- TikTok has become a key promotional tool for steroid-like drugs, according to a new report.
- Products known as “legal steroids” are sold online by unregulated vendors and can pose serious risks.
- Videos promoting these drugs use hashtags such as #teenfitness to reach young audiences.
Millions of teenagers and young adults are being introduced to dangerous steroid-like substances through TikTok, a new report describes.
The report, from a UK-based non-profit organization. Center for the fight against digital hate, found that influencers on the popular social media app have partnered with online suppliers of unregulated and often illicit substances, including selective androgen receptor modulators, often referred to as SARMs. Influencers often target an audience of teens or young adults by promoting their content with hashtags like #TeenBodybuilding, according to the report.
The researchers noted that the content of some videos encouraged the use of medications and minimized health risks. They often engage audiences using before and after photographs of body transformations or physiques of High-profile bodybuilders who have allegedly used steroidsthe report said.
A video included in the report advised viewers to “just tell your parents it’s vitamins.”
Researchers found that videos with hashtags involving steroid-like substances were viewed 420 million times by people ages 18 to 24 over the past three years.
One caveat, however, is that hashtag-related views don’t differentiate between positive and negative content, according to a TikTok spokesperson who spoke to Insider; For example, that total could also include videos detailing the risks of steroids or recovery from their use.
At least some of the videos appear to promote chemicals that are not approved for human use but can be sold online through a loophole.
The medications can have significant side effects, including heart attacks and psychosis. As a result of the report’s findings, researchers are urging lawmakers to crack down on substance sales and calling on TikTok to increase scrutiny of content on its platform.
What are “legal steroids” or SARMs and what are their health risks?
One popular type of product is known as SARMs, short for selective androgen receptor modulators, synthetic drugs marketed for muscle gain and fat loss.
SARMs are sometimes called “legal steroids” because they can be bought and sold on an online gray market: unregulated websites that are discreetly advertised to consumers. To avoid legal scrutiny, drugs are often sold as “research chemicals.” Despite being labeled “not for human consumption,” the products are advertised with buzzwords such as “muscle building,” “fat burning,” and “testosterone boosting” that clarify their use to potential consumers.
While SARMs are not the same as illegal anabolic steroids used off-label as performance-enhancing drugs, they can also have serious health risks. He FDA has warned of an increased risk of heart attack, liver failure, sexual dysfunction and psychosis. The World Anti-Doping Agency has banned SARMs in sports since 2008.
SARMs can be risky even if you get what you paid for. However, another concern with chemicals is that they are unregulated and therefore often contaminated, mislabeled, or combined with other illicit substances that are not disclosed by the manufacturer, a study 2018 found.
The study, published in JAMA, tested products labeled as SARMs and found that only 52 percent contained real SARMs and 39 percent contained another unapproved compound. Another 9 percent contained no active compounds.
TikTok influencers are boosting online drug sellers’ reach among young audiences
The report from the Center to Counter Digital Hate noted that TikTok influencers have significantly increased the reach of companies selling these unregulated products. Researchers found that influencer partnerships help providers reach 540 times more viewers than they would with their own accounts.
The report found that influencers on the platform often had lucrative deals with vendor sites, earning up to 30% commission on sales through their links.
Imran Ahmed, executive director of the Center to Counter Digital Hate, urged the tech company to enforce stricter policies against drug promotion and called on policymakers to close loopholes that allow the substances to be sold online.
“TikTok’s job is to keep the platform safe and enforce its community rules, but our investigation has found that the platform turns a blind eye to the promotion of dangerous and potentially illegal drugs. At the same time, we have found that children and “Young men are being bombarded with toxic content that seeks to promote and profit from body dysmorphia,” Ahmed said in a press release. “TikTok, marketers and influencers potentially profit from this content at the expense of young men’s self-esteem and health.”
While TikTok was the focus of the advocacy group’s report, Insider also found evidence of similar ads and promotional material on other social media platforms.
Content selling SARM, showing or instructing its use, or the use of any drug by youth, is currently a violation of TikTok’s community guidelines and will be removed from the app when detected, according to the spokesperson. For added transparency, the company publishes quarterly reports detailing compliance with its community guidelines.
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