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What are the different types of anabolic steroids?


 
      Testosterone, like many other hormones, is produced only at
 certain sites in the body.  It does very limited, specific
 functions and is quickly metabolized.  When testosterone was found
 to build muscle tissue and to cause the development of male
 secondary sex characteristics, medical researchers tried to use
 testosterone to treat diseases that caused the loss of muscle
 mass.(1-3)

      Unfortunately, testosterone in its natural form has a half
 life of only about ten minutes in the body.(4)  This means
 that half of the dose of testosterone is metabolized away in as
 little as ten minutes after it is absorbed.  Half of what remains
 is broken down every ten minutes after that.  At the end of an
 hour, none of the original dose of testosterone can be detected in
 the body.  Injecting natural testosterone into muscle can make it
 last as long as ten hours, but this is still not nearly long enough
 to be useful as a medicine.(1)  

      Medicinal chemists began to alter natural testosterone in an
 attempt to make drugs that would work like testosterone but last
 long enough in the body to have an effect.  After extensive
 testing, they found that changing the testosterone molecule at one
 of only a few specific places would give them what they wanted--
 anabolic steroid drugs.(5)  These variations are known by
 chemists as "17-alpha-alkylates", "17-beta-esters", and "1-methyl"
 steroids.(5)  All anabolic steroids in use today are
 variations of one of those three changes to the testosterone
 molecule.  These chemical classes of anabolics are taken by
 different routes and have different side effects on the body.  The
 17-alpha-alkylates and 1-methyl compounds are taken by mouth, while
 17-beta-esters must be injected to be effective.(1,5) 
 For convenience, they will be classified here as oral or injectable
 steroids.


      Oral Steroids:

      Oral steroids can be detected in the body for several weeks
 after a person stops taking them.(6)  This is enough time to
 make them useful as medicines, but still a short duration of action
 compared with the injectable steroids.(7)

      Athletes usually experiment with oral anabolics at first. 
 They are convenient to store and use, but cause severe side effects
 to the liver in addition to the side effects caused by all
 anabolics.(8-10)  These side effects are described
 in detail under the question, "Do anabolic steroids cause liver
 damage?"  

      An athlete will usually continue to use oral drugs even when
 he or she begins using injectable steroids.  Some use orals to make
 it easier to escape drug detection tests:  Most oral anabolic
 steroids do not remain in the body as long as injectables.  As an
 event approaches, an athlete may use shorter-duration oral
 steroids, then stop using four to six weeks before the event so
 that the urine will be steroid-free for urine testing.  

      Many athletes and trainers also believe that it is necessary
 to use oral and injectable steroids at the same time, in certain
 patterns.  This topic is covered in detail under the question, "How
 are anabolics used by athletes?"
 

      Injectable Steroids:

      Injectable anabolics are injected into muscle tissue, not into
 the veins.  They are slowly released from the muscles into the rest
 of the body, and may be detectable for months after last
 use.(11)  Chemically, the injectable steroids are better
 tolerated by the body than the oral steroids.  Long-term steroid
 abusers begin to use them for this reason.  However, injection of
 any substance creates its own risks and health problems.  

      Injecting a drug bypasses the body's natural defense
 mechanisms against poisoning and infection.  If a person
 accidentally swallows too much of a drug, he or she may vomit
 before enough has been absorbed to cause death.  If a person
 inhales poisonous smoke or fumes, the coughing reflex may prevent
 poisoning.  But if a person injects too much of a drug, there is no
 easy way to get it back out of the body.

      When injections are given in a doctor's office or at the
 hospital, great care is taken to sterilize the skin before the drug
 is given.  Diabetics are taught how to take these same precautions
 so that when they inject insulin, they do not cause infection. 
 Without such precautions, the needle has the ability to carry dirt
 and bacteria past the protection of the skin.  Hepatitis,
 abscesses, and other infections often result from lack of good
 sterile technique.(8,12)   There have been two cases of
 AIDS reported in body builders who shared needles with other body
 builders.(8,13)

      Injectable anabolics are considered gateway drugs to
 injectable drug abuse:  A person who becomes accustomed to
 injecting anabolics will be more likely to experiment with
 injecting other drugs than a person who has never injected
 anything.  This gateway principle applies to other drugs as well. 
 For example, people who smoke tobacco are more likely to try
 smoking marijuana or crack than those who do not smoke at all.

      In our society, people do not enjoy injecting themselves with
 syringes.  Even diabetics learn to do it only with difficulty.  A
 steroid abuser who becomes accustomed to injecting him- or herself
 with anabolics has a higher risk of injecting cocaine or heroin
 than an illicit drug user who does not inject.
 

       

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REFERENCES 1. Scott MJ, Scott MJ. HIV infection associated with injections of anabolic steroids. J Am Med Assoc 1989 Jul;262(2):207- 8. by Trent Tschirgi, R. Ph. (c) 1992 University of Maryland Office of Substance Abuse Studies. All Rights Reserved.
Disclaimer: Steroid use is illegal in a vast number of countries around the world. This is not without reason. Steroids should only be used when prescribed by your doctor and under close supervision. Steroid use is not to be taken lightly and we do not in any way endorse or approve of illegal drug use. The information is provided on the same basis as all the other information on this site, as informational/entertainment value.

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