Many people wonder about the safety of anabolic steroid drugs. The media has demonized this category of drugs to the extent that the consensus of the public is that they are toxic substances. In fact, anabolic steroids were never developed for athletic usage or to help build muscle in athletes and bodybuilders. They were developed in the 1950s and more extensively in the 60s because of inherent problems with testosterone. All anabolic steroids are structurally manipulated forms of testosterone. Testosterone itself was initially isolated in 1934, then produced synthetically a year later. Soon afterward it became evident that testosterone could have a number of medical uses. The most obvious use was to treat men with clinically established low testosterone levels. One of the first medical indications for testosterone was to treat depression in men. This makes sense since one of the primary symptoms of low testosterone is an increased tendency to get depressed. Of course, other things can cause depression besides testosterone, but nonetheless, testosterone was widely prescribed in the early 1940s to treat depression and lack of libido or low sex drive in men. This initial use of testosterone, however, didn't last long. A study published in 1941 featuring just two subjects suggested that testosterone could promote prostate cancer. This was a flawed study because the subjects started with low testosterone levels, and they were provided with testosterone. The testosterone appeared to speed the growth of prostate tumors. But in reality, we know today that providing men who have been low in testosterone for years with the hormone constitutes the only risk of testosterone in relation to prostate cancer. The reason for this has to do with a sudden reintroduction of testosterone to the prostate. If there is an existing tumor in the gland, testosterone may promote a growth effect. But normal levels of testosterone do not, since the prostate gland will only accept a finite amount of testosterone.
In the late 50s, scientists decided it would be safer to manipulate the structure of testosterone in the hope of improving safety. The goal involved an emphasis on promoting anabolic effects, such as increased muscle mass, red blood cell production, and other positive effects in the body, while lowering the androgenic effect. Among the androgenic effects of testosterone are prostate gland stimulation, male pattern baldness, and other effects considered less desirable. While thousands of anabolic steroids were developed in the early 60s, only a small percentage progressed to market sales by pharmaceutical companies. The other steroids developed remained on the shelf for a number of reasons, most involving either no advantage over existing anabolic steroid drugs or increased risks of toxicity as shown in preliminary animal testing. Ironically, many of these older anabolic steroid drugs were resurrected 40 years later and sold as "prohormones." The problem there was that . . .