years. As a result, Dianabol – widely heralded as the king of steroids, and arguably the beginning of the history of steroids as we know them today – was created in 1956, and Ziegler began administering it to his team. The Americans were in the limelight again and began winning competitions, even against the Russians, who had dominated in years past.
The History of Steroids in Bodybuilding
With American weightlifters dominating in world events, and with world records being broken almost every single year, professional and amateur bodybuilders around the world wanted in on the action, too. Dianabol found its way into multiple circles, including bodybuilding. American athletes continued to widen the gap between the rest of the world (including Russian athletes), and things were starting to change. American weightlifters were bigger and stronger than ever.
After Dianabol came other steroids, many of which were being manufactured and sent to doctors by Ciba. Athletes found that different steroids could have different effects; some allowed for massive gains, while others gave muscle hardness and definition. People began combining their steroids to find even better effects, and a whole generation of weightlifters and athletes enjoyed unsurpassed performance.
Medicine and the New History of Steroids
In the 1960s, doctors across America began to see the effects of steroids on athletes. Some of the effects were positive; individuals gained muscle mass and weight in general, they were stronger and more powerful, and they claimed to feel younger and more alive. As a result, the history of steroids branched out into medicine, and children with Turner Disease, which caused unusually short stature, benefitted.
Today, steroids are still commonplace in treating a variety of medical conditions. The chart below shows some of the steroids that are still being prescribed worldwide and the different conditions they can treat.
|Anabolic Steroid||Condition Treated|
As you can see, the history of steroids in medicine is very important as these drugs have saved lives, reduced pain, and provided respite from common conditions that lead to muscle wasting, including HIV/AIDS.
Steroids and Legal Status
Starting in the 1960s, the history of steroids took a turn for the worse. Numerous biased and inaccurate studies came out showing that steroids provided no benefit to athletes, even though the exact opposite was occurring. The Olympic Games Committee banned steroids in 1967, and most professional sports leagues did the same throughout the 1970s. With this ban came social stigma; people compared steroids to cocaine and even heroin. This started the negative connotation often associated with anabolic steroids, ultimately leading to their legal demise.
Prior to 1988, anabolic steroids were prescription drugs in the United States, much like drugs for asthma or even antibiotics. There was no distinction between them. The FDA makes this decision in the US, determining which drugs are safe to sell over the counter and which are not. Thanks to the negative connotation associated with steroids after the string of sports bans, along with the Reagan administration’s Anti-Drug Abuse Act, anabolic steroids found themselves on the Controlled Substances List in 1990 – a bleak moment in the history of steroids. This meant that possession of steroids came with legal consequences, and some of those were felonies, fines, and jail time.
The history of steroids is one that is fraught with inconsistencies and false information. However, when you take the time to understand the true history of steroids and how the media influences the social stigma surrounding them, it’s easier to see that these drugs aren’t especially dangerous when used exactly as directed. Many are still available via prescription in the US.