How safe are anabolic steroids?
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
ANABOLIC steroids are banned in sports, but some avid gym-goers in Brunei are willing to face health risks associated with the performance-enhancing drugs that promise a better body physique.
In Brunei, anabolic steroids have largely evaded media attention, but the drugs are discreetly discussed among select subcultures at gyms.
Two national athletes tested positive for the drugs - one a sprinter, the other a cyclist who earlier this year disrupted this lack of attention on anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.
Anabolic steroids are defined as drugs or substances that are “chemically and pharmacologically related to testosterone that promote muscle growth,” according to the Controlled Substances Act of the Code of Federal Regulations of the United States.
In Brunei, they are not listed under the Misuse of Drugs Act, but are “prescription only medicine” according to the Poisons Act, making recreational use illegal in the sultanate.
Khan (not his real name), an aspiring local bodybuilder, admitted to using anabolic steroids, combining the drug with strenuous weight training to achieve dramatic results.
With wide capped shoulders, a barrel-sized chest and thick cords of veins running across his arms, Khan’s imposing frame fills out the chair he sits in for his interview.
“I don’t know where to begin,” the 28-year-old said when asked the drugs he takes, how often he uses and how much each time.
“Sustanon 250 and Dianabol are my staples for building mass, and I use Winstrol, possibly anavar if available when I’m trying to diet down.”
“Most people assume that people use steroids to gain muscle mass, which is completely true; but a lot of people use it when they diet down so that they can maintain as much muscle as possible while burning the maximum amount of fat.”
Khan said he has experienced side effects since he began using steroids, but downplayed the health risks.
The Ministry of Health’s Department of Pharmaceutical Services issued a statement listing the risks associated with use, which included severe acne, musculoskeletal injuries, physical and psychological dependence as well as liver, cardiovascular and mental problems.
These risks were based on a 2009 study by Mazzeo and Ascione, which also list gender specific side effects, males can experience reduced fertility and shrinkage of the testes and women can experience excessive hair growth and the enlargement of the clitoris.
“Personally, I’ve never got bad acne from steroids. Among my bodybuilding friends, there does seem to be a pattern with more acne from using, but from what I’ve seen, this depends on the person. Those who already have acne seem to get it the worst, but it isn’t a guaranteed side effect,” Khan said.
In regards to liver problems, Khan said these can be largely avoided if one chooses injectable anabolic steroids over oral (pills) form, popularly termed ubat among local users.
“In a perfect world, I would use only injectables, and I do buy them. But the pills are cheaper and more readily available in Brunei.”
Khan said he could not give details whether he experienced diminished fertility or the state of his cardiovascular and liver health because he is not having his use monitored by doctors.
“During my last medical check (two years ago), I had no significant health problems, aside from a slightly higher than normal blood pressure. My balls (testes) did shrink, but every time I’ve come off them they seem to return to normal.
“I think it’s easy for the media, and the public to point to bodybuilding and say “steroids”. That’s making things too simple.”
“Yes these drugs have side effects, but how much one uses, how often they use make a huge difference. More use, more risks. And this isn’t just steroids – would anyone say that having one cigarette every other day causes the same damage as smoking a whole pack every single day?”
Khan added that he is dependent on anabolic steroids, but claims it is a “mental” addiction, and not physiological addiction.
“Training, and watching my body transform are personal goals of mine, and steroids have helped bring me closer to my goals. My body doesn’t “need” it in the medical sense, it’s me needing it to achieve my goals.”
Another user, 26-year-old Damien (not his real name) said he first began taking steroids to increase his muscle mass after suffering from a shoulder injury while playing rugby.
“I’ve used deca and dianabol. My friend helps me administer it by using needles, and I cycle them on and off throughout the past four months that I’ve been taking them.”
Damien said friends who also used the drugs, gave him confidence to further research and take the drugs. When asked if the use of steroids in Brunei gyms were common, he said, “In truth, yes. It’s part of the scene; you have your naturals (who do not take steroids) and you have those who are not”.
“Those who are very serious in bodybuilding, it’s fairly common. Your body type and genetics have limitations, and steroids help you take your development much further and faster than you could do so naturally.
“Very few, in fact barely anyone will admit openly and say, “hey I’m using steroids”. There’s definitely a lot of stigma from the public, your family and close friends if they know you use.”
Damien said his appetite increased, and he felt emotionally unstable at times when he started using the steroids after four months.
“It’s harder to keep my emotions in check, I get easily annoyed sometimes – but it’s not overwhelming, I definitely can handle it.”
Consultant Endocrinologist at RIPAS Hospital Dr Alice Yong said “there are no safe doses (for anabolic steroids) – if they are not replacement doses”.
“A healthy person does not require additional or supplementary anabolic steroids and growth hormones. These are only used as replacement therapy in Brunei Darussalam,” she added.
The Brunei Times