Summary: David Crosland - Steroids - the Overlooked Crime

30 October 2019 to 30 October 2020

Ian Bridges, PNLD Legal Adviser, provides an overview of David Crosland’s presentation: ‘Steroids – The Overlooked Crime’, given at our Criminal Law Conference on Thursday 17th October 2019.

At this year’s PNLD conference, David Crosland provided a very informative and practical presentation on ‘Steroids - the Overlooked Crime’.

David has been involved in the world of bodybuilding and steroid use for 25 years, and is recognised as an image and performance enhancing drugs (IPED) specialist. He works with the inter agency drug management team on steroid usage research at John Moore’s University Hospital. He also provides expert support to the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), to other official bodies/agencies and to police forces.

David began by giving a summary of what he intended to discuss, including the individual compounds within steroids, what they are, the history of steroids and the physical and mental health impact that they have. He then intended to look at the manufacture and business of steroids, the marketing, finances and the potential to self-fund.


David noted that you can call them what you want - PEDs (performance enhancing drugs) or PIEDs/IPEDs (image and performing enhancing drugs) - it doesn’t really matter. They cover steroids, human growth hormone (HGH), peptides, trenbolone, and fat burners. Some of these drugs are medications that are used to deal with side effects, generally for oestrogen control; they are counter drugs and growth hormones (growth hormones are legal, being a precursor hormone to steroids). He noted that every steroid is a derivative of one of the following three hormones: testosterone the primary male hormone, nandrolone, or dihydrotestosterone.

Most people will be familiar with the steroid injections that a doctor can give for a damaged ligament say, but David confirmed that what he was looking at were anabolic steroids, used for muscle building properties, and androgenic steroids. He noted that these can result in numerous side effects, which are particularly noticeable in females. He then showed two pictures of a female, each with completely different facial features, one being visibly more masculine, and confirmed that it was the same person in each picture (before and after steroid use).

Steroid history

David provided a brief history of the development of steroids. The first steroid was created in 1931 by extracting it from 700 litres of urine. After that, development was increased, and by 1965, pretty much every steroid that is available today had been developed. They are not undergoing a lot of new development, but what is happening is that old drugs that were created years ago are now being re-discovered and used by sports people, body builders and so forth.

In 1958 the Americans competed against the Russians in a world athletics event, in which the Russians easily beat them. The American coach then ascertained that the Russians were using testosterone, but that some of the men were having problems with side effects. After this event, Ciba labs did research into the use of testosterone, and developed dianabol, an oral steroid, with no medical use; dianabol is the only steroid that has been developed purely for sports use. When it was released for public use, it was claimed that it was a treatment for dwarfism and the relevant authorities tried to withdraw the drug, but by then it was too late, as it was already being regularly used and was freely available to the public.

How do steroids work?

David explained that steroids cause the body to retain nitrogen, absorb protein more effectively, increase the red blood cell (RBC) count, transport nutrients and oxygen more effectively, and increase muscular hydration which drives water into muscle, increasing the muscle strength – in short, they make you bigger, stronger and faster. There is no natural alternative or drug that grows muscles like steroids do and that is the reason why steroid use is so popular. He then showed pictures to illustrate how much muscles develop using steroids, in just a 14 week period.

When you inject artificial testosterone into your body, your natural production stops working, and there is no guarantee that this will be recovered afterwards. 80% of repeat users of steroids have destroyed their endocrine system, and this is where steroid use is different to other drugs, because the dependency of the user grows until they are medically dependant on the drug, and so have to use it. As a result of this you get an influx of new users, but you don’t get a drop off at the other end to balance that out, causing a constant growth in the use of steroids.

Adverse side effects

In relation to side effects, David noted that the increased RBC count means high blood pressure; the blood will be thicker and will move more slowly, putting the heart under a great deal of strain. The heart walls will start to thicken to cope with this thicker blood and the heart will lose elasticity. Some of the biggest health impacts on steroid users are heart disease, cardiac arrest, strokes and blood clots.

Other effects include: bloating (particularly with orals), stomach lining being affected, liver toxicity/damage, an adverse effect on the digestive system, kidney disease, severe acne on the face and back, nausea, urinary and bowel problems, aching joints, mood swings (paranoia/anxiety), depression, memory loss (both short and long term), and a reduction in higher level thinking. Aggression becomes prevalent, as steroid use has such a huge impact on the brain.  Steroids weaken tendons, but physical training strengthens the tendon, so it balances this out. However, steroids rapidly increase muscle strength at a much faster rate than tendons can increase in strength, and as a result, muscle tears and tendon injuries are quite common in users.

David confirmed that steroids can be used in sex gender re-assignment. We are all conceived female, which is why men have nipples and mammary tissue in their ‘breasts’, but when you increase testosterone, it is converted to oestrogen. Taking steroids increases testosterone, which is converted to oestrogen, and if those oestrogen levels are not managed, men can develop female breasts. Similarly, females can develop male characteristics. Male side effects also include impotence, reduced sperm count, an enlarged prostate, shrinkage of the testicles, the development of breasts, hair loss/baldness, and headaches. Female side effects include reduced breast size, enlarged clitoris, deepened voice, menstrual cycle problems, and an increase in facial and body hair (they can start growing beards).

Trenbolone use

David referred to a particular drug, namely trenbolone, which is one of the most powerful steroid drugs; it is specifically nandrolone with two additional double bonds in the steroid nucleus. Some bodybuilders and athletes use trenbolone esters for its muscle building and performance enhancing effects. Apart from it having similar side effects to steroids, its most noticeable side effect can be an extreme increase in aggression.

David gave examples, obtained from social media sites, of how a person’s character had dramatically changed after taking trenbolone –

One man got a high sexual appetite and became very aggressive. His wife got pregnant, but he did not believe it was his. They split up and he made death threats to every man they knew. He missed the birth of the child and demanded DNA tests, which showed it was his baby.

Driving on a dual carriageway with both lanes occupied and unable to progress, one man mounted the central reservation at around 100mph, and narrowly avoided hitting any cars and the barrier. As a result his tyre was shredded and he was lucky not to have had a fatal accident.

Another man stopped his car on the motorway, ripped off a wing mirror and put the mirror through the car window.

In another example, a car in front kept on braking, so the driver broke the keys off in the key barrel of the offending car and threw the rest of the keys into the river.

Following these examples, David advised that if police attend an incident of domestic violence where no previous incidents have been reported and it is very out of character for the suspect, officers should look for evidence of steroid use.

Steroid users

David explained that steroid use falls into different categories. It is generally used by sports people and body builders, but employment drives steroid use as well, for example in the army, navy and air force, because of their role and psychological profile (risk takers and adventure seekers) and being driven in relation to image. The police, being the ‘good guys’, are sometimes portrayed as heroes in the media. However, some police officers are now taking steroids because criminals are taking them; they feel the need to ‘level the playing field’, as some criminals are becoming bigger and stronger than they used to be.

David highlighted that in his experience, police forces are not prepared in their policies to provide help, support and assistance to police officers involved in the misuse of steroids, peptides and other enhancing drugs, as they are not trained sufficiently and are generally quite ill equipped in how to deal with this problem.

How steroids are made

A short film was shown, involving a disguised ‘black market’ chemist, to give a demonstration on how easy it is for anyone to make steroids.

Four basic ingredients were used: 1 litre of carrier oil (rapeseed oil, ethyl oleate or any organic oil), the solvents (benzyl benzoate, benzyl alcohol), and 250 grams of raw steroid powder. The oil and steroid powder were mixed together in a Pyrex jug and then a microwave was used to speed up the dissolving process. Medical filters were then used to finish the process. Once all the liquid has passed through a filter, the steroid is decanted, put into 100 vials, and labelled up ready for sale/use.

As shown by the film, it is not difficult to make at all and you do not need a lab to make steroids; only limited resources are required.

Lack of law enforcement

David drew attention to the fact that the UK is the biggest producer of illicit steroids in the world, producing more steroids than in any other country. China produces all the raw materials, which are then shipped to the UK to make the steroids. UK border control have over 400 addresses concerned with the importation and supply of the steroid raw powder, but they do not have the resources or staffing levels to deal with this problem.

He went on to explain that supplying steroids is regarded as a ‘very low risk’ crime, because generally enforcement do not look at it. Anabolic and androgenic steroids are Class C drugs under Part 3 of Schedule 2 to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. But we have a lack of clarity within the law whereby personal use and possession is legal, but we have no definition of what personal use is. In summary, a person commits an offence if –

(a) he imports/exports anabolic or androgenic steroids, unless:

(i) it is for his own use; and
(ii) the importation/exportation is carried out in person.

(b) he possesses anabolic or androgenic steroids, other than for his own use.

(c) he possesses an anabolic or androgenic steroids with intent to supply.

 The vast majority of steroid prosecutions arise only because they are discovered when investigating another case, for example when officers attend a domestic assault and there is equipment inside the premises relating to the supply of steroids, and quite often this is ignored or not looked at in depth, as officers are focussed on the primary incident.

David noted that generally, steroid manufacturers and suppliers do not view their activity as being criminal and as a result, they are not careful; they use bank accounts, WhatsApp and PayPal, and do not cover their tracks, because they are not expecting any police investigations. On Facebook there is a page called ‘Brewers discussion’, run by a chemicals supplier of raw steroid powder, which openly teaches people how to homebrew steroids.

He highlighted that labs are now so confident that police are not interested in them, that they are openly sponsoring events. A certain underground lab, previously advertised that they were sponsoring a class at a body building show, supplying trophies for the event, openly selling testosterone, trenbolone and many more drugs, and now, they are sponsoring and organising the whole show.

It was also noted that the supply chain in relation to steroids is not limited by geographical area; a supplier can sell steroids anywhere throughout the UK via the postal service, so suppliers are not restricted to their local areas.

David explained that profit is the main drive for everyone involved. He provided various pricing structures at different levels of distribution, demonstrating how easy it was to make 200% profit levels in a short period of time, without it taking much effort to achieve this. As a result, it is now quite common for manufacturers/labs to go direct to end users via their own branded websites. They make themselves more attractive by supplying branded products through authorised distributors, which provides authentication, and can result in their profits going up from 200% to 600%. A medium seller with a small lab, selling their own product direct, will make over £500,000 in a year, showing that big money can be made through steroid supply.

David ended his presentation by asking the audience to reflect on why we have a lack of police interest and enforcement, particularly as a significant POCA revenue from the steroid labs is being missed.

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Thursday 15th October 2020


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