Over-the-counter drug use in gymnasiums: an underrecognized substance abuse problem?

Psychother Psychosom. 2001 May-Jun;70(3):137-40. doi: 10.1159/000056238.


Objective: Many individuals, attempting to gain muscle or lose fat, use 'dietary supplements'. Though widely available over the counter or by mail order in America and Europe, some of these 'supplements' are actually potent drugs such as androstenedione and ephedrine. We sought to estimate the prevalence of these forms of drug use in American gymnasiums.

Methods: We distributed anonymous questionnaires to 511 clients entering five gymnasiums, asking about use of both supplements and anabolic steroids.

Results: Among men, 18% reported use of androstenedione and/or other adrenal hormones, 25% reported ephedrine use, and 5% reported anabolic steroid use within the last 3 years; among women these rates were 3, 13 and 0%. Extrapolating from these figures to the United States as a whole, we estimated that possibly 1.5 million American gymnasium clients have used adrenal hormones and 2.8 million have used ephedrine within the last 3 years.

Conclusions: Millions of men and women are currently using potent drugs, widely sold over the counter as 'supplements', despite their known adverse effects, unknown long-term risks, and possible potential for causing abuse or dependence.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anabolic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Androstenedione / administration & dosage
  • Catchment Area, Health
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Doping in Sports / statistics & numerical data*
  • Ephedrine / administration & dosage
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Massachusetts / epidemiology
  • Nonprescription Drugs / administration & dosage*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors


  • Anabolic Agents
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • Androstenedione
  • Ephedrine