SARMs, DNP and steroids: The untested and unregulated drugs taking over gyms

A growing number of illicit performance-enhancing and fat-burning drugs are becoming available online – but the risks are huge.

As the Scotsman’s health correspondent, I’m frequently tasked with investigating the growing online market of recreational drugs, such as etizolam, a benzodiazepine otherwise known as ‘street valium’, and common illicit drugs sold through social media. However, a growing aspect of online drug sales is not for recreational consumption, but for vanity and performance.

This, of course, includes common anabolic (muscle-growing) steroids used in bodybuilding and sports such as testosterone, dianabol and trenbolone. But recently new drugs have started to emerge.

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Two of the more well known chemicals include DNP, a fat burner, and SARMs – selective androgen receptor modulators which are similar to anabolic steroids.

The drugs have become incredibly popular on social media platforms such as TikTokThe drugs have become incredibly popular on social media platforms such as TikTok
The drugs have become incredibly popular on social media platforms such as TikTok

While ‘classic’ steroids and fat burners are well researched, these new chemicals are often under-researched and carry added uncertainty regarding their side effects, toxicity and purity.

SARMs first emerged around five years ago, and have taken the bodybuilding community by storm. They are touted as having similar effects to anabolic steroids, but with less of the side effects commonly associated with steroids, such as mood swings, acne, hair loss and prostate cancer.

The drugs have become incredibly popular on social media platforms such as TikTok, which has had to block users from searching for content relating to SARMs, and are easily found using online search engines.

SARMs have become so popular that a Channel Four documentary found one of London's famous ‘fatbergs’ – the masses of oil and organic matter found in city sewers – contained more SARMs than both MDMA and cocaine.

SARMs are unlicensed and unregulated, meaning consumers have no guarantee that what they’re ingesting is what they’ve purchased, and what the long-term health effects may be.

However, the lethal side effects of DNP are well known. DNP, or 2,4-dinitrophenol, is an industrial chemical compound that is used as a fat-burning agent in diet pills. The substance triggers a period of increased metabolism within a person, which can result in weight loss.

But even taking just a small dosage can prove to be fatal. Even if the dose is not lethal, it can lead to painful side-effects.

Often taking the form of a yellow powder, the known side effects include multiple organ failure, coma and cardiac arrest. Those who take DNP can also suffer with high temperatures, nausea, abdominal pain, and seizures.

In March 2020 a UK judge stated: "There is no antidote or remedy for DNP once taken. In consequence, DNP has a high mortality rate ⁠— ⁠of those who presented at hospital between 2007 and 2019 with a history of having taken DNP, 18 per cent died. This puts DNP close to cyanide in terms of its toxicity."

Consuming smaller doses over prolonged periods of time may cause skin lesions, cataracts, and damage to the heart, blood and nervous system. During the First World War, 2,4-dinitrophenol was used as a base material for munitions products.

DNP was marketed as a diet pill in the US in the 1930s, but it was quickly banned in 1938. Selling it for human consumption has also since been made illegal in the UK by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). But it continues to have a market in the UK amongst bodybuilders and those that want to lose weight.

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Taking substances purchased through the internet is akin to playing Russian roulette – eventually your luck may run out.



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