Now that Major League Baseball has finally come down with its expected suspensions in the ongoing Biogenesis performance-enhancing drugs scandal, let’s take a look at some of the more popular PEDs. What do they do, and how potentially harmful are they?
2. Stanozolol (Winstrol)
Like all anabolic steroids, the idea here is to build muscle mass and strength, and a dedicated regimen of stanozolol will do that. It’s popular with veterinarians, who use the drug (known commercially as Winstrol) to give sick animals a bit more of an appetite, but for humans, it must be taken at regular intervals over time for the effects to be noticeable. It was Ben Johnson’s drug of choice at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, as well as disgraced former MLB player Rafael Palmeiro. The potential side effects are varied and severe, including hypertension, heart problems, and increased risk of injuries, to name just a few.
Androstenedione, made famous by former Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire, is a naturally occurring hormone in both men and women that is secreted mainly from the adrenal glands. Athletes would use it to help boost testosterone levels and experience the benefits therein: more muscle mass, faster recovery from pesky injuries, and so forth. The U.S. government banned its sale in 2004, citing “serious, substantial concerns about its safety,” and it appears to have largely fallen out of favor with professional athletes.
4. Methenolone enanthate (Primobolan)
Primobolan, another from the family of anabolic steroids, was what Alex Rodriguez reportedly tested positive for back in 2003, along with testosterone, and Barry Bonds was apparently also a fan. Side effects are said to be less severe, as compared to other steroids, and is thus more amenable to use with “stacking” — when users combine one or more anabolic steroids. It’s especially popular with bodybuilders.
5. Tetrahydrogestrinone (THG, “The Clear”)
The most famous of the next-gen “designer steroids” developed by BALCO, THG provides many of the similar effects granted by traditional anabolic steroids. Side effects are not as well documented, although some research says that it’s “conceivable” that they are “adverse.” For years, it was virtually undetectable by drug tests — until a syringe was mailed anonymously to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in 2003. During Barry Bonds’ 2011 perjury trial, his lawyer admitted that the all-time home run leader did use the substance during his career, but believed it was flaxseed oil.
6. Testosterone (“The Cream”)
Tests that revolve around the presence of testosterone are looking for elevated levels beyond a certain threshold and in relation to epitestosterone, another naturally occurring male hormone. That’s what got Ryan Braun in hot water the first time around in 2011. Years earlier, BALCO pioneered the new-age application of testosterone by formulating a “cream” that supposedly included some presence of epitestosterone to keep levels more in balance — and thus undetectable.
7. Human Growth Hormone
In addition to a wide and varied regimen of anabolic steroids, late NFL defensive end Lyle Alzado — whose famous 1991 admission of years of steroid use helped spotlight their popularity and prolonged abuse — also used human growth hormone (HGH) to boost muscle mass. The only patients who should be prescribed synthetic HGH are those with an actual growth hormone deficiency, and yet annual sales have recently topped $1 billion. And the NFL still doesn’t test for HGH use, though the NBA will likely start next season. HGH has also often been marketed as an anti-aging drug – it isn’t – and Biogenesis, which supplied HGH and other drugs to some of baseball’s biggest stars, billed itself as an anti-aging clinic.
8. Erythropoietin (EPO)
A naturally occurring hormone (like testosterone) that’s secreted from cells in your kidneys, erythropoietin helps regulate the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen through the body and keep your muscles moving. Injecting artificial EPO essentially overrides your body to regulate that healthy, normal production, so you get a massive boost in performance that can also lead to blood clots if unmonitored. The synthetic version, first developed 30 years ago, has been popular with doping cyclists, including Lance Armstrong himself.