Steroid Fact Sheet

Athletes who are trying to maintain a certain weight, gain weight or develop muscle sometimes use steroids. Too many young men and women rush into using steroids without knowing all the facts. They often rely on advice from other users and friends – advice that can be incomplete, inaccurate and dangerous.

What are anabolic steroids?

Anabolic steroids are a synthetic version of testosterone, the male sex hormone responsible for the growth of long bones and muscles, and for masculine features such as facial hair and a deeper voice. Steroids are strong prescription drugs with specific medical purposes. They are a controlled substance, treated similarly in law to heroin or cocaine. This has fueled the supply and sale of steroids on the black market, where some come from licensed manufacturers, but most are counterfeit. As a result, the steroids that young people take may be impure or unclean.

What are the risks?

Steroids are powerful drugs with dangerous side effects. But because some of the consequences aren’t immediately apparent or may seem minor, steroid users may have a false sense of security. Most dangerous, close to 7,500 adolescent users in Canada are sharing needles and vials when they inject steroids. They risk sacrificing their life to AIDS.

Physical Side Effects

  • Persistent headaches, nosebleeds and stomach aches
  • Severe acne on face and body
  • Damage to liver and kidneys
  • High blood pressure and increased cholesterol levels, which may lead to heart disease       
  • Premature fusion of the long bones, which may lead to stunted growth      
  • Weak immune system
  • Decreased joint flexibility      
  • Increased risk of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis if steroids are injected  

In males:

  • Hair loss
  • Breast enlargement
  • Shrunken testicles and lowered sperm count, which may lead to sterility and impotence    

In females:

  • Male pattern balding
  • Growth of facial and body hair
  • Deepening of voice
  • Development of an Adam’s apple
  • Loss of period and infertility

Psychological Side Effects

  • Increased aggressiveness and burst of anger, also known as "roid rage"
  • Frequent and severe mood swings
  • Paranoia, sometimes leading to violence

Some users take other drugs to cover up the negative side-effects of steroid use, such as acne or high blood pressure. These other drugs have side-effects of their own, which may become more severe when taken with steroids. The result? A chemical stew.

In addition to using steroids, many athletes try to "bulk up" using nutritional supplements or powders. The most common supplements on the market include Creatine, Andro, DHEA, Thunder Nectar, Inner G, and Amino Flex. The ease with which these items can be purchased can send the message to athletes and their families that they are not harmful to the body. In reality, Health Canada has given warnings about several nutritional supplements, stating that they can have serious side effects such as agitation, vomiting, incontinence, amnesia and breathing difficulties. Before using these or any other nutritional supplements, powder or pill, it is important to check with your doctor about the potential risks and side effects.

Do anabolic steroids work?

Anabolic steroids increase muscle size and therefore help to increase strength. That’s why steroids are so appealing to young men. Regular exercise alone will help to increase strength, but steroids give muscles the potential to grow stronger and bigger more quickly.

But there’s no magic to steroids. They will not automatically provide young men with the look they want. Few young men can build the type of body seen in ads and videos. Factors such as age, race, and genetics play a large role in determining the shape and size of our bodies. No amount of steroids can change that fact.

Unfortunately, some men will always believe their bodies could look better. They will never be satisfied, even if they use steroids.

For more information on steroids, nutritional supplements, and anti-doping campaigns, please go to the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport website at