As a personal trainer, I know how controversial this topic can be, especially with no end to doping scandals in all types of sports.
But I still think it’s important to have a balanced discussion about performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and look at what both sides of the argument have to say.
So, I spent some time with a friend of mine who worked at the World Anti-Doping Agency a few years ago to see why steroid use is banned in sports and what the common arguments are for and against legalizing them.
- Steroid abuse in professional sports has been a problem since the 70s, and it seems like drug testing is always one step behind the latest drugs.
- Professional athletes, from Major League Baseball players to Olympic runners and MMA fighters, have been caught cheating the rules, but so many of them still get away with it.
- People have been arguing over drug use in professional sports for a long time, and understanding all arguments can help settle some disagreements.
Should Steroids Be Legalized?
There are several good arguments to support that steroids should be legalized.
But there are just as many that highlight the serious dangers of taking performance-enhancing drugs without a medical need for them.
I’ll get into the detailed arguments shortly, but there are some that I want to highlight first.
Researchers in this area have found that the main reasons for legalizing steroids are less abuse and the availability of safer products .
They often point to Mexico, where steroid drugs are available without a prescription in pharmacies .
Despite this, there’s no evidence that steroid use and abuse are higher in Mexico than in America.
On the other hand, doctors point to serious health impacts even when steroid effects are monitored by medical professionals. It’s not just the abuse that causes organ failure and mental health issues .
Before I get into some more details of all the reasonable arguments, let me first address the background of where the steroid bans started.
Why Are Steroids Banned in Sports?
Steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs are banned in sports because of their dangerous side effects and the unfair advantage it gives to the user .
The effects were known for decades, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the Olympic committee started taking a much more targeted approach in terms of banning anabolic steroids .
Since then, mandatory and random drug test processes have expanded, but it still hasn’t stopped regular doping scandal news.
From Ben Johnson in the 80s to Lance Armstrong’s revelations about his Tour De France achievements, there’s no shortage of scandals.
While having a level playing field is certainly a very important reason not to make steroids legal, the pressing issue is the potential side effects .
Here’s the problem, even when you take steroids to enhance performance, and your intake and reactions are monitored by a doctor, there are still very high chances of ending up with life-altering health problems.
And if a doctor or pharmacist recommends that athletes stop taking steroids because of such conditions, they’ll probably turn to the same illegal sources again.
Related: Why Are Steroids Illegal?
6 Common Reasons for Legalization
Here are the main arguments that people use to support legalizing steroids and other drugs like human growth hormones.
1. Safe and Controlled Intake
Most athletes who take anabolic steroids without a legitimate prescription will turn to black market sources and drug dealers.
And that’s a major problem. Even the nice guy at the gym that has some contacts for anabolic medication is technically a drug dealer as they are a schedule III drug .
By getting such athletes to go to a pharmacist or doctor for their steroids, there’s a lower risk of contaminated or dodgy products.
Even small variations in the production methods could have serious implications for the human body.
2. Fewer Black Market Drugs
When steroid users can go to their doctor or pharmacist rather than a drug dealer, there will be fewer drugs on the black market.
The argument is kind of like what happened during prohibition. As soon as alcohol became illegal, the criminal underworld became more profitable than ever before. Between importing from abroad and illegal bootlegging, the only place to get alcohol was the underground market.
And that does lead to a very important argument.
3. Take Money Away From Criminals
No matter how much drug enforcement and punishment increase, there are huge monetary incentives for people to sell performance enhancers illegally.
Even if the guy who sells it at the gym is not a violent criminal, he probably sources the steroids from very shady organizations, including drug cartels.
So, when athletes can go to a licensed pharmacy to buy steroids legally, there’s no revenue for criminal organizations.
4. Less Illegal Activity
Since there will be no more incentive for criminal organizations to sell steroids on the underground market, it will have an immediate impact on the level of criminal activity around sports.
It will also mean less policing power needs to be directed at pro athletes and their suppliers, whether it’s in Major League Baseball, Basketball, athletics, or boxing.
The theory is that this will allow law enforcement agencies to focus more money and effort on other criminal activities.
5. Monitoring of Side Effects
There are many health risks associated with taking all types of steroids.
Whether they are corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and injury or anabolic steroids to build muscle and athletic performance, the body can show some serious symptoms.
Studies have shown that athletes who don’t have doctors monitor their health during repeated steroid cycles can develop serious kidney conditions and even organ failure .
Proponents of legalization argue that doing so would make sure that a medical professional monitors these side effects, and that would reduce the chance of a steroid problem becoming a lasting health effect.
6. Simplifies Testing and Reduces Costs
Drug testing in sports started decades ago and has evolved into very significant urine, saliva, and blood testing methods.
And the more types of drugs, including new steroids and synthetic versions of human growth hormone, you test for, the more complicated and costly those tests become.
Removing certain drugs from the banned list should simplify the process a lot. Olympic athletes and other sports stars could still end up testing positive for certain drugs, but the list would be a lot more manageable.
It would also make it easier for athletes to get access to certain drugs for legitimate medical reasons without having to worry about how it will affect their careers.
In some cases, athletes have taken over-the-counter and prescription medication, not knowing that one of the ingredients was banned under a different name.
6 Common Reasons Against Legalization
Here are the reasons sports organizations and the International Society for Sports Nutrition often bring up as reasons against legalization.
1. Excessive Use
This is the primary reason cited. The main concern is that when you make steroids more accessible through legal avenues, then you’ll see a lot more steroid abuse.
Taking PEDs will become easier, and you don’t have to worry about legal or career impacts.
That increased PED use will then also bring on more health risks for people that may have taken lower doses before.
The counter to that argument would be that with a controlled supply, such abuse shouldn’t be possible. But it’s still a very valid concern as many people probably avoid buying them illegally.
2. No Level Playing Field
The very reason athletes take performance enhancers is to gain a competitive advantage. If you’re stronger, leaner, and don’t encounter fatigue as quickly, then it’s easier with a race, match, or fight.
And unless every athlete resorts to taking steroids, you have a two-tier setup where those that don’t take unnecessary risks fall behind on an uneven playing field. It also rewards taking shortcuts instead of working your backside off.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the famous bodybuilders who admitted to taking steroids when he found it increasingly difficult and impossible to compete with younger athletes .
This was at the early stages of the steroid era a few decades ago, and it would likely only be worse today with a much larger selection of drugs available.
3. Too Easy Access for Young Athletes
Performance-enhancing drugs have many known side effects, but if it becomes easier for young adults to take steroids, then they are open to much more severe and lasting effects .
They say Tour De France winners start dreaming of the day when they are training in their teens.
And if these teens know that there are shortcuts to get them into the professional circles sooner, then they could be taking on risks that have serious impacts on their health years from now.
At those young ages, athletes should be taking a safe approach to allow their bodies to grow naturally.
4. Sends The Wrong Message
Performance-enhancing drugs also send a very bad message to the public. Sports athletes are supposed to be role models that show that hard work and dedication got them a world title or gold medal.
The message shouldn’t be that choosing the right combination of drugs and destroying your health in the process is how to win.
"Of course we want to keep the sport clean. It says 'bodybuilding,' not 'body-destroying.' It's bodybuilding. Of course we want to go in that direction."
- Arnold Schwarzenegger, Former Mr. Universe
5. Makes Professional Sports Less Accessible
Getting into any professional sports like Major League Baseball, Basketball, golf, or swimming is a big enough challenge.
But when you add a drug race into the mix, then there will be many talented athletes that simply can’t afford the best and safest drugs and medical advice.
These athletes will then either end up being excluded or will resort to taking steroid risks that lead to more problems.
The right thing for all sports is to make merit the primary reason for succeeding and getting to a professional level.
And while there are many barriers that favor certain privileges, steroid drugs should not become another one.
6. Uncertain Long-Term Damage
And finally, most steroids are designed for short-term use. There are some studies on long-term impacts, but they don’t paint a rosy picture .
In the absence of such further research, it would be difficult for athletes to accept that they can use performance enhancers only for a short time.
Or else they will end up taking huge risks with the unknown of spending an entire career going through many steroid cycles.
Yes, athletes are already taking such risks, but it’s not as easy as saying that these drugs are no longer banned and assuming that all users will take a careful and responsible approach.
Do Steroids Give an Unfair Advantage?
Yes, steroids give an unfair advantage to both amateur and elite athletes. They can have a very significant impact on a sudden boost of strength and endurance that is not possible to achieve in a completely natural way.
Is Steroid Use in Sports Dangerous?
Yes, steroid use in sports can be very dangerous.
There are side effects and risks for the users that can cause serious issues.
But in contact sports like football and boxing, it can also lead to levels of strength that cause devastating impacts on an opponent.
Safe Alternative to Performance Enhancing Drugs
No matter how sports organizations decide to go in the future when it comes to steroids, there will always be some athletes that resort to banned substances.
I also believe it will be impossible to catch all those athletes. But there are better ways to gain the upper hand in a completely natural way.
There are legal steroids based on natural substances that you can stack to achieve a performance boost. We have tested many of these legal steroid supplements and have found a few that have a positive effect.
They can’t compete with medical drugs but provide enough of a boost to make a difference.
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