TikTok has become a key marketing channel for promoting steroids and other bodybuilding drugs to millions of the video-sharing site’s users, according to a damning report.
The study by the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate says popular videos encouraging the use of the products for aesthetic or athletic gain are being posted by influencers who often downplay the risks associated with them.
“They’re being marketed to young men by influencers who are deliberately saying, ‘If you want to be like Captain America, you’ve got to take these drugs’,” CCDH founder and CEO Imran Ahmed said after the study was released Thursday.
The Chinese-owned app — which has 87 million users in the US, many of them under age — has been accused of promoting a “toxic” diet culture, encouraging frivolous spending, and pushing Chinese propaganda.
The nonprofit’s study focused on TikTok videos which promoted a class of steroid-like drugs (SLDs) that include anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS), peptides, and Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators (SARMs).
“Videos with hashtags promoting SLDs were viewed by US users up to 587 million times in the last three years, including up to 420 million views from US users aged under 24,” according to the CCDH.
TikTok spokesperson Ben Rathe criticized the report, saying the group’s methodology doesn’t distinguish between harmful videos and positive content that talks about recovery from steroids or their side effects. It’s not possible for the CCDH to know that based on the type of data they’re presenting and the sheer volume of videos that are on TikTok, he said.
One video of a man working out displayed text that read: “Hear me out. Everyone always hating on steroids bro. You know who took steroids? Captain America. Bro literally is a morally grounded character and he injected super soldier serum.”
Another showed a young man deadlifting with text that said his mother asked: “First protein powder, now creatine. What’s next…steroids?” The clip then cuts to a clip of bodybuilder Ronnie Coleman saying “Yeah buddy!”
Adolescents who use protein powder supplements may have as much as a “five-fold higher risk of new use of steroids and other muscle-building products,” CCDH claimed.
One TikTok nodded to the link between protein powder and steroid use, showing a man discovering a vile of drugs in his whey protein powder container. “I found something in the whey,” the post said in a play on words.
A slew of comments called out that the mysterious bottle of drugs is “something called roids.”
And in a particularly disturbing post that has garnered over 2.4 million views, a teen who said he was 13 years old documented his “30-day steroids transformation” where a slideshow of images showed him becoming increasingly muscular.
Among the SARMs gaining popularity on the ByteDance-owned app is MK-2866. Though it’s an SLD that’s banned from being sold or purchased for humans, MK-2866 is still being sold for recreational use by third-party supplement companies.
Videos using the hashtag #MK-2866 have amassed nearly 3 million views on TikTok, and one popular post with 42,000-plus views promotes the supplement as a pill that can increase lean muscle, improve strength and endurance, and reduce recovery time.
Another SARM making its way into the limelight: Trenbolone, or simply “tren,” which is popular among bodybuilders, but has become even more sought after by non-weightlifters thanks to its promotion on TikTok, CCDH claims.
One account that posts under the username @teach_me_roids claims that the unnamed user’s workout and supplement-taking tips can help young boys bio-hack their body through puberty “in order to suppress their estrogen levels, which he claims will increase their height and genital size.”
The account holder also boasts a 10% discount code for Swiss Chems — a site that claims to be “a trusted source for high-quality research chemicals” — in their TikTok bio.
On Swiss Chems’ website, there’s an entire section dedicated to SARMs.
The hashtag #Tren was among the 30 tags that the CCDH found featured videos relating to the abuse or sale of SLDs, “contributing to a culture where abusing the drugs to alter body shape and size is normalized.”
For reference, 19.8 billion videos use the hashtag #Tren.
The CCDH report follows a warning issued by the Food and Drug Administration in April about performance-enhancing drugs being marketed to teenagers and young adults on social media platforms.
The CCDH urged policymakers at the end of its report to “close loopholes through which sites selling SLDs can operate online.”
They’re also calling on TikTok to better enforce its ban on content that promotes the use of recreational drugs.
Rathe, the TikTok spokesperson, said content that sells or depicts SARMS will be removed by the company when it’s detected.