The Body Beautiful - Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs

performance enhancing drugs

Anabolic steroids and other performance enhancement drugs are big business. Whether it's elite sportsmen and dodgy doctors, or shady internet suppliers and gym junkies, or just young guys needing to be buff for the beach, I can’t seem to turn up to a conference these days without hearing about steroids.

Up and down the country I am hearing from staff who work in needle exchange programs and drug services in the UK telling me about the big buff guys who are turning up asking for big syringes. Just in case you are wondering, by big I mean those with long fat needles (long enough to get into your buttock muscles) in which you can draw up more than the usual 1ml of fluid. That’s quite different to those tiny needles used by heroin injectors who long ago high jacked B+D 1ml syringes used by diabetics for injecting their insulin.

But it’s not just anabolic (muscle building) steroids anymore. More and more people are exploring the web for synthetic analogies of natural (made by the human body) substances like growth hormone to assist with weight loss and the reinvigoration of aging bodies with sagging sex drives and self-belief. In Wales, staff recently told me about big lads from the Valleys with deep tans turning up reporting they were injecting melanotan. And, in Australia a few months ago security guards the size of small caravans complained at the rage and scariness that drunk steroid-driven punters cause them on the doors to posh venues. When I asked the guards if they ever used them the answer was a firm no; "no point being massive if your dick doesn’t work and your balls shrivel up mate."

Add these stories to the adverts on every street corner for botox, dermal fillers and magic slimming pills, the Global Drug Survey (GDS) was left not only feeling rather fat and flabby but a bit curious. So, we decided we’d better take a look into the whole issue of Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs (PIEDs). We tracked down two friends and experts in the field -- Jim McVeigh and Martin Chandler at John Moore’s University in Liverpool -- to find out some of the truth behind, what so far for us,  has been rather interesting anecdote. We also thought it would be nice to accompany our focus on cognitive enhancers.

This year we will conduct the world’s biggest ever study on the use of PIEDs. We’ll be asking just what people are using and why. We’ll find out if people are getting all that they bargained for and what if any health worries they experience. We’ll find out what people are using around the world to lose weight, keep buff, turn brown or stay hard. We’ll find out if their balls really do shrink and if they go bald. To keep my colleagues in public health happy we’ll also ask about injecting practices among groups of people who may never have been taught what to do with a needle or were to put it.

So, if you have experience with PIEDs and would like to add your experiences to thousands of other people so we can get the best information to you next year, please take the time to take part in the 2015 Global Drug Survey here.


Dr. Adam Winstock is a consultant addiction psychiatrist and founder of the Global Drug Survey (GDS).