The Anabolic Androgenic Steroid Research Group

Astrid K. BjørnebekkGroup leader
Astrid K. Bjørnebekk
Group leader

Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) comprise a large category of synthetic derivatives of the male sex hormone testosterone. They are commonly taken in doses exceeding the natural male production of testosterone by 5-100 times, in order to gain muscles for cosmetic or athletic purposes. The use of AAS spread to the general population in the 80s, and has grown to become a major public health problem due to its extensive adverse effects and potentially severe long-term health consequences. However, since the first generation of AAS users is only now entering their 50s, there is sparse knowledge about the effects of long-term AAS use, particularly with regards to potential impact on brain health.

Primary objectives of the research group are to increase our understanding of psychological and medical long-term consequences of AAS use, and to identify trait or markers putting people at risk for developing AAS-dependence. Other objectives include estimating lifetime use of AAS among subpopulations such as prisoners and patients in substance use treatment, and to improve treatment strategies of AAS-users who want to quit using AAS. In particular, we aim to test whether an endocrine treatment model is more suitable and safe to use than no treatment or treatment as usual. 

A special focus of our research is on brain health and related behavior (e.g. cognitive functioning and emotions), which is a critical issue since sex steroids readily pass the blood-brain barrier and affect the central nervous system. We have through many years gathered numerous data on a large sample of AAS-users and non-exposed weightlifters, including repeated brain scanning, personality and mental health data, cognitive and social cognitive, cardiac, vascular and hormonal data. In our research we explore the relationship between these different types of health data.

The core group comprises researchers with educational background within neuroscience, psychiatry, psychology and medicine. We also collaborate closely with other central groups at the hospital to examine cardiovascular and neuroendocrine effects of AAS-use, and how it relates to brain structure and function.

Bottom, from left: Ingrid Amalia Havnes, Astrid Bjørnebekk, Morgan Scarth and Hans Christian B Henriksen.
Top, from left:Sandra Klonteig and Marie Lindvik Jørstad.