In Brief

Trans teenagers turning to ‘DIY’ online hormone therapy

NHS warns of potential ‘irreversible’ side effects of prescription-only drugs bought on internet

A growing number of trans teenagers are buying drugs online to alter their hormone levels rather than facing the long waits for similar treatment on the NHS.

 According to The Times, some young people are using online forums such as Reddit to ask for “guidance on taking medication including androgen blockers that halt the effects of testosterone in the body”.

Many are referred to online pharmacies for what users are calling “DIY HRT” (do-it-yourself hormone replacement therapy), says the newspaper.

An investigation by The Mail on Sunday found that increasing numbers of children aged under 16 are obtaining prescription-only hormone-altering drugs online with “frightening ease”.

Many boys who want to transition opt for the hormone oestrogen, because it “hinders hair growth, induces breast development and reduces muscle mass”. But health professionals warn that use of the hormone can also cause sexual dysfunction, infertility, depression, type 2 diabetes and incontinence - and that the effects can be irreversible.

Girls wishing to change sex often use testosterone as it encourages facial hair growth, deepens the voice and makes them more muscular, but the drug also “carries the risk they could develop cardiovascular disease and cancer”, the Mail reports.

Under-18s seeking NHS treatment for gender dysphoria who are considering changing sex are usually referred to gender identity clinics, where they are rigorously assessed. Only those aged over 16 are considered for hormone drugs, which are given under supervision, along with advice from specialists including mental health professionals and paediatric endocrinologists.

However, current NHS waiting times for treatment are around 14 to 15 months.

A spokesperson for The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, which specialises in child gender identity, said: “There is all manner of different advice across the web and social media regarding self-medication, and we wouldn’t endorse any of it. We are concerned that potentially vulnerable young people could be misadvised by the discussions and resources online and act hastily.”

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