Meet Patrick Arnold – The Doping Doctor
Patrick Arnold sounds jaded.
But then, it’s perhaps understandable: the designer steroids he either tweaked or invented between 1990 and 2002 are responsible for the biggest pro-sports shake-up in living memory. It was a scandal that felled the careers of at least 24 world-class athletes, including British sprinter Dwain Chambers and US baseball players, Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds.
(Related: Watch: Britain's steroid epidemic)
The resulting media fallout became known as the Balco scandal, named after the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, the California company that sold the drugs. Company records, censored court hearings and ongoing lawsuits suggest hundreds more athletes have since been drawn into the scandal, with disciplinary consequences still looming.
“The federal authorities have practically had crosshairs on my back since Balco,” he gripes. Arnold’s life came crashing down in 2005, when an amendment to the Controlled Substances Act decreed that prohormones – the basis of many of his creations, which encourage the production of testosterone – were illegal. Balco lost 60% of its sales. FBI agents raided the lab, effectively shutting the company down for good. And, as the architect of the entire spectacle, Arnold was sentenced to a three-month spell in a Virginia penitentiary.
(Related: The amateur's guide to doping)
Today, Arnold is pitching a comeback. Despite the reprimands and the penalties, he remains in possession of a keen knowledge of – and enthusiasm for – analytical chemistry. Now he is bringing new products to market under the guise of two new companies – Prototype Nutrition and E-Pharm – with the rather less controversial aims of improving muscle memory and slowing the ageing process, among other ambitions.
His intentions, he says, are good. The question is whether a man seen as the steroid-pushing orchestrator of the Balco scandal and a cancerous influence on competitive sport, will ever be regarded as anything more than a narcotics kingpin.
The Balco scandal was a decisive moment in the history of sports nutrition – and of sport itself. For many, it shattered the image of athletes as clean-living men and women who adhere to rigid exercise regimens and fine-tuned, wholesome nutrition plans. Few major sports were left untarnished. But not everyone is convinced of steroids’ inherent immorality.
(Related: Britain's white collar steroid habit)
One of the chief arguments against steroids is that they give those who take them an unfair advantage. Removing drugs from sport, the clean lobby argues, would create a ‘level playing field’, thus forming the basis of fair competition. According to Arnold, however, this equal-opportunity arena has never existed. “Certain athletes and certain teams were performing entirely too well for this to have ever been a level playing field,” he claims, cryptically.
But once Arnold’s products hit the market at the turn of the millennium, this gap only became more pronounced. In baseball, hitters like Barry Bonds were breaking world records. Sprinters like Dwain Chambers were blazing to glory. In the NBA, entire teams, like the LA Lakers, were implicated in the abuse of Arnold’s wares.
Arnold’s products made athletes faster. The most remarkable steroid – known as THG, or The Clear – was discovered in samples from 20 track and field athletes, obtained by the US Olympic Analytical Laboratory in 2003. Meanwhile, baseball stars – most notably Bonds and Giambi – were delivering superhuman home-run form.
While juicing with The Clear, Bonds jumped from 34 home runs in 1999 to 49 in 2000, before knocking home a record-breaking 73 in 2001. Such feats of athletic brilliance were replicated across several sports with Arnold’s help.
THG – or tetrahydrogestrinone, to cite its full name – is an anabolic steroid so complex it was only identified when athletics coach and Balco whistleblower, Trevor Graham, sent a syringe containing a miniscule amount to the US Anti-Doping Agency. Up until that point, the drug had proven to be the best (or worst) steroid in the history of sporting deception. While undetectable in routine drug tests, just two or three drops placed under an athlete’s tongue were enough to enhance performance. For Balco, the investigation that followed Graham’s intervention sparked the beginning of the end.
(Related: The complete beginner's guide to doping)
During the trial, Arnold and his partner in crime, Balco’s founder Victor Conte, made for curious bedfellows. While at times Conte would come across as a well-meaning sports nutritionist caught up in an unsavoury affair, Arnold’s jubilant and often evangelical support for steroids suggested a somewhat less contrite outlook. And though his comments to reporters upon sentencing appeared to mitigate this stance (“Now, more than ever, I’m very much against sports doping...There should be a level playing field”) conversations with Men’s Health suggest his interpretation of the phrase “level playing field” is not exactly orthodox.
For Arnold, true competitive equity means the individual’s right to determine his own chemical regimen should be protected. He also believes the negative effects of steroids are overstated and their positive effects underplayed or ignored. He openly tells MH that he believes all athletes should have access to this group of medicines, by personal choice, for “aesthetic use when building muscle and for aesthetic reasons associated with the effects of ageing”.
But he also claims that his personal business interests are no longer limited to steroids. Indeed, one of his latest ventures, Prototype Nutrition, stocks a range of sprays and powders with a more holistic leaning, designed to boost everything from cognitive ability to ketosis. Could it be that, following the Balco fallout, the notorious juice doctor has learned his lesson? Or is it the case, as Arnold would doubtless have it, that the subject of performance enhancement simply needs to be opened up?
At 52 years old, Arnold looks like a man who has benefited from the highs of his own supply. His muscular physique is, in large part, the result of lifelong experimentation. Born in Guilford, Connecticut, he began lifting weights as an adolescent. But although he maintained a strict diet and trained smart, he felt something was lacking.
(Related: Number of stars including Mark Wahlberg accused of taking steroids)
“I was getting stronger but my body stayed scrawny,” he recalls. “It’s not that I wanted to look like Mr Universe, but I felt entitled, given the work I was putting in, to see at least some of that bulk. It’s a problem many guys go up against, through no fault of their own. A large percentage of men will eat the right things and do the right training but not get the shape they want due to genetics.”
Arnold discovered steroids through a friend at his local gym. Within a fortnight of beginning his new regimen he began to see the results that had eluded him. Inspired, he enrolled at the University of New Haven, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He soon secured a job at a large pharmaceutical research company, allowing him all the time he needed to perform his own experiments.
“In order to make better steroids, I went back to the chemical logs of formulas that had been patented but never used,” Arnold explains. “So, for instance, there were steroids that had been used in East German state-sponsored doping programmes, or steroids that had been abandoned because of certain side-effects. I carried out experiments to find out how these drugs really manifested. If something seemed promising, I tried it out.”
Arnold’s testing of sketchy anabolics led to numerous highly detailed reports that were posted to the early bodybuilding dark web, positioning him as a sage presence in the world of performance enhancement. It wasn’t long before Conte made contact and proposed working together. He was looking for steroids and performance enhancers that could be sold under the Balco umbrella, but remain undetectable at competitive level. “I told him there was nothing that was undetectable per se, but that designer steroids could be adapted to make them difficult to detect,” says Arnold. And with that he set about synthesising athletic history.
(Related: How does blood doping work?)
Needless to say, few pharmacological experts take such a benign view of steroid use. MH spoke to Dr Adam Winstock, the founder of the Global Drug Survey, about Arnold’s creations. While Winstock is firmly against steroids in sport, he concedes that the effects of certain drugs may not in themselves be as dangerous as the way in which they are taken – that is injected, rather than delivered orally by pipette, as is Arnold’s advocated method. Even so, he is clear that THG is not safe.
“It contains several banned anabolic steroids and at least one veterinary steroid,” says Winstock. “Furthermore, it had never been approved for use by humans.” Anabolic steroids are some of the oldest drugs in common medical use, with established risks, he says, but in the pursuit of sporting victory, safety considerations fall by the wayside. “I don’t think anyone using a steroid to enhance performance has really thought about it. It’s about what’s effective.”
The Edge Of Reason
Many of Arnold’s new products do not target the record-smashing athlete or the ultra-competitive jock. As sports science advances, his focus has shifted from muscle building and sports performance to gentler targets. For instance, Arnold’s primary venture, a company called Prototype Nutrition, stocks products that address focus and working memory. One example is D-Serine, which aims to strengthen neural pathways in order to improve muscle memory. Arnold describes it as “a natural key regulator in the formation of memories, an amino acid naturally synthesised in brain cells which aid in long-term potentiation.”
(Related: How to tell if someone is using steroids)
Another product is R-Spray, which contains resveratrol – an anti-ageing compound, the most well-known source of which is red wine (you may have read about it in Men’s Health once or twice). Again, Arnold appears to be playing with compounds already known to science – only this time his work appears legitimate. Numerous studies show that resveratrol increases metabolism, supports fat loss, boosts endurance and improves mental function. Here, at least, the science is (broadly) on Arnold’s side.
Things are blurrier regarding 7-Spray, “a non-hormonal approach to fat loss and cortisol control for that unruly midsection”. How one controls the effects or release of cortisol – a stress hormone – “[without] disrupting natural hormone production” is unclear. No matter – 7-Spray was out of stock at the time of going to press.
(WATCH: The 7 biggest doping scandals in sport)
Most curious of all is Prototype Nutrition’s insistence that its products should not be used by professional athletes or military personnel. On the website, it states: “Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”
Warnings aside, it’s clear that Arnold is attempting to redefine his brand with an emphasis on ‘lifestyle’, presumably designed to cash in on the wellness zeitgeist. But whether this indicates a change of heart – or at least a willingness to play by the rules – remains to be seen. This is, after all, a man who has spoken in countless interviews of the online back catalogues documenting drugs that have never been brought to market.
Prototype Nutrition’s sister company, E-Pharm, suggests Arnold’s interests have not been entirely realigned. Products include TestForce2, “a natural testosterone elevator”, and PumpSpray, designed to “promote more ripped, fuller and vascular looking muscles”. Like Prototype Nutrition, E-Pharm carries the same FDA-acknowledging disclaimer. This isn’t to say that these products don’t work, of course; simply that they are yet to be officially approved. And while the product descriptors are at pains to point out that they are “non-hormonal”, the suspicion is that Arnold is continuing to push boundaries, regardless of backing from sanctioned scientific research.
A Tangled Web
One could argue that the legitimacy of these particular products is not the most significant point here. In many respects, the damage is already done. Arnold’s absence from the field has done little to halt the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs. Just this year, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky found themselves embroiled in a long investigation into alleged wrongdoing.
(Related: Everything you need to know about steroid side effects)
So, too, did Mo Farah and his coach, Alberto Salazar. Elsewhere, Russia’s entire 2014 football World Cup squad is under investigation by Fifa, over drug allegations. Most recently, a proposal submitted to the IAAF by European Athletics aims to annul all track and field records prior to 2005, when the latest anti-doping standards took effect. Nicole Sapstead of the UK Anti-Doping Agency, claims that drug use, at every level of sport, “is fast becoming a crisis”.
Now, having made his indelible mark on the professional sporting sphere, Arnold is targeting a fecund market of ordinary, albeit determined, men. But with or without him, thousands of men in the UK – and millions worldwide – will continue to dose with steroids. Veterinary steroids, diverted steroids, many of poor quality or unknown origin – there is a growing company of men who are willing to improve their appearance at any cost.
(Related: 7 horrifying consequences of taking steroids)
Were Arnold to step out of the picture for good, others – perhaps with far less of an understanding of chemistry, no matter how rogue – would fill his place. Meanwhile, the World Anti-Doping Agency will still spend millions of dollars chasing down the athletes and chemists responsible.
With his previous record, Arnold’s new ventures are likely to be held up to the highest level of scrutiny, arguably making the case that when it comes to purchasing performance-enhancing concoctions, it may be better to deal with the devil you know. Either way, if this latest venture ends up being Arnold’s curtain call, his legacy will be much more complex than simply that of the man who ruined sport.
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