The Law Dictionary

Your Free Online Legal Dictionary • Featuring Black’s Law Dictionary, 2nd Ed.

Why Are Steroids Illegal?

Anabolic steroids are a form of synthetic testosterone that may be prescribed by doctors but are illegal for use without a prescription. They are classified as a Schedule III controlled substance with possession carrying a $1,000 fine and a year in prison, according to federal law. Trafficking carries up to a $250,000 fine and five years in prison for a first offense.

It should be noted that when we discuss illegal steroids, we are talking about anabolic steroids rather than corticosteroids, which are prescribed to reduce swelling and prevent overactive immune response. Anabolic steroids are used to build muscle and replace diminished testosterone in specific, limited medical cases, while corticosteroids are available as over-the-counter medicine.

Health risks of steroids

Anabolic steroids are illegal due to their proven health risks for individuals who take them. As a powerful hormone, they can cause unexpected and unwanted side effects for individuals who abuse them beyond a doctor’s prescription. Side effects include:

  • Infertility and impotence in men
  • Breast development and testicular shrinkage in men
  • Excessive face and body hair development in women
  • Deepened voice, menstrual irregularities and reduced breast size in women
  • Acne, oily scalp, jaundice, mood swings, delusions and baldness in both men and women
  • Increased risk of high cholesterol, liver disease, liver cancer and heart attack

As a controlled substance, anabolic steroids are kept illegal to prevent people from suffering unwanted health effects. Their illegality keeps the general public that may not know the full risks safe from harm.

When steroids are legal

Anabolic steroids are only legal if a doctor prescribes them. Doctors will only prescribe anabolic steroids if a patient:

  • Requires bone marrow stimulation or prevention of bone loss
  • Needs artificial induction of male puberty
  • Needs appetite stimulation and preservation of muscle mass due to wasting conditions such as AIDS or cancer
  • Decides to undergo gender reassignment procedures

Steroids and professional sports

Many professional athletes take steroids illegally, which not only represent a potential felony convictions but may also result in permanent career damages. People take steroids because it helps them build muscle quickly and perform more effectively at top levels. However, they are considered cheating by many sports enthusiasts, and they are banned from use because no organization wants to lend its support to a practice that leads to severe health risks for the sake of improved athletic performance.


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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