FAQs – Ephedra

What Is Ephedra?

Ephedra is a plant that contains the active ingredient ephedrine, a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant.

What Does It Do?

Like phenylpropanolamine, ephedrine acts on the appetite control center of the brain, the hypothalmus, suppressing the desire to eat. Like all CNS stimulants, ephedrine stimulates the heart and causes blood vessels to constrict, increasing blood pressure and heart rate.

Ephedrine-containing products (ma huang, Chinese ephedra, and Sida cordifolia) are marketed to improve athletic performance and enhance weight loss.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no good evidence that substances containing ephedrine enhance one’s exercise performance. It is banned by the International Olympic Committee and National Collegiate Athletic Association.

What Interactions Does It Have?

Ephedra may decrease the effectiveness of blood pressure medications. When combined with monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors, such as phenelazine (Nardil) and tranylcypromine (Parnate), or the antimicrobial drug furazolidone (Furazolidone), ephedra can cause a dramatic rise in blood pressure, increasing the risk of stroke. It also enhances the effects of other stimulant drugs, including caffeine, phenylpropanolamine and pseudoephedrine hydrochloride (Sudafed).

Combinations of ephedrine and caffeine have side effects substantially greater than those from the consumption of either compound alone.

How Serious Are The Health Hazards Associated With Ephedra (Ephedrine)?

Ephedra is evidently one of the most dangerous of the so-called herbal or natural dietary supplements. It is touted as an ancient Chinese herb (known there as ma huang), with the implication that it has stood the test of time.

Many people in this country are being seriously injured as a result of dietary supplements, and yet they are unaware that suppliers are virtually free to make health claims about substances for which there is no scientific proof indicating effectiveness, let alone the existence of side effects. Due to a law which the industry was able to get passed in 1994, the FDA has been left virtually impotent to regulate these products.

According to the FDA, since 1993 at least 50 people have died and 800 made ill by dietary supplements containing ephedrine (see FDA, 1996). The FDA recommends a maximum daily ephedrine dose of 24 milligrams, that supplements contain no more than 8 milligrams of ephedrine or related alkaloids per serving, and that ephedrine be used for no longer than one week.

Because of misuse and adverse reactions to products containing ephedrine, approximately 21 states have passed regulations stricter than federal regulations. These include requiring that ephedrine products be made available by prescription only; moving ephedrine products to schedules of controlled substances; and prohibiting weight loss, appetite control, or stimulant claims on the labels.

Due to the potential for harm, self-medication with ephedra-containing products is ill advised. Do not take ephedrine if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or thyroid problems, or if you are on antidepressant medications. Also do not use ephedrine if you are breast feeding as the drug is known to enter breast milk.

What Types Of Adverse Effects Have Been Associated With Use Of Ephedra?

Over 800 injuries have been reported by users and doctors to the FDA and various state medical bodies, including more than 50 deaths. Most of these involve heart and high blood pressure, often causing bleeds in the brain or stroke.

The FDA recommends that ephedrine-containing products carry a warning label indicating that taking more than the recommended dose may cause heart attack, stroke, seizure, or death. Clinically less significant effects (for example, dizziness, headache, gastrointestinal distress, irregular heartbeat, and heart palpitations) may indicate the potential for more serious effects. Ephedrine may also result in restlessness and insomnia as well as psychosis, memory loss and muscle injury. Side-effects from ephedrine intake can vary and don’t always depend on the dose consumed. Serious adverse effects can occur in susceptible persons with low doses.

Do Ephedra Users Have A Right To Be Compensated For Any Health Problems Caused By Ephedra?

If Ephedra has caused you or a loved one significant physical damage, you may be entitled to a large compensatory award. You must protect those legal rights before they lapse by passage of time and are barred by various states’ statutes of limitations. You should contact an attorney to evaluate your rights. Many valuable legal rights are lost everyday because of people’s failure to take legal precautions.