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How Washington Lost the War on Muscle

Steroid users hustle to stay one rep ahead of the law.

ReasonReasonWhen Ned decided to try anabolic steroids for the first time, his goal was to "be bigger and look better." He had friends who used, and they seemed no worse for wear. The college sophomore was already training smart and eating right. "I felt like the pieces were in place to accelerate the process," he says looking back. That left the question of acquisition: He knew he could use the internet to illegally buy drugs from overseas, or he could invest some social capital in befriending a muscle-bound gym regular who might be able to hook him up. Still, he hesitated, until a fellow lifter revealed that he could obtain the same drug—testosterone, the paterfamilias of anabolic steroids—legally.

If Ned could convince an M.D. that he had low testosterone, he could walk away with script in hand. Then he would be able to pick up clean, accurately labeled "test" from his local pharmacy in broad daylight, instead of braving the black market. He'd avoid the risks of drugs passed hand-to-hand, which might be under-dosed, mislabeled, or dirty. And buying directly from an Indian or Chinese lab (which probably supplied the American gym vendor anyway) poses all those risks plus the additional possibility of criminal charges—including prison time—if U.S. Customs intercepts your package and conducts a "controlled delivery."

"I'd estimate the majority of controlled deliveries I've seen have involved quantities that are consistent with personal use," criminal defense attorney Rick Collins writes in Legal Muscle, his 2002 doorstopper on U.S. anabolic steroid laws. "A band of government agents will lie in wait until you make the horrific mistake of accepting your mail. Then, like a plague of locusts, they'll descend upon the sanctity of your home, ransacking it from roof to basement."

User surveys say that more than half of men who buy drugs for physique and performance enhancement do so on the internet black market, despite the fact that buying steroids without a prescription is a crime in every state and a federal offense. Yet those same surveys also suggest that the number of recreational steroid users who acquire their drugs legally may have tripled in the last 10 years.

What, exactly, are these people chasing? Some men want to look in the mirror and be blown away by their own sheer mass. Other men want to feel as virile and physically capable at 50 as they did at 18. Strength athletes—powerlifters and strongmen, professional and amateur alike—want to amplify their natural abilities. But contrary to popular media, the vast majority of steroid-using men are are not athletes, but regular working stiffs who like how they look and feel on "gear."

Ned, who asked me not to share his real name, is one of those people. He's happily married, employed in academia, and as conscientious about his health as he is about his appearance. He represents a growing demographic of people who are using internet message boards, publicly available research data, and licensed doctors to tweak their bodies, take control of their decisions, and build forbidden muscle in a post-prohibition world.

EXPERIMENTATION

The use of anabolic steroids to build strength and muscle goes back to the middle of the 20th century and a company called Ciba Pharmaceuticals. Ciba conducted much of the early research into testosterone-based drugs, giving its compounds to American doctors and encouraging them to perform informal studies on their patients. The company published these findings in books such as 1948's Refresher Course on Male Hormone Therapy, which contains testosterone case studies for every condition then under the sun, from congenital eunuchoidism to same-sex attraction. (The eunuchs developed facial hair; the gay men thirsted even harder after other dudes.)

One of Ciba's doctors was the Maryland physician John Ziegler. According to his personal papers and records, obtained by Auburn University's John D. Fair for a 1993 report in the Journal of Sports History, Ziegler gave testosterone first to patients known to benefit from its anabolic qualities, such as burn victims. Testosterone's primary medical value is its ability to promote tissue growth. It increases red blood cell count, bone mineral density, and the number of satellite cells in muscle tissue. That means new skin for burn victims, bigger guns for lifters, and faster recovery for pretty much everyone. But testosterone is also androgenic: It stimulates the secondary sexual characteristics we associate with adult males, causing increased sebaceous gland activity and body hair, thickening of the vocal chords, prostate enlargement, and penis (or, in the case of women, clitoris) growth.

Ziegler likely knew about the anabolic effects, which is why he soon began giving the drugs to weightlifters at a gym in Silver Spring, Maryland, to see how the drug affected healthy people. This made him the first physician in the U.S. to administer testosterone not to repair, but to enhance. When members of the U.S. Olympic team attended the 1954 World Weightlifting Championships in Vienna, Austria, they did so with Ziegler in tow and Ciba's drugs coursing through their veins. It wasn't exactly an unfair advantage. Legend has it that Soviet lifters had been taking huge doses of testosterone for so long that their prostates were engorged and they needed catheters to urinate.

DEMONIZATION

Three decades after steroids began to proliferate through the gyms of the developed world, "roid rage" became the new reefer madness. There was two-time Super Bowl Champion Steve Courson's 1985 Sports Illustrated interview, in which he said steroids wrecked his heart. Then Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol following the 1988 Summer Olympics, where he'd beaten the American phenom Carl Lewis in the 100-meter finals. In April 1989, Olympic sprinter Diane Williams tearfully described to a U.S. Senate committee how the steroids that made her one of the fastest women in the 1984 Olympics also made her clitoris grow uncomfortably large.

The Judiciary Committee report accompanying the 1990 Steroid Trafficking Act was chock full of still more anecdotal evidence that steroids were permeating every corner of American life: a mild-mannered cop in Oregon who began juicing and then shot a shop owner for no apparent reason, a normally happy teenager found dead of a suicide next to the weight set in his garage after three years of using, "an obsessed steroid user" who felt so empowered by the exogenous hormones pumping through his body that he asked a friend to film him as he drove his car into a tree at 40 miles per hour.

Until 1988, steroids could be purchased over the counter. Relatively cheaply, too, thanks to chemist Russell Marker's discovery in the 1940s that two types of wild yam indigenous to Mexico—barbasco and cabeza de negro—could be synthesized into sex hormones.

A few critics warned Congress against making steroids illegal. "The medical facts do not support scheduling," Edward Langston of the American Medical Association told a Senate committee in the spring of 1989. "First, anabolic steroids have an accepted use in the treatment of several medical conditions. Second, abuse of steroids does not lead to physical or psychological dependence."

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) also opposed adding anabolic steroids to the Controlled Substances Act. At a 1988 hearing, the DEA's Gene Haislip argued that steroids did not share the "principally psychoactive" quality of other scheduled drugs, and were mostly used "to develop muscles, to increase physical performance, and perhaps simply to look good and appear to be more attractive to the opposite sex." Haislip also didn't want to add to the DEA's workload. "We do, in fact, have our hands full with some other problems."

But both Congress and sporting bodies saw steroids as a problem. And so in 1990, when Congress added anabolic steroids to the Controlled Substances Act, they were put in Schedule III, rather than Schedule I or II. That's a crucial distinction, because unlike drugs labeled Schedule I—a category that contains marijuana, psilocybin, and LSD, among others—doctors can prescribe, pharmacists can sell, and patients can legally possess Schedule III drugs.

In 1988, domestic sales of legal testosterone were roughly $18 million, according to a 2002 Institute of Medicine survey. By 1999, the market was $100 million. Between 1999 and 2002, the number of testosterone prescriptions written in the U.S. each year more than doubled, from 648,000 to 1.75 million. From 2010 to 2013, the number of men filling testosterone prescriptions jumped from 1.2 million to 2.2 million. Today, the prescription testosterone market is worth more than $2 billion, and is expected to crest at $3 billion by the end of the decade. In its attempt to purge anabolic steroids from American culture, Congress paved the way for them to become an unremarkable fixture in the country's medicine cabinets.

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  • GroundTruth||

    Besides which, baseball has really lost its mojo since testing became policy. The game may be more "classical", but it seems to be going back to the days of watching the lawn grow again.

  • Longtobefree||

    The government:
    That same year, the FDA announced that "testosterone is being used extensively in attempts to relieve symptoms in men who have low testosterone for no apparent reason other than aging" and that "the benefits and safety of this use have not been established."
    The real world:
    On dozens of online forums, steroid users have access to each other and to a wealth of clinical data going back decades.
    Any questions?
    Side note; there are no peer reviewed double blind federal government studies that prove the sun rises in the east, but plenty of anecdotal reports. Who ya gonna believe?

  • Domestic Dissident||

    Awesome. Elizabeth Nolan Brown is still whining because she just can't understand why some people in her profession would block her on Twitter just because she's a psychopathological liar who likes to publicly defame people.

    What a sick, fucked up bitch.

  • Liberty, Truth and Honor||

    Testosterone treatment is heavily advertised on conservative talk radio. Gun safes, gold and limp dicks.

  • Jerryskids||

    "the benefits and safety of this use have not been established"

    You could say the same thing about chocolate ice cream. It's safe, but there's no scientifically-established benefits and look at the hazards like obesity, diabeetus, stained clothing and brain freeze. Shouldn't government do something about this? Think of the children!

  • ||

    Thank Joe Biden, a subhuman piece of rat dung, for this. Seriously, look it up, Biden is the scum who pushed this legislation through against the advice of almost everyone who was even somewhat knowledgeable on the subject. I hope that piece of shit dies a slow and horribly painful death. I will totally enjoy that.

  • jmlandry||

    Sessions too. Dip fuck.

  • timpslab||

    Besides which, baseball has really lost its mojo since testing became policy. The game may be more "classical", but it seems to be going back to the days of watching the lawn grow Kodi For Android.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    I am, in general, in favor of legalization of all drugs, with minimal regulation. This is simply because the government should not be granted that much authority over us, and when it is it exercises it badly.

    That said, I have had personal and unpleasant experience with steroids. My Lady was prescribed too much steroid for too long for a misdiagnosed breathing problem. It screwed her up in a number of (pretty well documented, study-wise) ways, and getting her off of it was slow hell. In fact, she's stolen a very low maintenance dose, and probably will never be totally off the stuff.

    Now, steroids being strictly regulated didn't prevent that. And outlawing them entirely probably wouldn't have prevented that particular doctor from screwing up my wide's health. He was a twit. I don't want stricter regulation; I want a shift in liability law such that I could sue not for money but for the opportunity to spend ten minutes in a room with the idiot with a tire iron.

    But the over-regulation of steroids should not be allowed to create a backlash of 'steroids are wonderful;' bullshit. They are powerful drugs, that have strong side effects (because they have strong effects). Handle with care, and watch out for the steroid equivalent of "Legalizing Pot will save all our problems" crap.

  • ||

    That said, I have had personal and unpleasant experience with steroids. My Lady was prescribed too much steroid for too long for a misdiagnosed breathing problem. It screwed her up in a number of (pretty well documented, study-wise) ways, and getting her off of it was slow hell. In fact, she's stolen a very low maintenance dose, and probably will never be totally off the stuff.

    CSP please assure that you and Riggs are talking about the same class of drugs. There are anabolic (androgenic) steroids, which are illegal, that, with greater or lesser specificity, work on muscle and sex-specific tissues. Then there are (adrenal) glucocorticosteroids which are legal, with prescription, that treat all manner of inflammation (from asthma to tendonitis). I believe you have the two confused.

    For the record, IME, corticosteroids are by far more dangerous and there are way more licensed professionals in need of a good tire-iron refresher on their proper use. There was a while when orthopedists and trainers were (ab)using them to keep kids on the field. Pro-sports organizations now frown heavily on the practice, but there are still plenty of 'normal patient' doctors willing to take that shortcut.

    All of the above, however, lends to your point albeit from a slightly different angle; if you don't know the difference between corticosteroids and anabolic steroids you should probably consult one or more doctors before partaking.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    There may be a difference between anabolic steroids and glucocorticosteroids (hell, there clearly is), but that difference is NOT that glucocorticosteroids are harmless. I am not an expert on drugs, but the strong impression I got from extensive reading during my Lady's withdrawal is that nearly ALL steroids have strong effects, much stronger than many doctors in practice are fully aware of (the poor bastards have an awful lot to keep up on, and Federal Paperwork tends to get the nod, because they will go to jail if they screw it up)

  • ||

    but that difference is NOT that glucocorticosteroids are harmless.

    Sorry if I wasn't clear, I believe this precisely opposite. More to the point, I think you'd have to do some pretty dumb things, repeatedly, in order to hurt yourself with anabolic steroids. Glucocorticosteroids, OTOH, are routinely fucked up by medical professionals in a single dose/cycle.

  • ||

    Grr... this *precisely*. For many reasons corticosteroids are more dangerous than anabolic steroids, IMO.

  • tommyguns2||

    "That said, I have had personal and unpleasant experience with steroids. My Lady was prescribed too much steroid for too long for a misdiagnosed breathing problem...."

    I don't think that's the kind of steroids this article is talking about. You're referring to a corticosteroid.

    http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-gu.....eroids-101

    This was a very well-written article that addressed the topic pretty thoroughly in balanced manner. Quite refreshing. Anabolic steroids, taken at intelligent doses with proper diet and exercise, are extraordinary for improvements in quality of life.

    Would have liked the article to also tough on the increasing use of GH for anti-aging, quality of life purposes. Also an extraordinary drug that has been unfairly vilified.

    Thanks for the good article.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    I gather, from expensive reading, that ALL steroids, used carefully and for the right reasons, can bring about enormous improvements in quality of life. But the strength of that effect, sadly, means that taken carelessly or for the wrong reasons they can screw you up the way Pol Pot screwed up Cambodia.

  • tommyguns2||

    I can't disagree with what you say, but I suppose the same thing can be said for aspirin.

    It's my opinion that the doping scandals in major league sports are a significant reason that steroids have been vilified because they are deemed to be cheating. Emery boards are also cheating, and yet we clearly understand that they have their proper place in American life.

    The challenge with anabolic steroids is that they greatly affect your hormone profile, and because they are so effective in providing significant improvement in performance, it creates huge incentives for high school athletes to take them (i.e., abuse them) to get that Division I college scholarship. No doubt, 16 year old kids should not be taking anabolic steroids when they are in the midst of puberty.

    Unfortunately, this abuse my youngsters snags everyone in the same dragnet, and all the 40-80 year old men to whom such drugs provide extraordinary improvements in quality of life get labeled as criminals. I'd rather they de-schedule anabolic steroids and keep the rules in place (at least in the high school and college level) with strict penalties for kids and schools for doping.

  • damikesc||

    Not sure why anybody should care if an athlete wants to potentially ruin his future for a better present.

    Steroids mean jack to me.

  • Radioactive||

    don't you mean "JACKED UP"?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...he could obtain the same drug—testosterone, the paterfamilias of anabolic steroids—legally.

    But that ain't bona fide!

  • Mike Riggs||

    Thank you for recognizing my "O Brother" reference.

  • TallDave||

    Hehe... I got a copy of WAR around 1995, and used many of the safer substances listed -- I'm 6'2" and went from 165 lbs to 200+ lbs without gaining any fat. It was lifechanging in so many ways, mainly related to not looking like a walking gantry tower. Today I probably could have gotten a script, but the grey market was it then. Gave it up before I turned 30, managed to keep most of my gains over the years since without anything not sold on Amazon.

    Of course in those days on the commercial there was mostly only creatine (which does nothing except pump you up for muscle tears). Today we have tribulus and all the precursors plus stuff like Halotest, plus arginine and other things that can spike your GH, so if you're not really hardcore you have a lot more options.

  • ||

    I got a copy of WAR around 1995

    Which was still a decade behind Dan Duchaine.

    which does nothing except pump you up for muscle tears

    This is idiotic. Creatine has been shown to have all kinds of physical and psychological effects, injury potentiation is not one of them. If creatine did do that, dozens of steroids are far more effective/egregious about exacerbating the exact same phenomenon.

    Tribulus has been repeatedly shown to be junk. There are people out there with disposable income who may fall into some weird 'high responders' group... more power to them. The average person, OTOH, is not going to see any effect from Tribulus.

    Arginine is a terrible 'drug'. Your body, for eons of evolution, has adapted to tearing the molecule apart and expelling it. You can get a (few) one-off rises in HGH from various amino acids, but your body readily adapts to consuming them as fuel because that's what it's always done.

    Halotest is an unequivocal anabolic/androgenic steroid and, IMO, a bad one at that.

  • TallDave||

    The trib studies are a lot like the vitamin C studies -- low doses in young healthy people show no effect, but higher doses are effective for many people in certain common situations.

    Now, is trib anything like Sustanon or Deca Durabolin or Dianabol? No, not even in the same league. But it does bump your endogenous test.

    Arginine is just an amino acid. It has been shown to promote vascularity and to be generally mildly anabolic. Should be avoided when sick because it also probably promotes growth in infectious agents. Glutamine has been used to similar effect.

    Halo is not 17aa like Winstrol or Anadrol or Dianabol, so I'm not sure on what basis one would consider it all that bad.

  • ||

    Halo is not 17aa like Winstrol or Anadrol or Dianabol, so I'm not sure on what basis one would consider it all that bad.

    You clearly know little about what you are speaking. Your entire post is cluttered with biochemical garbage but this statement is the most ill-informed. Halotestin is 17-α activated and therefor will be metabolized by the liver. Moreover, 17-α activation is not the only way you make a steroid toxic. Specifically, Halotestin contains a fluorine making it a halogenated organic (thus *Halo*) and is a class of chemicals more taxing to the liver. Additionally, Halotestin, despite being a nominally anabolic/androgenic steroid, is a glucocorticoid agonist. The last two of these being rather unique to Halotestin (among AAS).

    On top of all of this, widespread anecdote places Halo rather 'low' on the anabolic end of the spectrum (possibly as the result of glucocorticoid agonism) , meaning that you have to take higher doses of to attain the same gains as more anabolic compounds.

    I'm not one to wholly subscribe to the notion that any/all steroid use inherently damages your liver and am pretty much in favor of people having the freedom to liquefy their livers in order to get bigger and stronger. However, if I had to choose one steroid that I considered to be the closest thing to poison, Halo would be it.

  • TallDave||

    You have no idea what you're talking about. You don't even know what 17aa means -- 17-alpha-alkylated, because of the alkali group.

    I did make one type above -- HaloTEST is 17aa. HaloPLEX is methylated androstenedione, and can be bought on Amazon.

    I'm not bothering to read further, your ignorance is your problem and you seem to be roid raging. Good luck with that,

  • ||

    You have no idea what you're talking about. You don't even know what 17aa means -- 17-alpha-alkylated, because of the alkali group

    The drug is orally active or activated and it's made so by an alkyl (carbon chain) group. Alkali is relatively unrelated to what's being stated here. This is 100-200 level collegiate organic chemistry.

    You confused Haloplex with Halotest, you deserve a routing.

  • TallDave||

    Your comment is so epically stupid it earns one last reply.

    Yes, I made a typo in the name of a product I bought several years. Sorry the lack of rigor in my aimless anecdote so distressed you.

    Yes, alkali for alkyl is a typo. "Activated" from you is just stupid. Also stupid: Dan Duchaine makes WAR obsolete.

  • ||

    Yes, I made a typo in the name of a product

    Yes, alkali for alkyl is a typo.

    Two typos that change the fundamental semantics of your statements (that you correct only after refuting my syntactically/semantically correct statements) and I'm the one with a reading/writing comprehension problem?

    The visitors/audience on these forums are generally smarter than you're giving them credit for.

  • TallDave||

    This is idiotic. Creatine has been shown to have all kinds of physical and psychological effects, injury potentiation is not one of them. If creatine did do that, dozens of steroids are far more effective/egregious about exacerbating the exact same phenomenon.

    The question was never studied in any rigorous detail, but anecdotally among BBs if you enjoy muscle pulls go nuts. Yes, other things can do this too, but many of them also promote muscle growth. The whole concept of "pump up your ATP-ADP axis" was, to use your phrase, idiotic but various idiots still believe it.

  • ||

    The question was never studied in any rigorous detail, but anecdotally among BBs if you enjoy muscle pulls go nuts.

    I presume this to mean among BBs in your gym or in the circles you run in and, again, this is more disinformation. If you suffer frequent muscle pulls, the problem is, among strength coaches, generally regarded as either a technique or preparation issue and wouldn't be exacerbated by creatine. Or at least not exacerbated in a way that (e.g.) Anadrol wouldn't exacerbate 10-fold. The most 'legitimate' claims of muscle pulls associated with creatine come from regulatory bodies who, after banning steroids, felt the need to march down the list of chemical boogeymen.

    Among lifters, strength athletes, athletes in general, personal trainers and strength coaches... moreover, among biologists and biochemists creatine isn't questioned. Unlike your false analogy above, creatine is more like exogenouse testosterone and vitamin C than tribulus. It acts directly in/on your physiology and ingesting or injecting it leads to direct and measurable, dose-dependent, increases. Precisely dislike tribulus which repeatedly shows nothing resembling any sort of dose-dependence or similarly predictable physiological response.

  • TallDave||

    Creatine as a bodybuilding supplement is effectively useless and just tends to cause more muscle tears. At GNC they would tell you it was the hot new way to build muscle, among the fairly serious BBs (people who weren't afraid of a gram/day of test) I knew it was considered a bad joke, at best something to tell the newbs you were doing to hide the fact you were using something else.

    Lots of trainers swear by homeopathics too. There are enough myths and pseudoscience to support about any position on anything, so feel free to believe whatever you want.

  • TallDave||

    As for the source... there were few very discreet, invitation-only online BB groups in the 1990s, comprised of hundreds of people were at least semi-serious about BB (some competing) and had a lot of experience with various cycles. Maybe they were all wrong, but I doubt it.

    As for "biologists and chemists" there is not even a proposed chemical or biological mechanism by which replenishing ATP would cause your muscles to grow -- but it's still a great sell to the newbs.

  • ||

    As for "biologists and chemists" there is not even a proposed chemical or biological mechanism by which replenishing ATP would cause your muscles to grow -- but it's still a great sell to the newbs.

    Wow... just wow. Some trolls have said some pretty brainless things but this is breathtaking in it's willful ignorance.

    You may as well have said there's no proposed chemical or biological mechanism by which replenishing caloric reserves causes muscles to grow.

  • TallDave||

    Right, because if you stop taking creatine the results are the same as if don't eat anything.

    Epic fail.

  • ||

    Right, because if you stop taking creatine the results are the same as if don't eat anything.

    If you stop producing creatine or deplete your body of creatine phosphate the results are the same as if you don't eat anything, yes. Now, we're covering 100-level biochemistry.

  • ||

    On top of the strict muscular effects, the mechanisms by which creatine is postulated to work should produce other physiological and even cognitive effects besides simple mass retention. Not unsurprisingly these effects have been independently demonstrated. This is the case not in obscure Acta Retracta and niche scandinavian and soviet physiology journals but widely-read, mainstream, and field/flagship journals like Neurology.

    The fact that you tout arginine and glutamine supplements as though they do something exceedingly significant while poo pooing creatine really suggests that you have little understanding of the biochemistry at work. The average person consumes excessive amounts of arginine and glutamine eating a 'normal' diet and they are even copious in vegeterian, vegan, and other similarly nutrient depleted diets. Creatine, OTOH, is completely lacking from a vegetarian diet. A plain use-case where supplementation would and does make *perfect* sense just as if you were to give someone suffering from scurvy a vitamin C supplement.

  • TallDave||

    The fact you read " exceedingly significant" into "now we have some legal stuff that kinda works" tells me your reading comprehension is terrible. Yes, taking an amino acid on its own can have different effects than consuming it as part of something else.

    I'm not wasting any more time reading your nonsense, but I'll leave you with two of the many studies on arginine.

    https:/ /www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3151442/
    http:/ /www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/ S2255497115000981

  • ||

    me your reading comprehension is terrible.

    No one wrote the phrase "now we have some legal stuff that kinda works". I wrote 'Halotest', you read HaloPLEX.

    You offer the internet equivalent of zero evidence that creatine has anything to do with muscle pulls or tears and, instead, offer data that confirms widely-known amino acid supplementation protocols. The use and efficacy of amino acid supplements is well older than steroid use/abuse but, I guess they wouldn't talk about history on your 90s-era bodybuilding forums (or you wouldn't read it).

  • TallDave||

    No, I wrote Halotest, you copied it, I explained it was a typo.

    You offered zero evidence of anything. Thanks for some brief entertainment in your flailing around roid-raged about... something or other. Goodbye, enjoy your massive gains on creatine (snicker).

  • Eman||

    "...That stuff'll shrink your testicles, but there's bad side effects too."
    L

  • Eman||

    "...That stuff'll shrink your testicles, but there's bad side effects too."
    L

  • CZmacure||

    I gather, from expensive reading, that ALL steroids, used carefully and for the right reasons, can bring about enormous improvements in quality of life. But the strength of that effect, sadly, means that taken carelessly or for the wrong reasons they can screw you up the way Pol Pot screwed up Cambodia.

    Sent from FanInviter Review
    Sent from ImprovPal Review

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