A brief history of steroids and performing enhancing drugs – Part one

OK, so today I read one more Barry Bonds story and the hypocrisy and lack of knowledge on the part of EVERY single public published, or filmed discussion of this topic is driving me crazy. More about Barry later too.

The only close to admirable statement came from Dick Pound, a man who I generally respect, head of WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) and a respected Canadian attorney when he was interviewed on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel about Floyd Landis.

For those who don’t know, Landis was the American who won this years Tour De France and then was disqualified for having a positive drug test. More about that later.

Anyway, Dick Pound when presented with Landis statements basically said “Floyd , give me a break, the tests were positive, we all know it, and all the explanations you give don’t change that.”

First, a little about me. For those who don’t know, I speak about this topic from a fairly unique perspective. I spent 15 years in the fitness industry and before that was a competitive drug free bodybuilder and powerlifter. I worked for a number of top bodybuilding shows and even on the IFBB (International Federation of Bodybuilders)Medical Committee. I have a Master’s in Sports Management in addition to my time at Columbia Law School.

In addition, I played professional baseball and worked in both the major and minor leagues.

I have also worked in professional tennis and football in various capacities.

I have friends who have been Olympic athletes. So I am familiar with the testing protocols of both WADA and the major sports leagues.

Finally, yes, I have used steroids. Now, I repeat, I have used steroids, not other performing enhancing substances that are illegal.

So, there is the jumping off point. Are steroids illegal? NO. That is myth #1. Years ago they were put into a class with certain narcotics in the United States which meant that the illegal distribution of them was prosecutable. Possession over a certain amount was also illegal as the legal assumption, as with cocaine, heroin, pot, etc. was that possession of large amounts meant, de jure, that you intended to distribute for sale.

However, what we know as steroids, more correctly called anabolic/androgenic steroids are LEGAL in most of the rest of the world. That is one of the problems. Distributors can easily go to Mexico and purchase them legally. Athletes in Europe and the rest of the world as well. If a Dr. writes them a prescription, they can easily get them. They still have to pass their test, but again, more about that later.

So, what is a steroid. Again, the key word here is that they are correctly called anabolic/androgenic steroids. This is as opposed to cortico steroids. A VERY critical difference. Cortico steroids, products like prednisone are still legal in the US and are commonly prescribed as anti-inflammatories for various purposes. They have become so common that sometimes even asthmatics are prescribed them to reduce the inflammation in their lungs and make breathing easier.

Cortico steroids, though, have what is known as a CATABOLIC effect. The OPPOSITE of ANABOLIC. That means they destroy muscle tissue. Athletes can fail a drug test if cortico steroids are found in their system, e.g. it they get a cortisone injection in a sore joint.

So, getting back to steroids. All anabolic/androgenic steroids are man made variations of testosterone. Hence the epitestosterone to testosterone test you may have heard about in sports drug testing – this is what nailed Floyd Landis. More about that later. An androgen is something that produces secondary sex characteristics. Body and facial hair growth in men, thickening of the vocal chords causing the deeper voices, etc. This is why women who use steroids are essentially changing themselves into men. It is shy female athletes who use steroids will have deep, raspy voices almost as if they are lifelong smokers. What you can’t see is that they will also have enlarged, and in some cases seriously enlarged labia and clitoris’. Many female bodybuilders will actually have plastic surgery to reduce this effect.

The anabolic part is the part of the drug that people are looking for. Anabolism is essentially, the process of building tissue, muscle tissue. Hence the extreme musculature you see on users. IF they use them correctly and eat correctly for their cycle.

What they allow you to do is overcome genetic limitations. This happens slightly differently than most people understand. What has been discovered is that their principal benefit is anti-catabolic. i.e when you train hard, the steroids prevent the normal release of cortisol that we all experience, the factor that causes the destruction of the muscle tissue and causes inflammation. They also increase the osmotic abilities of the cell. Remember, muscle fibers are electric impulses and electricity conducts more powerfully in water, so a more powerful muscular contraction.

So, less muscle breakdown, more powerful contraction, less inflammation, greater muscle development.

So you may be remembering people like Flo Jo, or her sister in law, Jackie Joiner. More recently Marion Jones. Yes, they all certainly had these effects. More importantly, they had the muscular development that is extraordinarily rare for a woman but not rare for a woman on steroids (or other drugs – see part 2).

OK,here’s what very few know. The first anabolic steroid is still basically the best. By that I mean most anabolic. Called Dianabol it was isolated by Soviet scientists most probably in the 40’s piggybacking on the work of Nazi geneticists who were looking to create their master race.

In the 1950’s the United States produced what is to this day, the only weightlifting (Olympic vs. powerlifting)legend in our history. Paul Anderson, known as the Dixie Derrick was 5’10” about 370 pounds. Interestingly, he won his world championship in Munich in 1955. He had gained international fame earlier that year when he became the first man in history to press 400 pounds at a meet in Moscow. The Russians, the worlds leading weightlifters at the time, had taken notice of him when he started breaking every American record in the previous few years. He had been invited to the Soviet Union to train.

While never mentioned out loud. I will say it here. It is generally conceded that Anderson began training with the Russians in their use of Dianobol at this time. This training was brought back to the United States and after his world championship and subsequent Olympic gold medal at the 1956 Melbourne games these new training “methods” had the official seal of approval. Anderson eventually died of kidney failure, a not uncommon result of extensive steroid misuse.

What has now been forgotten by most is that in the subsequent decades there were literally dozens of cases of female Eastern bloc athletes whose sexuality was questioned and starting gin the mid to late sixties who actually failed the SEX tests given at the Olympics. This was before modern drug testing.

So, now a flash forward. We express surprise at the frequency at which athletes fail drug tests today. I don’t understand this. If you rack your brain you will remember athletes in EVERY sport, male and female who have failed. And this has been going on for decades now, tennis, swimming, obviously track and field.

So here is the simple fact. EVERY, I repeat EVERY world class athlete is using performance enhancing drugs. You cannot compete at that level without them. Now obviously it is not 100% and there is no way of knowing exactly what the actual % is. but it is closer to100% than 50%, or 75%. Most likely those who aren’t using them will be.

The true shame is that the same athletes would be winning without them if sport were “clean” More about “clean” later also. That is because drugs don’t create genetic potential, they enhance it.

What the true shame is, is that steroids are not dangerous. I repeat they are not dangerous. Any woman who is taking the “pill” or estrogen therapy is doing the EXACT same thing. Hormonal manipulation, that is what it is about.

In fact, when and if it is approved, testosterone will be the male “pill”. That’s right, it doesn’t shrink your testicles, but it does reduce your sperm count when you use artificial testosterone. Why? Because the first thing your body does is shut down your natural production. Your body knows what level your testosterone should be and if you are supplying it artificially it won’t produce more. That is why the steroid dosages are high and also why you “cycle” to fool your body into NOT shutting off your own production.

So that being said, monitored by a doctor, they are not dangerous. Yes, they raise LDL’s and can promote arteriosclerosis but the people who used to use them (again more about that later but what other “medications from the 50’s haven’t been surpassed) generally lead VERY healthy lifestyles in most other regards. There are not many world class sprinters, for example, suffering from heart disease.


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