by Mike Arnold
In a sport rife with misconceptions and misinformation, there will always be a never ending supply of falsehoods to shine some light on, but this time around I want to address a relatively simple subject that has been made way too complicated by perhaps well-intentioned, yet misinformed individuals. I am talking about the differences between pharm-grade and UGL made gear. Opinions abound as to what this actually entails, making it almost impossible for the community to come to any sort of a general consensus. Therefore, I want to take a moment to separate the wheat from the chaff and in so doing, hopefully instill a more balanced view of reality in those who have been disillusioned regarding the truth.
For various reasons, pharm-grade gear has taken on an almost mythical status among a certain population of steroid users. While pharm-grade gear is certainly higher quality from a purity standpoint, and is also more likely to meet label claims, the truth is that there is plenty of UGL-gear on the market capable of providing the same results. How likely this is to be the case is dependent on many factors, such as the compound in question, the manufacturer used, company ethics, whether or not independent lab testing is employed, etc. With that said, I am now going to address some individual drugs, as well as different classes of PED’s, as the possibility of getting what you pay for can vary substantially based on what you are actually buying.
Let’s look at steroids first. I remember a few years ago, when Muscular Development Magazine published an article regarding the steroid use of 3 past bodybuilding greats: Dorian Yates, Kevin Levrone, and Shawn Ray. Although everyone knew the article would draw heated discussion, one statement that kept being made by readers was how much better the gear was back in “those days”. In fact, this was often cited as the main reason (along with being accused of lying) for why those men could build their physiques on dosages commonly employed by beginners today. While it is true that most bodybuilders from the 90’s relied on pharm-grade gear to met their PED needs (more out of necessity than choice, as the “UGL” did not really come into existence until the 2000’s) and were therefore more likely to source legitimate gear (assuming they didn’t buy a fake), this reasoning was faulty, as there is still plenty of accurately dosed AAS available through today’s UGL’s.
Those who were involved in the steroid using community in the mid-90’s are well aware that the doses claimed by these men would have been considered normal for advanced bodybuilders. Most men back then, including pros, kept their test dose at 750-1,000 mg/week, while a smaller percentage of more adventurous users went up to about 1,500 mg/week. Other steroids were generally used at smaller dosages. For example, Deca was usually administered at about 400-600 mg/week and tren was used much lower doses than what we see today, with 150-350 mg/week (roughly 50-100 mg/EOD) being considered the norm. While there have been men in every generation who pushed the envelope, jabbing 2-4 grams of testosterone and 1-2 grams of tren just did NOT happen with regularity, not even at the highest level of the sport.
We see this same mentality applied to the pros of the 70’s, with many of today’s less knowledgeable (and often less genetically gifted) steroid users claiming that the Golden Era pros were only able to build their physiques with such low doses because of the vast superiority of their gear. You see, this excuse comes in really handy when trying to rationalize why someone can’t build an equivalent physique despite using 5X the dose. Yet, I still see guys spout this kind of nonsense all over the boards.
Of all the steroids available today, testosterone, particularly testosterone enanthate, is the most likely to be both real and properly dosed. There are a couple reasons for this. For one, the stuff is extremely cheap and easy to make, providing little incentive for manufacturers to sell UGLs bad stuff. In turn, there is little incentive for UGL’s to intentionally under-dose their testosterone products. Further increasing the odds of obtaining properly dosed test is the rampant public lab-testing that goes on in the online steroid using community.
Unlike other AAS, in which one must send a actual sample of the drug to a lab to for testing (which is both expensive and legally risky), all one needs to do in order to ascertain whether or not a test product contains an accurate dose of testosterone is get some bloodwork. While this is by no means a foolproof way of assessing potency, it does give the individual a pretty good idea of where the product stands, especially when evaluated within the context of other user lab reports.
Knowing that such products will likely be subjected to publically posted lab work, UGL’s have even more incentive to make sure their testosterone products are on-point. This has even led some UGLs to intentionally over-dose their products, so as to leave no room for speculation. Now, when it comes to other AAS there is less assurance of legitimacy/potency, as these steroids are not going to impact one’s testosterone reading and therefore, user bloodwork is pretty much worthless for assessing the legitimacy/potency of non-testosterone based gear. With these drugs, confirmation can only be gained by sending them to an actual lab for testing, which as stated previously, isn’t a realistic option for most.
In attempting to rank the remaining steroids in a most-likely to be real and/or properly dosed list, I can only generalize. As a general rule, the cheaper a steroid is to produce the more likely it is to be real and/or properly dosed, as the incentive for screwing over one’s fellow man goes down as personal cost/risk decreases. Therefore, when ranking AAS according to their likelihood of meeting label claims, I tend to place them into one of three categories. The first and most likely to meet label claims is testosterone enanthate, followed by other testosterone based products. The second group includes drugs such as nandrolone, boldenone, oxymetholone, methandrostenolone, etc. The last group includes steroids like Halotestin, Anavar, and Primobolan. While this may be an overly simplistic ranking system, and there are certainly other factors than just production cost involved in estimating the likelihood of obtaining legitimate gear, I have found more often than not that the more expensive a drug is to make, the more likely it is to be improperly labeled and/or under-dosed.
Most people, with a little bit of insight and by spending some time on the boards, won’t have a problem finding potent testosterone products. Even most steroid using novices with little in the way of education or connections can manage that, but when attempting to purchase AAS such as Halotestin or Primobolan, for example, it requires a little more discernment and knowledge of the market if one wants to increase their chances of obtaining a high quality product.
The biggest difference between UGL and pharm-grade AAS products is their purity. Due to less than ideal manufacturing, assembly, and transportation conditions, UGL-made products are typically exposed to a wide variety of contaminants at all stages of the production process. This can result in heavy metal contamination and more importantly, the formation of bacteria leading to infection and abscess. This is really the biggest concern associated with the use of UGL-made drugs and can potentially be quite serious, even deadly in extreme cases. At any rate, even if you never develop an infection requiring surgery or medical intervention, almost all UGL-made steroids have been exposed to some level of contamination/bacterial growth, making redness, pain and swelling at the injection site a common occurrence.
The bottom line is that the UGL market, despite its inferior production practices, still offers properly labeled/dosed steroids of all types. You may have to look a bit harder to find quality versions of the more costly drugs, but pretty much everything is widely available. Therefore, the notion that the old-school bodybuilders were only able to grow off of low doses because their gear was “so much better“ is faulty.
If you think AAS are the only PED’s subject to these kinds of distorted perceptions, then you obviously haven’t seen the way some people talk about pharm-grade growth hormone and IGF-1! With a degree of reverence bordering on near fanatical, you would think some of these guys believe they have been anointed by shamans and imbued with magickal qualities! After all, it is the use of “true” pharm-grade IGF-1, otherwise known as Increlex, that is responsible for turning all these Middle Eastern bodybuilders into monsters…and of course, it is high-dose pharm-grade growth hormone that determines whether or not someone turns pro or remains an amateur.
At least with these drugs there is somewhat of an understandable reason for the confusion. First of all, only a relatively small percentage of bodybuilders have ever used higher-dose pharm-grade growth hormone for even a short period of time, let alone over the long-term, simply because it is too expensive for most to afford. This removes personal experience from the equation, automatically leaving 99%+ of all bodybuilders susceptible to the influence of fairy tales. Secondly, not all pharm-grade growth hormone is synthesized in the same fashion, which is the reason why different brands can provide different cosmetic effects. Anyone who has experience using multiple brands of GH will confirm that they do not all affect the body in the same way from a visual standpoint. Some cause significant water retention, while others cause much less by comparison.
With the same drug appearing to produce different results based on brand, you can see how the “super growth” theory developed. Lastly, while there is some very good UGL-made GH out there, most of it doesn’t come anywhere near pharm-grade growth in terms of quality or effectiveness for no other reason than it is either fake and/or under-dosed—often severely. This further reduces the possibility of being able to make an accurate comparison on a personal level and only lends to the confusion.
With pharm-grade IGF-1 (Increlex) considerably scarcer than pharm-grade GH, and with such a small percentage of bodybuilder’s having used even a single kit, let alone dozens of kits, it has been the subject of even more outlandish claims. I have heard bodybuilders make claims ranging from it being the most powerful muscle builder in the world (the truth is that AAS have the potential to build much more muscle mass than IGF-1), to it being responsible for making Big Ramy who he is today. When these individuals are questioned as to why the IGF-1 from research/peptide companies, which is readily available through legal means (when used for research, of course), doesn’t produce these kind of miraculous results, the typical response is that those companies don’t sell real IGF-1.
Let’s forget for a second that IGF-1 really isn’t that expensive or difficult to produce, and that an entire continent of Chinese manufacturers is ready and willing to produce the stuff for anyone who wants to buy it, and ask why these people believe this. I have…and until this day I have yet to hear a plausible explanation. The truth is that real IGF-1 is sold by many, many research-peptide companies every day to customers all around the world, but some people simply refuse to part with their illogical belief because it would force them to come to grips with the truth—that there is no secret drug out there responsible for building all the mass monsters (myostatin inhibitors maybe the closest thing to a “secret” in today’s scene, although any mystery behind them is due to more to an inability to have them made cost-effectively than it is some kind of hidden knowledge). This, in turn, would require them to accept the fact that they just don’t have the genetics to look like the Big Ramies and Ronnie Colemans of the world…and that is something that some people just aren’t willing to give up.
Trying to wade through all the B.S. when one first enters the PED scene can be tricky, so I recommend looking for someone with experience—a vet—who is willing to take you under their wing and educate you on the ins & outs of the blackmarket while guiding you through the process. This type of assistance can be invaluable for not only saving you a lot of headaches and disappointment, but in avoiding lost funds and potential health problems as well. With that said, don’t allow any optimism I may have expressed regarding the potential suitability of the blackmarket to bring you to false conclusions. While you can certainly find everything you need to build your physique on the blackmarket, UGL-made drugs, as a whole, are of significantly lower “overall” quality compared to those made by pharmaceutical companies. This is especially true from a purity/safety standpoint. Until next time…