The preliminary research found more than 30% of UK gym-goers used 'drugs or supplements' to lose weight and over 5% of regular gym-users had also used the illegal stimulant amphetamine for this end.
The most commonly used products for weight loss were protein supplements (58%) and herbal products (34%) like guarana and ginseng. However, about 17% of the 433 people surveyed so far had used amphetamines, 17% thyroid hormones and 15% had tried diuretics. They also recorded a 28% experience of side effects including mood changes, headaches, digestion problems and fast heart rate.
About 40% of the participants used products bought online and 43% found these products through online fitness forums and blogs.
The researchers from the University of Hertfordshire presented these preliminary findings to MPs in light of the pending psychoactive substances bill, which seeks to give police greater power to prosecution those trading ‘legal highs’.
Currently ‘legal highs’ or ‘novel psychoactive substances’ are governed on a case-by-case basis, which can slow authority reactions to new substances.
One of the lead researchers, Dr Ornella Corazza, told the UK newspaper the Guardian: “The user does not consider himself a drug user as the trend is embedded in society.
“If you buy supplements or sexual enhancers, you think they’re good, you think they’re completely licit, but what we’re finding out is that it’s not always the case.”
A spokesperson for the university since said it would not be commenting further until the official publication of the study in January. However he confirmed the data reported by the Guardian was accurate and that it had indeed been given to MPs.
The trade group the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) hit back at the article, calling the suggestion that the sports nutrition market was laxly regulated “alarming”.
ESSNA’s chair Dr Adam Carey said: “If the government wants to ensure that people are able to safely access scientifically-based sports nutrition products without putting themselves at risk from taking illegal substances, then we suggest that they step back from applying cut after cut to local trading standards bodies, and start taking a more nuanced, sensible view on the need for proper enforcement of existing law.”
He added it was important to remember that food supplements and sports nutrition were not ‘drugs’, ‘psychoactive substances’, nor ‘legal highs’ but specially formulated products meant to help men and women live a healthier life.
“There are, as ever, concerns about illegal products that do masquerade as sports nutrition – but it is not the ‘lax regulation’ that is responsible for this problem, but rather poor enforcement of what laws are already out there.”
ESSNA has been running its own non-compliance campaign to tackle these issues.