The idea that testosterone could be isolated from the testicles goes all the way back to the 1930s. In 1931, chemist Adolf Butenandt managed to secure approximately 15mg of androstenone (a male hormone) by extracting it from many thousands of liters of urine.
At this point, scientists already knew of a more powerful androgen than androstenone. Many pharmaceutical companies competed to isolate the stronger hormone, which we now commonly refer to as testosterone. By 1937, human trials had begun to develop our understanding of testosterone.
The beginning of performance-boosting steroids
The Soviet Union and other countries like East Germany were reportedly the first to explore the use of testosterone in assisting physical performance in the 1940s. They first used testosterone on their Olympic weightlifters. In the early stages, albeit with a few side effects, the use of testosterone appeared to be a success. So, naturally, the United States wanted a piece of the action. John Ziegler, the team physician to the US Olympic squad, worked with chemists to produce a drug that had similar performance-enhancing capabilities minus the androgenic side effects.
The product was methandrostenolone, later to be sold by Ciba Pharmaceuticals as Dianabol, which is now one of the most widely used anabolic steroids in the world. Interestingly, Arnold Schwarzenegger confessed to experimenting with steroids during his reign as Mr Olympia because they weren’t illegal at the time. The very first anabolic steroid he mentions in the interview (on YouTube) is Dianabol.
Dianabol was later approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1958. It was supposed to be for use with elderly populations and as a medical intervention. As you can imagine, though, it didn’t take long for bodybuilders such as Arnold and other athletes to get wind of its potential and use it off the record. Athletes under the watchful eye of Ziegler were only given relatively small doses, but it was noticed that those abusing Dianabol started to suffer from enlarged prostates and testicular shrinkage (atrophy). Even when presented with the evidence of adverse side effects, it still took a surprisingly long time for steroids to be banned by regulatory bodies. The IOC didn’t ban them until 1976.
So where are we now? Well, things have escalated quite a lot. We now have many variations of steroids, all capable of creating different physical adaptations and changes. Steroids are also banned in most sports, and specialist anti-doping agencies have appeared (the US Anti-Doping Association and the UK Anti-Doping Association, for example) to help catch those using androgenic anabolic steroids in sport unfairly. Except for medical conditions requiring a prescription, they are also illegal in many countries and are not sold over the counter.
I’ll leave you with this thought, though. If we had one main steroid (Dianabol) back in the 1940s and now we have many capable of delivering various physiological changes, how are steroids going to develop over the next 50 years? I predict more and more variations will become available, either from official laboratories or underground labs, but only time will tell!
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