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The war on drugs, by most people’s measure, has been a complete failure, wasted trillions of dollars, and has caused our prison population to explode, mostly for non-violent drug offenders. It’s unjust that one can spend years or decades in prison without having physically harmed another, nor deprived them of their property. While I believe all drug policy is a public health issue, not a criminal one, today I’ll focus on a very misunderstood class: anabolic steroids.


The criminalization of anabolic steroids use has never made sense, as they’re nothing like other street drugs. There are no steroid junkies robbing people to get a fix, no used syringes in our parks, and no “steroid labs” blowing up as meth labs do. Steroids, over time, do produce a heightened sense of well-being, but no immediate high. Users don’t have withdrawals when they stop, although they may feel depressed as their body slowly restores its natural production. Few people blow through all their money using steroids, either. From a pharmacy, and without health insurance, a 10 week supply costs between $50 and $70, the same cost per week as a visit to Starbucks.


Anabolic steroids, for the most part, have very subtle effects. “Roid rage,” a term I hate to use, is just something coined by the media to make a story sound more interesting. In reality, documented cases of steroids causing psychotic aggression are extremely rare. There are even positive benefits from using steroids beyond looking better and being stronger. The long-term health benefits of fat loss and increasing your metabolism far outweigh any short term health concerns. If you use steroids for a short while, and put on 10 or 15 lbs of lean muscle, it will be very difficult to overeat enough to ever become obese. There’s very little evidence that steroids put anyone at risk, either to themselves, or to others.

Why do people use steroids?

  1. To look and feel better. By the American Journal of Addiction’s estimates, 2.9-4 million people, ages 13-50, have used anabolic steroids, which is about 1% of our country’s population. This greatly outnumbers all of the professional athletes using them for sports, meaning the vast majority of users are your average citizen, and use them for personal reasons. There’s certainly nothing wrong or immoral about wanting to look and feel better. Health food and supplement stores are filled with products claiming to help achieve those goals, some and are unsafe, as the supplement industry is mostly unregulated. Anabolic steroids have been proven to safely lower body fat and increase muscle, two health benefits that our increasingly overweight country needs.

  3. For medical purposes. Have you seen those commercials lately advertising drugs to treat “Low T?” That “T” stands for testosterone, a natural anabolic steroid produced by our bodies. Testosterone therapy has remarkable effects, and is essential to combat the effects of aging. It causes men to think more clearly, be happier and more motivated, it increases sex drive, promotes lean body mass, and decreases risk of death from nearly all causes, including cardiovascular events (heart attacks). With testosterone, men are able to live longer, happier, and healthier lives. Steroids also have many other medical uses, from helping serious burns victims heal, decreasing post-surgical recovery time, to combating the wasting effects of HIV. With so many health benefits, anabolic steroids are under-utilized by the medical industry.

  5. To gain a competitive advantage in sports. This is, by far, the minority of users, as most people are not professional athletes, and I doubt many people are taking steroids to help them get ahead in their bowling league. Steroids cannot teach you to hit a baseball more frequently, or perform a 720 on a snowboard, hard work is what makes professional athletes so elite. Steroids, though, can make you much stronger, as well as heal faster from injuries. While many consider this cheating, that’s the decision of each sporting organization, and they can choose to ban or allow steroids at their discretion. The rules of a game should be decided upon, investigated by, and penalties imposed by that organization, not the police. The athlete may be guilty of poor sportsmanship, but those actions shouldn’t be considered criminal in nature, much less carry the possibility of jail time.


Anabolic steroids are used by people to become more healthy and attractive, or at worst, to break the rules of sports organizations to gain a competitive edge. None of these uses is a danger to public safety, and our tax dollars would be better spent fighting real crime instead.

~Peter Trzos, MD