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Dubai: There is a worrying increase in the recreational use of anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS), the synthetic drugs of the male sex hormone testosterone, and the human growth hormone (HGH) in Dubai, say experts.

To conform to a global culture that unrelentingly emphasises the rewards of physical beauty and perfection, male and female gym goers are ingesting performance-enhancing drugs to boost both their body mass and improve the definition of body muscle in pursuit of the ultimate physical desirability, with little regard to the health consequenes of such abuse, say experts in the gym industry.

Ahmad Abbas, trainer, speaks about steroids at Tecom.

Ahmad Abbas, an international coach with 20 years’ experience in the sports medicine community, said he sees the problem growing, despite strict UAE laws that ban using, distributing and selling these drugs for recreational purposes.

A masters in sports science and with a university degree in physical therapy, Abbas said, “A very high percentage of gym trainers are to blame for the abuse of steroids among body-building enthusiasts. They are the ones who recommend their use and engage in selling them to people.”

According to Abbas, “Trainers have a very smart way of convincing gym members to take steroids and HGH and, at the same time, make good money from it. They may influence people to take them for a period of only two months, promising them the results they have been looking for with no health implications.”

However, once a person starts on steroid use, it’s hard for them to stop as it could turn addictive, said Abbas.

“Many of these trainers lack scientific knowledge. They fail to help clients build a healthy, fit body the right way.”

Much of the syndrome is also due to the competitive nature of the industry, said Abbas. “Since the client is looking for quick results, the trainer needs to make it happen to keep their client [happy],” he said.

A worryingly high percentage of users are adolescents, including young girls, who want quick results, and they are also getting access to these drugs, say experts. The drugs are mostly popular among the 15-30 age group.

Pharmaceutical products containing HGH and AAS can be legally prescribed to treat a number of medical conditions resulting from steroid hormone deficiency, such as delayed puberty and diseases that inhibit the natural production of lean muscle mass, such as cancer and Aids.

“Nobody is unaware that it is illegal in the UAE to use these drugs for recreational purposes. They cannot be obtained from the pharmacy without a medical prescription,” said Abbas. But, in many other countries, these drugs can be bought without a prescription, he added.

Prince Amir Shafiypour, a three-time world Muay Thai boxing champion.

Prince Amir Shafiypour, the three-time world Muay Thai boxing champion, who runs The Champion Club in Jumeirah Lakes Towers and is a promoter of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), also concurs with Abbas that some trainers are guilty of encouraging their clients to take steroids to build body.

“There is a growing number of people taking performance enhancers for aesthetic improvement,” said Shafiypour. “Big money is being made by people who are bringing it into the country and selling it. In bodybuilding gyms, seeing trainers convincing clients is very much prevalent,” said Shafiypour.

According to Abbas, a one-month cycle of steriod use could cost between Dh5,000 and Dh20,000 depending on the kind of substances used.

Shafiypour noted that trainers can start by telling a potential client that their body does not generate enough energy and that it could take years to reach the desired goal. “They would then introduce the idea of steroids and persuade them to take them. Trainers also assure clients that they would administer the cycle of steroids, even though they are not qualified to do so.”

Many of these products sold in the black market can also be counterfeit, posing even a greater danger to users, Abbas said.

“Counterfeit steroids and HGH are not pharmaceutically approved and can cause plenty of other complications and irreversible problems. HGH must be stored in a fridge or can spoil and, when they are smuggled, it is not clear if they have been stored under proper conditions,” he said.

Abbas also urged more awareness campaigns to deter people from using them for recreational purposes as well as to inform them of the legal issues involved.

In the 16 years that he has been living in Dubai, Abbas said he has heard of only two trainers being arrested for selling performance- enhancing drugs. “More needs to be done by the authorities on this widespread problem,” he said.