Total Shape is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission. Learn more.

Why Are Anabolic Steroids Illegal By Law?

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: September 7, 2022

As a personal trainer and strength coach, I often encounter bodybuilders and other athletes who have been taking anabolic steroids for improved performance.

I always point out the obvious and severe health risks they are taking, but they often seem to be mistaken about the legality of these drugs.

There's a misconception that illegal only refers to being banned in sports, but that can become a costly error.

So, our team did some research with a legal expert to get to the bottom of why steroids are illegal.

Quick Summary

  • Anabolic steroids are prescription-only medications that doctors only recommend for certain health conditions.
  • Steroids come with a long list of side effects that have serious health implications, which is why they are listed as controlled substances.
  • Bodybuilders and athletes often purchase steroids on the black market, opening themselves to legal problems.

Is It Illegal To Buy Steroids Without A Prescription?

Close up image of pills and syringe

Yes, it is illegal to buy steroids without a prescription.  The U.S. government has listed them as schedule III drugs as part of the Controlled Substances Act [1].

While this does make them less addictive and not as dangerous as schedule I and II drugs, it's still important to understand that buying them without a prescription has serious legal implications.

If you are caught buying, using, or distributing steroids outside of a licensed clinical setting, that could leave you open to a criminal case.

What Are The Dangers Of Taking These Drugs?

There are many health dangers of taking anabolic steroids that range from liver damage to acne and mood swings, which is one of the reasons these substances are not freely sold.

While they aren't addictive like the schedule I drugs, it's pretty common for athletes to become physiologically dependent on steroids [2].

Let's take a closer look at the problems steroid dependence can cause.

Liver Damage

Man holding his right stomach

One of the most severe problems with steroids is that they can cause hepatotoxicity [3].

Long-term effects of this can be an irreversible liver failure and even tumors forming on the liver.

It's also why doctors carefully monitor liver stats while a patient is on a prescribed course of steroids for a medical condition.

And that safety net doesn't exist when athletes buy steroids on the black market.

"Anabolic steroid use causes decreased levels of HDL or "good" cholesterol, increased levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol, and serious liver toxicity within 12 weeks."

- Carl Grunfeld, MD, Ph.D.

Skin Conditions

Steroid acne is another common side effect, and it can become very severe and painful [4]. It's also challenging to hide such a skin condition, but it's reversible once you stop taking these drugs.

Related: Do Steroids Help Cure Acne?

Mood Swings

People often talk about roid-rage when it comes to bodybuilders who have shown signs of sudden mood swings and aggression [5]. It's usually one of the first signs of someone going through steroid cycles.

What Are The Penalties For Buying Illegal Steroids?

A fine penalty with a document

The penalties for buying and owning illegal steroids carry a minimum of $1,000 fine for a first offense and a maximum of one year in prison.

They are also dependent on the volume of controlled steroids and whether they’re intended for distribution.

But it gets a lot more severe if you're being charged with traffic.

There is a minimum of $250,000 fine for a first-time steroid traffic offense and a maximum of five years in prison.

For a second offense, those terms double [6].

This isn't legal advice, but I have to tell you that things get a lot more complicated at the state level.

All the above penalties are for federal offenses, but individual states have also imposed severe and strict penalties that could result in longer jail times.

And it's this legal issue that most steroid users don't fully understand.

Related Articles:

FAQs

Who Determines What Steroids Are Illegal?

The U.S. government and the FDA determine what steroids are illegal under criminal law. At the same time, international sporting organizations and the World Anti-Doping Agency maintain a list of banned substances.

Who Can Prescribe Steroids?

Only licensed medical doctors can prescribe steroids. And even then, some rigorous medical criteria and conditions need to be in place for a doctor to be legally allowed to prescribe and monitor steroid intake.

Stay On The Right Side Of The Law

It is a considerable health risk to take steroids without medical supervision, but there are serious legal issues that you could face if you buy steroids on the black market.

It really shouldn't be a choice worth considering between liver damage, roid-rage, and a stint in prison.

A much better approach is to invest in a legal steroid supplement based on herbs, minerals, and amino acids. These aren't magic pills that work overnight.

But if you take them for long-term goals, with the proper dedication to training and diet, those goals will come faster than you'd expect.


References:

  1. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Steroids-2020.pdf
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2780436/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548931
  4. https://dermnetnz.org/topics/steroid-acne
  5. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/steroids-other-appearance-performance-enhancing-drugs-apeds/how-does-anabolic-steroid-misuse-affect-behavior
  6. https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/pubs/brochures/steroids/lawenforcement

Was this article helpful?

About The Author