Contrary to popular belief, anabolic steroids are a very popular drug in comparison to other drugs utilized commonly among our population. However, anabolic steroids differ very greatly from all other drugs in the following ways: manner of use, the desired effects to be gained from them, and the manner by which they are bought, sold, and traded. The manners by which anabolic steroids are used hold a very high level of influence on their trade in the world (both legal as well as illicit trade). Individuals looking to buy steroids commonly fall into a category of individuals that are highly educated on anabolic steroids and their use. This is very different when compared to the use of other common drugs where recreational drug users will possess very little education or knowledge on use prior to engaging in it.
Those looking to buy steroids will find a whole network of different details ranging from where and how to buy steroids to the different types of products, brands of products, quality of products, manufacturing processes, the issue of counterfeits and fakes, and a multitude of other details that can at first seem overwhelming and confusing. This article will establish a solid groundwork of information in regards to the anabolic steroid black market and trade so that individuals looking to buy steroids will be properly informed on the mechanics and workings of the anabolic steroid market in the world as a whole.
Like all controlled substances, anabolic steroids in countries in which it is illegal to purchase (such as the United States), there will exist a black market under which anabolic steroids can be bought and sold. However, a specific anabolic steroid black market does exist, often exclusive to anabolic steroids and distinctly separate from any other controlled drug/substance. What must also be understood is that the legal status of anabolic steroids is very different from that of most other commonly known drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, etc. where those substances are more or less treated with the same attitudes in almost every country in the world. Anabolic steroids, however, are actually legally available for purchase, use, and consumption in the majority of regions and countries in the world. There also exists a spectrum as to the legality of sale, use, and possession. The United States is one of the only nations on earth that has legislated and criminalized personal possession, use, as well as sale and purchase of anabolic steroids. It is a common misconception that, for example in Canada, anabolic steroids land under the same legal status as in the United States. On the contrary, anabolic steroids landing under Schedule IV substances of the Canadian CDSA (Controlled Drugs and Substances Act) which permit legal personal possession and use but trafficking is illegal. The same can be said for the UK/England, while the majority of other countries in the world do not place legal restrictions on anabolic steroids. The legality in different countries will be discussed in further detail later on in this article.
Because of the varying nature of the legality of anabolic steroids, this places these drugs into a very different light and categorical nature in comparison to other common illicit drugs where their legislation is more or less the same in most countries on the planet.
Brief History of the Anabolic Steroid Black Market
The anabolic steroid black market’s origins dates back to the early 1960s, which was not long after the very first synthetic Testosterone analogues and derivatives were created (approximately 10 years prior) in the 1950s. The truth is that the black market was very small, as the majority of anabolic steroid users looking to buy steroids would purchase them through doctors, medical professionals, and pharmacies as the distribution and sale of anabolic steroids were largely unregulated – there were no laws pertaining to the control of these hormones. During this time, there existed absolutely no underground labs (UGLs) due to the fact that pharmaceutical human grade products were easily obtainable with very little effort. Even anabolic steroid ‘dealers’ and sources at the time that would gather large amounts of pharmaceutical grade anabolic steroids for resale in gyms and such did not face any severe penalties. Not only were black market anabolic steroid dealers a non-concern for law enforcement, but if any anabolic steroid vendors did happen to face penalties, the penalties would amount to nothing more than small fines.
During the 1960s and through to the late 1980s, for many different reasons there still existed many individuals that would prefer to buy steroids through illicit vendors/sources rather than through legitimate means (through a doctor, pharmacies, etc.). This would drive the very tiny black market of the time to seek methods of illicitly obtaining anabolic steroids, which included ‘under the table’ and ‘back-door’ deals with doctors, pharmacists, and even the actual pharmaceutical companies themselves. The main point of this little background story about the history of the anabolic steroid black market is to outline the fact that at this time, almost 100% of the anabolic steroids in circulation at the time were human grade pharmaceutical products. Underground labs were barely heard of, and counterfeit/fake copies of products were equally as rare, and could easily be identified due to the low quality and low budget counterfeit techniques. All of this would soon change as a result of the legislation and criminalization of anabolic steroids.
The mid 1980s marked the beginning of the increased anti-steroid mass media hysteria in regards to their use in sports, potential abuse by teenagers, and the over exaggerated emphasis on the horrible health effects as disseminated by the media and government bodies. Eventually this anti-steroid sentiment rose to extreme levels until anabolic steroids were legislated and placed under controlled substances status in the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990. This act not only criminalized the sale and purchase of anabolic steroids, but also criminalized the personal possession and use, all punishable with excessively harsh penalties. As a result of the legislation, demand for anabolic steroids rose but now supply had been reduced and limited by a great deal.
As is normally the case when any substance is prohibited and made illegal, this generated a massive boom and expansion of the black market trade of anabolic steroids. Alongside this was also an increase in counterfeiting in order to take advantage of the legal situation and the resulting high demand. Because pharmaceutical grade products were wither more difficult to obtain or simply due to the fact that pharmaceutical companies were now discontinuing production of select anabolic steroids, underground labs now began to pop up and spread like wildfire.
It is also extremely ironic that as the anti-steroid sentiment intensified during the 1980s leading to prohibition, it was the associated hype in the media that caused more and more individuals among the population to become more aware of anabolic steroids. This created an increased number of individuals among the population that now became drawn to use and/or try anabolic steroids, which then created a greater demand. This is the result of extensive media coverage at the time.
Between the years of 1960 – 1990, almost all of the products in circulation among anabolic steroid users were pharmaceutical grade human quality anabolic steroids. As of the writing of this article today (2013), the number of pharmaceutical grade human quality products has dropped now to approximately 20% on the anabolic steroid black market, and the remaining 80% of products on the anabolic steroid market consists of underground lab quality products, with a fairly significant portion of that 80% being fake counterfeit products.
This is what individuals looking to buy steroids will face today. A market saturated with products of questionable quality for the most part, and this is a direct result of the controls originally placed upon anabolic steroids.
Two Primary Anabolic Steroid Product Grades
It has been previously mentioned that there exists two primary product types (or grades of product) when it comes to anabolic steroids:
1. Pharmaceutical grade (also referred to as human grade).
2. Underground Lab (UGL) grade
Technically there exists a third: Veterinary grade. But veterinary grade products are most usually manufactured to the same standards as pharmaceutical grade products and are considered to be of the same grade, quality, sterility, and purity as pharmaceutical grade, only intended for use in animals. The only difference where veterinary products are concerned would be that in some countries, veterinary anabolic steroids are under far less strict controls as to the distribution and sale. In many countries, however, veterinary anabolic steroids can be just as strictly controlled as human grade anabolic steroids (within the United States, for example).
Pharmaceutical grade anabolic steroids: Pharmaceutical grade products are defined as products that are manufactured by any FDA-approved (or equivalent organization in a foreign country or region) pharmaceutical company. The benefits of such quality product is that they are rigorously tested, manufactured in sterile environments, all products are as accurately dosed as possible, all products are sterile, and the quality-control among these companies ensures that these products are designed for human use (hence the alternative term of ‘human grade’).
Underground labs: Underground laboratories are labs that are, depending on which country they are in, illegally/illicitly set up for the almost exclusive purpose anabolic steroid manufacturing. The environments under which these labs are run can range anywhere from pharmaceutical grade facilities to small laboratories set up in an individual’s kitchen or basement in their house. As would be expected, UGL products are void of quality control or any oversight by a governing body, and UGL grade products are therefore untested and of uncertain purity and sterility. The advantage over pharmaceutical grade product is always the fact that the prices of UGL anabolic steroid products are far cheaper than pharmaceutical grade products for obvious reasons, and that they are far more common to encounter.
Three Primary Steroid Source Types / Vendors
When individuals begin to shop around looking to purchase steroids, it is very important to understand beforehand the types of vendors commonly encountered on the anabolic steroid black market, of which there are primarily three:
1. ‘In-person’, ‘personally known’, or ‘gym floor’ sources.
2. Internet website sources that limit buyers to a minimum order amount.
3. Internet website sources that do not limit buyers to minimum order amounts and instead allow small single-bottle orders.
Before delving into the descriptions of the three different primary source types, readers must first understand the importance of the internet and the steroid black market dynamic on the internet before making the decision to buy steroids.
The one vastly important game-changer when it came to the anabolic steroid black market in the post-legislation era after 1990 is: the internet. The internet could be considered a double-edged sword where the trade of anabolic steroids (or any drug) is concerned. On one hand, the internet has provided the opportunity for any individual anywhere in the world to buy steroids with great convenience and ease. It has also provided any individual with the ability to access a much wider/broader range of products with ease. This is in contrast with the anabolic steroid black market of the past where only a select limited number of branded products would be available locally to an individual working through a local ‘dealer’ they would interact with in person. This could be said for anything that the internet has brought convenience and ease of access to. However, the vast increase in convenience and broad reach of the internet has also brought with it a vast increase in counterfeit operations and a broad reach of counterfeit operations aimed simply to distribute fake products to unsuspecting buyers for quick large profits. There even exist different types of scamming operations.
1. ‘In-person’, ‘personally known’, or ‘gym floor’ sources: These are what one would typically expect them to be, some vendor/dealer/source that is met and dealt with in-person. They are also referred to as ‘gym floor sources’ because they are commonly known to be found in and around gyms. Prices associated with these sources are generally very reasonable, although no predictions can be made between individuals and while one personally known vendor may offer products at a particular price, another may offer higher priced products. Many of them may also restrict buyers to minimum order limits (this will be explained shortly) while others do not, and depends on the individual in question selling the anabolic steroids.
2. Internet website sources that limit buyers to a minimum order amount: These are anabolic steroid sources/vendors located online mostly in the form of websites (but can also be located in the form of e-mail correspondence where individuals looking to buy steroids will mail-order). These are internet/website sources in particular that limit buyers to minimum order limits normally possess the same types of pricing. However, those attempting to purchase steroids on the internet should at all times be aware of the distinct pricing differences between websites that set minimum order limits compared to those that do not do so (if not made aware prior to shopping/buying, individuals will usually notice this on their own accord). These sources/vendors that do restrict buyers to minimum order limits will typically set a minimum limit of between an average of $200 – $400 worth of total product purchased before allowing an order to be processed. This allows ‘minimum order limit’ sources to justify lower prices per item due to the larger sales amounts. Many of these sources will offer increasingly greater discounts the larger an order is (bulk orders).
3. Internet website sources that do not limit buyers to minimum order amounts: Websites that do not set minimum order limits allow individuals to purchase steroids in very small quantities (1 – 2 bottle orders, for example), and because these types of vendors tend to make small sales as opposed to large quantity sales, prices are frequently inflated to make up for the logistical costs of small orders. Prices of anabolic steroids sold by sources such as these will commonly be anywhere between $20 – $40 higher than sources that do not set minimum order limits (or higher than the stated range, depending on the source in question). Often times there will be internet website sources that will offer both small orders involving higher priced items, and an option to also place an order for lower priced items at the exchange of having to place an order that meets a minimum order limit.
Quality of products on the current market is often a concern. Individuals upon first shopping around to buy steroids will usually only seek out pharmaceutical grade quality products out of the fear of the unknown quality concerns with underground lab products. This is understandable, but these individuals must be realistic and realize that the reality of the situation is that pharmaceutical products are far and few in-between on the anabolic steroid black market today. The other concern is the fact that pharmaceutical grade products are by far the most counterfeited and faked items in existence. Also, as previously mentioned, the vast majority of products are UGL grade anabolic steroids, and as much as this may be something that nobody likes or wishes to deal with, it is almost the only choice available for those who wish to partake in the endeavor of anabolic steroid use. With that having been established, individuals should fully understand the risks involved in making the decision to buy steroids and be aware of the varying degrees of product quality (and the risks).
When underground lab products are concerned, there have been some interesting studies and lab analysis conducted in recent years that should shed some light on the general quality of underground lab products. It must be remembered, however, that underground lab quality anabolic steroids can range from very poor quality to very high quality, and that not all underground labs manufacture underdosed products or products that contain contaminants. However, improperly dosed and contaminated products do pose a large issue on the anabolic steroids black market and it is common enough of an occurrence that the risks are not minor by any means.
The Hartford Courant in 2005 conducted a small informal study in which they ordered over 12 anabolic steroid products from the three most popular anabolic steroid-vending websites at the time. After receiving product, they were sent to a laboratory to be analyzed not just for presence of advertised product, but an analysis of anything that could be located within the products. The 12 samples purchased online contained none of the labeled content. Whichever product was located within the vials/bottles was underdosed or overdosed, certain ingredients were substituted, and contamination in particular was a big concern. Some of the following contaminants were found following the lab tests: Prednisone, Betamethasone (both are corticosteroids), Diethylstilbestrol (a type of phytoestrogen), benzyl chloride, lead, tin, arsenic, and furfural (an industrial chemical).
In 2007, William Llewelyn (the author of the famous Anabolics series of books) had conducted his own small study and analysis on the variety of anabolic steroids found online. In the book Anabolics 2007, it was determined that from 14 samples tested (purchased from European anabolic steroid sales websites) that 21% of the products contained heavy metals, 64% were either underdosed or overdosed, and 57% of the products contained contaminants of a varying nature. In the 10th edition of his book, Anabolics 2010, he conducted another small study of 24 samples this time (once again purchased from a European internet-based anabolic steroid vendor). This time around, it was determined that 6 of the samples (approximately 25%) were actually unsterile and contained bacteria, 17 samples contained contaminants such as anabolic steroids not listed on the label as well as other materials such as: food preservatives (BHT), plasticizers (Bis 2-ethyl hexyl phthalate), kerosene, amines, carboline, and fatty acids.
The results of these examinations, studies, and analysis leads to the conclusion that an anabolic steroid product of questionable quality located online is indeed a stark concern. Although the products mentioned were purchased through online website sources, the same quality issues can easily translate to personally-known sources (such as gym dealers and other types of personally known sources). These source types very frequently deal in the same types of products found on the internet as well, and the fact of the matter is that the internet is the distribution hub for all anabolic steroid dealers, sources, and vendors that are involved in the anabolic steroid black market trade. The important point to take home following this information is not that the internet is the problem. The problem is the fact that the black market changed drastically during the late 1980s and the early 1990s because of the legislation and criminalization of anabolic steroids. That is the reason why such harmful products and products of questionable quality exist today.
The manufacturing processes for the synthesis and brewing of anabolic steroids is actually quite a simple and straightforward procedure that can be done anywhere (and indeed is). What must be understood, however, is the process by which the raw materials are manufactured and used by underground labs (or individuals) to produce oil-based injectable final products, and/or tablets.
Raw anabolic steroid material (in the form of raw anabolic steroid powders) originates in countries where there exists either no regulation where the manufacturing of drugs is concerned, or where there exist very lax regulations. China is perhaps the most prominent country of raw material origin, and many Asian countries follow suit as well as plenty of Eastern European countries. This occurs in the Middle East as well, and to a lesser extent in Africa. China, however, remains the number one home to suppliers of raw ingredients for the manufacture of anabolic steroid products by underground labs or individuals. The raw powders are then smuggled via a plethora of different methods into countries in which underground labs are established. Raw powders are also smuggled into countries or regions where anabolic steroid regulations are much tighter (North America and Europe, for example). Following this, the receiving underground labs will then ‘brew’ the products into injectable forms and tablets/pills where they are then packaged and marketed for sale and consumption on the anabolic steroid black market previously covered in this article.
China and similar related countries have been long since established as a reliable source for raw materials. These raw materials are manufactured by legitimate approved drug manufacturing companies within China. However, the underground anabolic steroid black market is primarily supplied by general chemical manufacturing companies, of which there is a large abundance within China. It is common knowledge that the methods of chemical synthesis for many drugs are very similar and almost the exact same, with the only difference being that there may be different chemicals required for the synthesis of one particular drug compared to another. These companies, however, are not medical/pharmaceutical based chemical manufacturing companies but are instead industrial chemical companies that manufacture chemicals used in common industry (paints, dyes, cleaning chemicals, glues, fertilizers, pesticides, etc.) and although they are industrial chemical manufacturing companies, they possess the viable equipment, technology, and materials to manufacture raw anabolic steroid powders.
The issue here is that because they are manufactured under conditions ideal for industrial chemical synthesis, the raw anabolic steroid ingredients synthesized are not manufactured under the same conditions as medical/pharmaceutical chemical manufacturing companies. As a result, this is where there exists the risk of contamination in the raw materials that are sent to underground labs. Often times there may be traces of metals in the final product as a result of chemical reactions occurring within improper containment, or improper reactants/ingredients used in the reaction. These raw anabolic steroid powders are then supplied to the underground labs.
As previously mentioned, underground lab operations can range in size from very small to very large, where sometimes large industrial level facilities are utilized to mass-produce anabolic steroids and followed by mass-packaging on a large scale. Often times these types of large-scale underground lab operations will be established in countries that hold very little or no regulation as to the acceptability of running such operations. It is then from these regions and countries that the final underground lab’s anabolic steroids are exported for sale and consumption.
Aside from underground labs manufacturing the raw materials into useable injectable products or oral tablets, individuals can and indeed do this as well. This is what is known as ‘home brewing’, and is labeled as such due to the fact that many individuals will do this within the comfort and convenience of their own home. Many anabolic steroid users will elect to home brew their anabolic steroids mostly out of the assurance that they have control over their own manufacturing process, and that they do not have to rely on an underground lab manufacturing their products for them. The manufacturing process required to generate injectable products, for example, do not require complex knowledge of chemistry, and many guides that list step-by-step instructions as to how to go about doing this can be found on the internet with great ease. Once again, the issue in such a case is that of sterility as these anabolic steroids are not manufactured in pharmaceutical grade facilities. Nevertheless, many anabolic steroid users consider home brewing to be a much more viable option due to the amount of control they hold over the manufacturing process in comparison to utilizing an underground lab product that is manufactured in an unknown location by unknown individuals in an environment in which the sterility and quality is unknown.
Counterfeits and Fake Steroids
This is a very important section of this article, yet the shortest. Counterfeit operations in the early era of the anabolic steroid black market were far and few in between for the reasons stated earlier in the article. This is because legitimate pharmaceutical products were very easy to obtain seeing as though anabolic steroids were uncontrolled and unscheduled substances at the time. There was no initiative for law enforcement to attempt to control the trade of anabolic steroids or curtail the anabolic steroid black market at the time, which was almost nonexistent. Though counterfeit operations were very few and unheard of, they still did indeed exist between the years of 1960 – 1990.
Such counterfeit operations were very low-budget and poor quality schemes whereby fake products could easily be spotted. Some of the more sophisticated counterfeits and fakes were slightly better at reproducing the design elements of the original pharmaceutical products, but under a trained eye one would easily be able to spot inconsistencies and poor replication of design in the counterfeit products. This is because the first counterfeiting operations were of a very small proportion done with very basic equipment.
As of the writing of this article today (2013), counterfeit products and operations run rampant. Fake replicas of pharmaceutical products are of very high quality reproduction and highly funded operations. Readers will be very disappointed to hear that there exists no possible method by which to efficiently spot counterfeit products today. Counterfeit products today are high sophisticated and are manufactured by what would be considered industrial scale counterfeit operations. Because of the controls and legislation placed on anabolic steroids after 1990, the anabolic steroid black market entered a massive boom, which resulted in a very high amount of potential profits for those involved in the anabolic steroid trade. With the advent of the opportunity to make very large amounts of money, a new better funded, higher scale level of counterfeiting operations has entered the scene in order to attempt to reap these potential high profits as well.Counterfeiting today is so sophisticated that it is now impossible to be able to differentiate between a real product and a counterfeit. Even the inclusion of various security systems (i.e. holographic stickers, invisible markings, unique symbols) set in place by pharmaceutical companies have been effectively duplicated by these highly sophisticated counterfeit operations. Therefore, it is no longer possible to provide readers and individuals with a list of various signs and details to look for when purchasing anabolic steroid products (i.e. checking for markings on boxes/vials, checking for hologram stickers, checking for printing errors, checking for the appropriate shape of the ampoules and boxes, etc.). These no longer work. Counterfeiting in fact has become such a major problem that it has even reached the legitimate pharmaceutical and medical prescription market where counterfeits of various anabolic steroids have even unsuspectingly reached legitimate pharmacies in the United States, where upon discovery of this, pharmacies had to be shut down and investigations initiated. The only deterrent against counterfeit products today is to ensure that pharmaceutical companies ensure that serial numbers and batch numbers are affixed to the product that can then be verified through contacting the pharmaceutical company itself (either through their website or other methods of contact).
Legality and Penalties of Steroids
Finally, every individual looking to buy steroids must be aware of the laws concerning anabolic steroid use in their respective country. The most prominent major countries in the world where anabolic steroid use is most prevalent will be covered here.
USA: In the United States, anabolic steroids are classified as a Schedule III drug in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), originally legislated by the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990 and in 1991 scheduled under the CSA as a Schedule III drug whereby possession and use of anabolic steroids are be considered a criminal offense. The Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990 defines anabolic steroids as “as any drug or hormonal substance chemically and pharmacologically related to testosterone (other than Estrogens, Progestins, and Corticosteroids) that promotes muscle growth”. Trafficking, importation, and the purchase of any anabolic steroid are treated as criminal acts. Possession of anabolic steroids carry penalties of at least 1 year in prison and a $1,000 fine for an individual’s first offense under federal law. Trafficking under federal law carries a five year prison sentence and a $250,000 minimum fine if it is a first-offense. Second offenses double the aforementioned penalties. Aside from federal law, individual states have also imposed additional varying state laws in regards to the illegal use and/or trafficking of anabolic steroids.
UK/England: In the United Kingdom, anabolic steroids fall under Class C drugs for their abuse potential, but are specifically scheduled as Schedule IV drugs, whereby possession and use of anabolic steroids is legal for personal use. Importing anabolic steroids for personal use and possession is also not a felony.
Canada: In Canada, a similar law to that of the UK runs true where anabolic steroids are classified as a Schedule IV drug, whereby possession and use of anabolic steroids is not a felony and is legal. However, trafficking of the substance is a felony. As stated in the Canadian CDSA (Controlled Drugs and Substances Act), trafficking penalties range from a maximum $1000 fine for a first offence and/or maximum 6 months imprisonment to a maximum $2000 fine for subsequent offences and/or maximum 1 year imprisonment.
Australia: Australia possesses perhaps the strictest anabolic steroid control laws in the whole world to the extent where many consider it to be tantamount to a totalitarian dictatorship. Under the Poisons and Drugs Act Amendment of 1994, the possession, importation, sales, purchasing, or use of anabolic steroids without a doctor prescription is considered a criminal offense. Penalties include 6 months imprisonment maximum with a possible fine of $5,000.
All individuals looking to purchase steroids must be aware of the legality and laws surrounding it in whichever country the person resides. It is important to research beforehand in order to make the appropriate decisions and what to expect.