Steroids and Other Appearance and Performance Enhancing Drugs (APEDs) Research Report
What is the history of anabolic steroid use?

Testosterone was first synthesized in Germany in 193515 and was used medically to treat depression.16 Professional athletes began misusing anabolic steroids during the 1954 Olympics, when Russian weightlifters were given testosterone.17 In the 1980s, anabolic steroid use began to extend into the general population, and young men began using these substances, sometimes to enhance athletic performance but in most cases to improve personal appearance.18

Most anabolic steroid users are male non-athletes aiming to improve their appearance by building muscle, and use of steroids is strongly tied to a male body image disorder called muscle dysmorphia (see “Who uses anabolic steroids?").19 Just as female body image disorders have been linked to unrealistic portrayals of the female form in fashion magazines and popular culture, muscle dysmorphia in males is linked to exaggerated physiques in action movies and other media over the past three decades.19

Congress passed the Anabolic Steroid Act of 1990 to respond to the increasing levels of illicit traffic in steroids. This Act identified anabolic steroids as a separate drug class and categorized over two dozen drugs as controlled substances. The Act also gave a four-part definition of this drug class, which allowed for flexibility in controlling new anabolic steroids as they were synthesized. In 2004, Congress enacted the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004, which banned over-the-counter steroid precursors; increased penalties for making, selling, or possessing illegal steroid precursors; and provided funds for preventative educational efforts.20

Other countries, such as Mexico and some European nations, where steroids are available without prescription, are the main sources of illegal steroids smuggled into the United States. Less common illicit sources include diversion from legitimate sources (e.g., thefts or inappropriate prescribing) or production within clandestine laboratories.21

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This chart shows the historical timeline of development and effects of anabolic steroids from 1930 through 2012.
Source: Pope, Wood, Rogol, Nyberg, Bowers, Bhasin. Endocrine Reviews. 2014.
A historical timeline of anabolic steroids.