"Anabolic steroids" is the familiar name for synthetic substances related to the male sex hormones (e.g., testosterone). They promote the growth of skeletal muscle (anabolic effects) and the development of male sexual characteristics (androgenic effects) in both males and females. The term "anabolic steroids" will be used throughout this report because of its familiarity, although the proper term for these compounds is "anabolic-androgenic steroids."
Anabolic steroids were developed in the late 1930s primarily to treat hypogonadism, a condition in which the testes do not produce sufficient testosterone for normal growth, development, and sexual functioning. The primary medical uses of these compounds are to treat delayed puberty, some types of impotence, and wasting of the body caused by HIV infection or other diseases.
During the 1930s, scientists discovered that anabolic steroids could facilitate the growth of skeletal muscle in laboratory animals, which led to abuse of the compounds first by bodybuilders and weightlifters and then by athletes in other sports. Steroid abuse has become so widespread in athletics that it can affect the outcome of sports contests.
Illicit steroids are often sold at gyms, competitions, and through mail order operations after being smuggled into this country. Most illegal steroids in the United States are smuggled from countries that do not require a prescription for the purchase of steroids. Steroids are also illegally diverted from U.S. pharmacies or synthesized in clandestine laboratories.