The New Gateway Drug

The increasingly common illicit use of HGH is linked to abuse of other drugs

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The illegal use of HGH (human growth hormone) by male weightlifters is a prevalent issue in the United States, according to a study that appears in the American Journal on Addictions.

The study also found that illicit use of HGH is linked to abuse of other substances, including both performance-enhancing drugs other than HGH and conventional recreational drugs.

HGH is a performance-enhancing drug that used to be too expensive for young athletes. However, since the price has dropped, illicit use of the drug is no longer exclusive to elite athletes.

In order to assess the prevalence of illicit HGH use, Brian P. Brennan, M.D., M.Sc., of McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and his team surveyed and analyzed 231 American male weightlifters between 18 and 40 years of age. The researchers found that 12 percent of their sample reported illicit use of HGH and/or insulin-like growth factor-I, a drug very similar in nature to HGH. Of those men, all had used anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) before trying HGH, and 15 percent had past or present dependencies on opioids, cocaine, or ecstasy.

"A great deal of the athletes and competitive bodybuilders that have spoken to me about their HGH use have told me that they have struggled to keep their 'supplements' under control throughout their careers," said Jim Crowell, owner of Integrated Fitness ( in Pittsburgh. "Many of them, at one point or another, have experimented with drugs other than performance enhancing drugs to experience a new high or rush, or to try to calm their competitive minds. Most of the athletes that have spoken to me about it have since then kicked drugs and HGH out of their lives, but some still struggle with it to this day."

Although not much is known about the effects of illicit HGH use, researchers have extrapolated evidence from a naturally occurring disease called acromegaly. Acromegaly is characterized by the pituitary gland's overproduction of HGH. Those who suffer from this disease are prone to cardiovascular complications such as cardiomyopathy, high blood pressure, valve dysfunction, and arrhythmias. In addition, those with acromegaly have a greater risk of developing diabetes and impaired respiratory function.

The results of this study, in combination with what we know about acromegaly, suggest that the increasing prevalence of illicit HGH abuse could pose a potentially significant problem for public health.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 20, 2011
Last Updated:
January 27, 2011