Charlie Sheen “Roid Rage” during Major League?

This week, Sports Illustrated released an interview with actor Charlie Sheen in which the former Two and a Half Men actor reported that he took anabolic steroids during the filming of the 1989 movie Major League. Sheen is an avid baseball fan, calling it more than a hobby- ” it’s a religion”. Understandably, Sheen jumped at the chance to do this movie when he was offered a part, although it apparently did not care for the “lightning bolt haircut” he had to wear in the movie:

I didn’t like the haircut because it generated so many comments in bars. I’ve got enough of that already. Add that to the mix, and it’s a recipe for a fistfight. I was already bitchy because — let’s just say that I was enhancing my performance a little bit. It was the only time I ever did steroids. I did it for like six or eight weeks. You can print this, I don’t give a f—. My fastball went from 79 to like 85.

What are Anabolic steroids?

Anabolic steroids (AS) are artificial versions of testosterone, a hormone that all individuals have naturally in their bodies. Anabolic steroids, the most frequently abused of all steroids, are taken orally or injected to enhance athletic performance, increase stamina, and improve physical appearance. Anabolic means “muscle-building.” Steroids are often taken in cycles of weeks or months rather than continuously.

These drugs were originally developed in the late 1930s to treat diseases where the body is deficient in normal concentrations of sex hormones but were also found to increase the growth of skeletal muscles in laboratory animals. This led to the abuse of these substances, first by weightlifters and body builders but later by athletes in other sports as well.

What are the effects of steroids on the brain?

When a person takes steroids, the drugs are distributed to many regions of the brain, including the hypothalamus. Testosterone is naturally produced in the hypothalamus, which controls appetite, blood pressure, moods, and reproductive ability. Steroids alter the normal functioning of the hypothalamus, resulting in changes in the amount of testosterone that is sent throughout the body. Because testosterone plays a role in many body functions, this can result in the many effects seen with steroid abuse.

Steroids can also disrupt the functioning of neurons in the limbic system, the part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation. This disruption can lead to aggressive behavior, mood swings, violent behavior, impairment of judgment, and even psychotic symptoms like personality changes or paranoia.

How much steroid abuse contributes to violence and behavioral disorders is unknown. Case reports and small studies indicate that anabolic steroids, when used in high doses, increase irritability and aggression. Some steroid abusers report that they have committed aggressive acts, such as physical fighting or armed robbery, theft, vandalism, or burglary. Abusers report that they are more likely  to commit aggressive acts when they are on steroids than when they are drug free.

Anabolic steroids can also affect mental health. Although many users report feeling good about themselves while on anabolic steroids, extreme mood swings can also occur, including manic-like symptoms that could lead to violence. Researchers have also observed that users may suffer from paranoid jealousy, extreme irritability, delusions, and impaired judgment stemming from feelings of invincibility.

The term “roid rage” is really a made-up term to describe some of the aggressive behavior seen in some AS abusers. For example, Pro wrestler Chris Benoit may have had “roid rage”  when he killed his wife and son before hanging himself.

Sometimes I think the workouts my trainer Becky puts me through were invented by someone during their roid rage. – Dr. B


Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.


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