THG: 2003's designer steroid of the year
CBC Sports Online | Jan. 19, 2003
Some frequently asked questions about the synthetic drug that shook up the sports world starting in 2003:
What is tetrahydrogestrinone?
Tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) is a designer steroid. Anabolic steroids increase muscle strength and encourage new muscle growth, duplicating the effects of the male sex hormone testosterone, thereby allowing the athlete to train harder for longer periods of time.
What do you mean by "designer steroid?"
A "designer steroid" is a synthetic steroid created as a modification of another anabolic steroid by chemical engineers who have access to labs and raw chemical compounds required to produce these new molecules. The drug is designed to deliberately evade existing drug tests. Designer steroids such as THG are not naturally produced by the body and cannot be taken unintentionally.
Is THG similar to any other steroid?
THG is a slightly altered form of steroid related to gestrinone and grenbolone. Gestrinone is used legally in Europe to treat endometriosis, a painful condition caused by uterine tissue growing in the pelvic area of some women. Grenbolone is a steroid used by cattle producers to bulk up their herds.
How does THG remain hidden?
According to Dr. Don Catlin, it's a clear liquid taken orally. He said THG was specifically designed to escape detection in normal dope tests by disintegrating when a urine sample is tested. Catlin's lab designed a new way to analyze the compound, a method that has now been provided to the 30 IOC-accredited labs, including the one in Montreal.
What are the side effects of THG?
THG is so new that no reliable studies have been carried out on it. It is an unapproved drug, derived from steroids that are, themselves, banned by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, "while little is formally known about the safety of this drug, its structure and relationship to better known products leads FDA to believe that its use may pose considerable risks to health." Because of its steroidal lineage, though, the USADA warns that possible side-effects could include "liver toxicity, excessive hair growth for women and baldness and infertility in men."
Are there other designer steroids out there besides THG?
No one knows for sure. In an interview with Sports Illustrated's
Mike Fish, Don Catlin said: "We are looking at that (if there are
currently other designer steroids being used by athletes). I can sit
down and draw a molecule as well as the next guy, and we're trying
to do that. But I have no hard proof of it. A designer drug is just
that. [THG] is really quite unique, nothing like it before. And you'd
have to have blinders on not to figure that somebody else is out there.
It is a big world with a lot of people, and there is a demand. People
fill demands when there is money involved."
What does Victor Conte, whose BALCO lab has been fingered as the
source of THG, say about all of this?
Conte denies his lab is the source of THG, and questions whether or not it even has the same effect as steroids. "To make these kinds of statements without a single scientific study to support them is outrageous," he said in e-mails to the San Francisco Chronicle. "There needs to be scientific research conducted and published in credible scientific journals before such conclusions can be made." Don Catlin says that THG is definitely a steroid.