A focused netnographic study exploring experiences associated with counterfeit and contaminated anabolic-androgenic steroids PMC

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  • Sites were excluded if they were not Australian-based, were largely news based, or predominantly served as product advertisement.
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  • In line with the findings from previous studies of online drug forums, members visit these forums to learn how to avoid harm as well as help others use more safely, but their language may differ from traditional harm reduction discourses.
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  • A self-preoccupation is shown as emotional coldness toward and distanced from people around.
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  • Despite this, the fear existed of not eating right or being able to handle a controlled diet, as has been described previously in female bodybuilders (Gruber and Pope, 2000).
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  • Individual characteristics as well as inadequate support in working life and from family have been showed to trigger PBSE (Blom, 2012).
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  • Data analysis followed the five-step Empirical Phenomenological Psychological (EPP) approach used by Van Hout and Hearne [30].
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Again, these reviews were based on personal experience and served to highlight to other forum members the different possible outcomes from using the same substance. Discussions concerning harms related to use included those related to both physical health as well as mental health. Physical health effects included those which were almost considered nuisance effects, such as bloating, that was surmised to be caused by adulterants contained in the product. Effects that were more common included pain, abscesses, and infections how to order steroids related to injecting counterfeit product that some members believed was a result of the product being manufactured in unsterile environments. Forum members reported that they had purchased, received, and consumed counterfeit AAS or other PIED products including tablets, capsules, injectable products, oils, or gels. Discussions often commenced as cautionary, with members warning others about counterfeit products in circulation, before becoming focused on the potential harms that could result from using that substance.

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By applying this theory to the non-medical use of AAS, we suggest that AAS consumers receive positive reinforcement for their risk-taking behaviours when they achieve the goals underpinning their use. Further, use of AAS and the effects they can have on an individual’s body may lead to the perception that the consumer has a greater sense of control over their body. Understanding and knowledge are important in order to be able to meet women in their fears and difficulties.

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This information sharing can be good and a way of helping to protect individuals from harm. In this sense, and in line with our previous research [23], forum members act as peers, providing harm reduction information to others in their community. Peers and their lived experiences are highly regarded in their communities and have been an important aspect of the harm reduction movement [63]; indeed, peers have been identified as a common source of information and help among those who use PIEDs such as AAS [64]. Online forums may provide a discreet, anonymous, and more readily accessible point of entry to peers and harm reduction information, and the lived experiences which can underpin this. Those who report using performance and image enhancing drugs such as AAS for non-medical purposes report consuming these substances and experiencing harm as a result.


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Experienced members often have different privileges within the site itself and can have their advice, recommendations, and warnings trusted over those of others. Experienced members can display high calibre knowledge in the instances where incorrect, false, or hoax information is posted. In accordance with the results of other studies [6, 21,22,23,24], this study identified evidence of a hierarchy within the community of forum members. Experienced and ‘high-ranking’ members were often asked specifically to provide advice or had their opinions used to verify the accuracy of a response. This is consistent with research conducted by Smith and Stewart [26] into online discussion of doping, where members operated in a social hierarchy contingent on masculinity and pharmacological knowledge.