How are anabolic steroids abused?
Some anabolic steroids are taken orally, others are injected intramuscularly, and still others are provided in gels or creams that are applied to the skin. Doses taken by abusers can be 10 to 100 times higher than the doses used for medical conditions.
Cycling, stacking, and pyramiding
Steroids are often abused in patterns called "cycling," which involve taking multiple doses of steroids over a specific period of time, stopping for a period, and starting again. Users also frequently combine several different types of steroids in a process known as "stacking." Steroid abusers typically "stack" the drugs, meaning that they take two or more different anabolic steroids, mixing oral and/or injectable types, and sometimes even including compounds that are designed for veterinary use.Abusers think that the different steroids interact to produce an effect on muscle size that is greater than the effects of each drug individually, a theory that has not been tested scientifically.
Another mode of steroid abuse is referred to as "pyramiding." This is a process in which users slowly escalate steroid abuse (increasing the number of steroids or the dose and frequency of one or more steroids used at one time), reaching a peak amount at mid-cycle and gradually tapering the dose toward the end of the cycle. Often, steroid abusers pyramid their doses in cycles of 6 to 12 weeks. At the beginning of a cycle, the person starts with low doses of the drugs being stacked and then slowly increases the doses. In the second half of the cycle, the doses are slowly decreased to zero. This is sometimes followed by a second cycle in which the person continues to train but without drugs. Abusers believe that pyramiding allows the body time to adjust to the high doses, and the drug-free cycle allows the body's hormonal system time to recuperate. As with stacking, the perceived benefits of pyramiding and cycling have not been substantiated scientifically.
This series of reports simplifies the science of research findings for the educated lay public, legislators, educational groups, and practitioners. The series reports on research findings of national interest.