Some bodybuilders, athletes and men simply seeking improved libidos have long used testosterone to boost their performance, but the new gel raises the possibility of greater misuse of the steroid.
Teenagers and young adult athletes with perfectly acceptable testosterone levels are among those most likely to seek the hormone's power-enhancing qualities and are among those most at risk.
Even temporary use of testosterone in boys and men without low levels of testosterone can cause psychological side effects, including mood swings, severe aggressiveness and impaired judgment, experts say. Testosterone use can impair fertility and, among teenagers, can stunt bone growth.
"I am always concerned when you talk about sex hormones, whether it's for women or men, that people will only fixate on the sensational benefit," says Robert E. Dudley, chief executive of Unimed Pharmaceuticals in Deerfield, Ill., the manufacturer of the new testosterone gel, AndroGel. "They may think, 'I'm going to look great and have a ravishing sexual appetite' and forget that these are powerful hormones. . . . I would hate to see an adolescent get hold of the product."