While there are millions of people around the world who have used anabolic steroids with great success, they remain illegal in many countries, including the US. The reasons for this are many, and people even have their own theories as to why the possession, use, purchase, and sale of steroids carries such harsh penalties.
How Steroids Became Illegal in the First Place
Before you can truly understand the answer to the pressing question “why are anabolic steroids illegal?”, it’s important to first understand a series of events that led to their classification as controlled substances.
It all started when the Olympic Games Committee and most major sports leagues banned athletes from using them to enhance their performance. During this time, the media put a spotlight on steroid users, and a negative connotation developed. Over the period of about 15 years, the media (and irresponsible steroid users) helped to shine a negative light on those who chose to use them for performance enhancement.
In the 1980s, under the Reagan administration, the “War on Drugs” ramped up its efforts and added numerous products to the US list of Controlled Substances. To many people, it seemed as if anything and everything that someone might use for recreation or enhancement came under fire, and the Reagan administration wanted to deny access and impose strict penalties on those who used these products without a direct order from a physician. Despite these laws, the underground market for steroids was still booming, and people still had plenty of access.
Later, in 1990, a separate piece of legislation aimed directly at steroid users imposed even stricter penalties for those who chose to use steroids despite their legal status. From that point forward, obtaining steroids legally became impossible, and black-market sellers began to disappear.
Many experts and even health professionals agree that steroids can be safe, even for performance enhancement, when they are used according to established guidelines and for short periods of time.
Steroids aren’t Always Illegal
In the United States and many other countries across the globe, it is legal to possess and use anabolic steroids with a doctor’s prescription. Although there are only a handful of anabolic steroids used for medical purposes, it is possible to obtain them as long as you demonstrate medical need. However, this can be difficult for those who want to use steroids for performance enhancement; they very rarely have a true medical need which makes obtaining a prescription almost impossible.
For example, patients who have the following conditions may be able to obtain steroids legally from their physicians:
- Hereditary angioedema;
- Certain types of anemia;
- Delayed-onset puberty;
- Low testosterone;
- Muscle wasting diseases; and
- Loss of muscle or appetite due to certain illnesses and their treatments.
The steroids prescribed vary based on the type and severity of the condition. For example, testosterone is the go-to treatment for low testosterone and delayed-onset puberty, but Deca Durabolin – a testosterone derivative – is common among patients who need to gain or maintain their current muscle mass.
Anabolic Steroids and the Potential for Abuse
According to the United States DEA, or Drug Enforcement Agency, drugs are classified into five different categories based on their currently accepted medical use and their overall potential for abuse.
Steroids are classified as a Schedule III controlled substance, and according to the DEA website, Schedule III substances have “…a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.”
Despite this, those responsible for making the decisions regarding controlled substances firmly believe that anabolic steroids must be controlled in order to protect the population.
When asking “why are anabolic steroids illegal?”, people are often told that they are addictive. Though this is certainly true, those who advocate legal steroid use claim that anything can be addictive, whether it’s food, gambling, drugs, alcohol, or even sex.
Some view the legal status of steroids as an infringement of their basic rights and ask government officials why alcohol, which kills hundreds of thousands of people each year, is still perfectly legal, while steroids are not.
Potential Side Effects
Many of the products people use on a daily basis carry with them the risk of significant side effects, and anabolic steroids are no different. Some of the side effects include:
- Infertility and impotence, especially in men;
- Gynecomastia and testicular atrophy;
- Virilization in women; and
- Increased risk of liver disease, liver cancer, heart attack, and high cholesterol.
Keep in mind, however, that it is possible to mitigate these side effects with responsible use, including the right doses, cycle lengths, and supplements. Nonetheless, it is these side effects combined with the potential for abuse that prompt medical professionals to recommend that steroids remain controlled under US law.
Why Steroids are Banned in Competitive Sports
Even in countries where anabolic steroids are considered legal for performance enhancement, they are considered illegal in the Olympic Games and most major sports leagues or associations. In fact, athletes can be banned from events or stripped of their medals/titles if they test positive for steroids.
While many people believe that this is due to the dangers associated with potential side effects, the truth is that anabolic steroids provide a significant physical advantage to those who use them. Simply put, the Olympics Committee and other sports leagues banned steroids in an effort to keep the competitions fair for everyone.
For example, even when it comes to performance enhancement, there are people who simply cannot tolerate the effects of anabolic steroids. These people may be incredibly talented athletes, and they may stick to strict diet and training plans to be the very best. However, the truth is that someone who isn’t using steroids can never be as strong or last as long as someone who does use them, and this is what ultimately drove various sports organizations to ban them.
The Social Stigma and “’Roid Rage”
Perhaps the most commonly used negative term associated with anabolic steroids is “’roid rage”. This term describes the agitation, anger, and loss of impulse control that some people experience after abusing steroid.
Although the social stigma surrounding steroids leads many people to believe that ‘roid rage is unavoidable and everyone who uses these substances will experience it, this is not at all the case. In fact, there are plenty of doctors and researchers out there who doubt the existence of ‘roid rage at all.
What’s more, research shows conflicting evidence when it comes to linking fits of rage with the use of steroids; in these studies, rage tends to occur only in those who have pre-existing psychological issues and who abuse the products over very long periods of time.
While there are a handful of anabolic steroids that are legal, this is only the case when the user has a prescription from his or her doctor. Whether or not anabolic steroids will be revisited and declassified as a controlled substance remains to be seen. Like many other products out there that are completely safe when used as intended, it is likely that steroids will remain illegal in the US and other countries for many years to come.