Three years ago, Carl never would have expected his relationship with steroids to go this far. His motivation: sports.“I compete in the sport of powerlifting, where drug use is not only common, but openly accepted as part of the sport,” Carl said. “I figured if everyone else was doing it, why shouldn’t I?”
After being exposed to steroids at the age of 19, Carl began his fury of research to learn more about the powers of steroids.
“I decided to wait until I was 21 to try them,” Carl said.
He said that waiting didn’t make the experience any easier.
“I took the syringe out of the box and pulled two millimeters of testosterone enanthate from the vial. I waited trying to work up the courage, and finally I managed to push the needle in slowly. I pushed the plunger until it was gone, and I pulled the needle out. A few droplets of blood came out. I laid on the cold tile for a while before I would stop shaking.”
Carl never realized how much his life would change after that moment. Not only would his body begin to change, but his sense of well-being, his lifestyle and his future would be changed forever.
“Since I’ve been using them, my vascularity increased greatly, I lost fat and gained more muscle,” Carl said. “The steroids are what increases strength and muscle size, and the effects on body composition are great.”
Carl struggled with depression prior to his use, but the steroids’ effect on his confidence and self-esteem allowed him to surpass this condition.
Carl’s strength performance in the powerlifting meets also excelled since he began using them.
“It has taken me three years of use to win my competition,” he said. “But I think it will be another two years before I can win open nationals. I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”
Harrison Pope, a steroid specialist, psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, said steroids are called anabolic-androgenic because they have two sets of effects.
“The anabolic are the muscle gaining effects that cause you to gain muscle mass,” Pope said. “And the androgenic effects are the so-called masculinizing effects which include both physical effects such as hair growth or acne and the psychological effects.”
Malhar Gore, physician at Thielen Student Health Center, said steroids’ effect on body composition stimulate muscle tissue to grow and bulk up in response to training by mimicking the effect of naturally produced testosterone on the body.
“Steroids also promote the masculine traits that males develop during puberty, such as deepening of the voice and growth of body hair,” Gore said.
Carl’s decision to use steroids has set a standard for what his future entails.
“As soon as I started, it became a major lifestyle decision, one you can’t back away from easily,” Carl said. “A lot of my life from here on out is going to have to do with steroids, probably forever.”
Sports aren’t the only reason some individuals begin using steroids. Pope says many use because they do exactly what you want them to.
“The main reason people are prompted to use steroids is because they work,” Pope said. “They are extremely effective for gaining muscle mass and the short term hazards are pretty minor.”
Debra Atkinson, director of the Ames Racquet and Fitness Personal Training, said people looking for instant, dramatic changes in their bodies are more likely to use steroids.
“Individuals use steroids because they have an intense desire to change and a need for self-confidence and instant gratification,” Atkinson said.
Pope also thinks that the lack of short term side effects plays a role in the motivation for steroid use.
“Most kids who take them don’t notice any adverse effects in the short term,” Pope said. “So as a result, they are rarely deterred by fears that they are going to get the dangerous side effects, even though in reality, the long term side effects may be fairly serious.”
Jake Prater, vice president of the Iowa State University Weight Club, said the main reason people want to try steroids is for performance.
“Whether it’s strength, speed or looking better, people are interested in steroids because they enhance natural ability.”
Carl thinks that a lot of steroid users have the wrong intentions for using steroids.
“Most of the people that use steroids are gym rats that are insecure about their looks and think drugs are the solution to their problems,” Carl said. “Athletes, both professional and amateur, are a minority.”
Carl says that these inexperienced steroid users are often the ones who cause problems.
“When most people start, they really don’t have any idea what they’re doing, and they don’t have any guidance,” Carl said. “Those are the idiots that run into trouble and make a bad name for everything.”
Although Carl is experienced with his use, he has run into problems along the way.
“Some drugs increase my hematocrit, [or amount of red blood cells,] and cause my anxiety to flare up. I’ve become an insomniac so when I take some drugs, I have to take sleeping pills,” Carl said. “Otherwise, I can stay up for three to four days.”
“Being on high doses of anything lowers my high-density lipoproteins a little bit, but I had an experience with one drug that took my HDL from the mid-50s to 4. That’s really, really bad,” Carl said.
Pope argues that one of the major dangers of steroids is the fact that science does not know enough about them.
“In science, we have a phrase that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. In other words, we don’t have a whole lot of evidence about the long term cardiac effects,” Pope said. “The shortage of data does not mean that these drugs are safe. It simply means we don’t have enough data yet.”
Carl stated that he researches what he can about the consequences of the drugs, but there is not enough information to be 100 percent sure.
“I know steroids have some negative effects on the cardiovascular system,” Carl said. “I don’t know how those effects happen, but nobody really does because since it’s illegal, they can’t really do studies on it to find out. “
“These drugs may be more dangerous than we know,” Pope said. “But it may be another decade before we fully understand the magnitude of those dangers.”
Another problem with the various types of steroids is that each and every drug has the potential to affect the user differently.
“With 90 percent of the drugs I’ve taken, I experienced no negative side effects what-so-ever,” said Carl. “But these drugs have caused other people’s blood pressure to go through the roof. Their HDL drops, they have problems with estrogen control, or it can just make them feel terrible. The effects of the drugs are completely individual and are different for everyone.”
One way steroid users deal with the negative side effects is through the use of ancillaries, which are supporting drugs such as anti-estrogens or acne drugs that help reduce the side effects of steroids.
“Most ancillaries are hard to find, but you can legally buy them as research chemicals,” Carl said.
Carl, among other steroid users, gains access to steroids, growth hormones and ancillaries through the internet.
“That’s where almost everyone gets them. You can get things on the internet for much cheaper than you can find on the street,” he said.
The Internet has made steroid commerce extremely easy and Pope says that the internet is now the primary source of steroids.
“Unlike other drugs of abuse which are often illegal in any country of the world, steroids are perfectly legal in many countries and can be purchased in a local pharmacy without a prescription,” Pope said.
Carl says there are plenty of scam sites online and that you have to really be looking hard to find the real thing.
“You have to watch out because most of the sites that have advertisements are scams. You access the real ones through an email address, but they’re pretty hard to find.”
Suppliers have various ways of avoiding the legal consequence, but still are able to provide the drugs globally.
“It is very hard to prevent, even with a substantial amount of interjection,” Pope said. “There is just such a vast flow that it’s hard to intercept any substantial percentage of it.”
Since the process of obtaining steroids is rather risky, users accept a substantial amount of risk ordering their drugs online.
“You can never really know ... what you’re getting when you order over the Internet,” Carl said. “And that’s part of the problem. You have to find a source you can trust.”