Are All Ephedrine Supplements Banned? (2024)

Ephedrine is a drug derived from the plant ephedra, also called ma huang. It has been used for hundreds of years as both a stimulant and decongestant to treat lung problems and asthma. Athletes also use this as a way to improve athletic performance. In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the sale of supplements containing ephedrine after a number of deaths and cases of adverse effects related to their use were reported.

That said, ephedrine can be legally obtained for certain medical purposes where the benefits are believed to outweigh the risks.

Effectiveness of Ephedrine

Ephedrine has long been found in many diet pills and sports supplements and embraced by athletes and non-athletes alike for its reported benefits, including:

  • Improved athletic performance and endurance
  • Improved concentration
  • Increased weight and body fat loss

Despite the widespread popularity of ephedrine in sports and diet supplements, studies have found that the benefits of their use are questionable or must be monitored closely:

  • A study looked at the effects of taking ephedrine with caffeine on athletic performance. They found that although the subjects reported improved mood and enhanced alertness, there were no differences in athletic performance, including muscle strength, endurance or anaerobic power.
  • A 2021 meta-analysis found that although those who took ephedrine-containing products lost more weight than those who didn't take the supplements, they also had an increased heart rate. Researchers concluded that ephedrine may be beneficial to obese patients, however close heart rate monitoring should be done by a doctor.
  • While ephedrine can increase the likelihood of short-term weight loss, there is no evidence that it will offer any gains over the long term.

5 Types of Supplements You Should Always Skip, According to Experts

Dangers of Ephedrine

Ephedrine is among the list of banned substances issued by the International Olympics Committee and practically every other major professional or amateur athletics association.

The dangers of ephedra were first reported in 2000 when a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that a number of people had died of cardiac arrest after taking an ephedra-containing product. The deaths were not always associated with either high intake or overuse.

By 2003, more than 40 such deaths had been reported including that of Steve Bechler, a pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles.

Among some of the more dangerous side effects associated with ephedra/ephedrine use are:

  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Heart attack
  • Irregular or rapid heart rate
  • Psychosis
  • Seizure
  • Stroke

Many products found containing caffeine and ephedra/ephedrine were not found to be effective for their intended purpose and were found to increase the rate and severity of the above side effects.

Complete Guide to Prescription and Over the Counter Diet Pills

Legal and Non-Banned Uses

While ephedrine is banned in diet and sports supplements, it still is commonly used to treat allergic disorders such as bronchial asthma. It is also used in certain medical procedures involving anesthesia to prevent dangerous drops in blood pressure.

However, the use of ephedrine even for these purposes is strictly regulated with drug control laws that vary from state to state. Many states will require merchants to obtain proof of identity and maintain records of all sales.

Can You Still Buy Ephedrine?

There are many sports supplements marketed as containing "safe ephedra extracts." In a great many cases, however, they are made with other plant-based substances, such as Caralluma fimbriata, and contain no ephedra at all.

The one ephedrine-containing product that can be legally sold over the counter is the Chinese herbal medication known as ma huang. It is the raw, natural tea made from E. equisetina or E. sinica. A legislative loophole allows the tea to be sold without restriction so long as it is not marketed as an appetite suppressant or added to any other supplement of any sort.

Warning

Experts don't recommend taking ephedrine products, including ma huang, without close monitoring of a doctor for side effects. Even though it comes from a plant, it doesn't mean it is safe. Ephedrine supplements can also interact with other medications you are taking. Experts say you are more at risk for side effects if you are younger than 18, pregnant or nursing, have conditions including high blood pressure, seizure disorder, thyroid or liver conditions, or heart disease.

Bottom Line

Supplementsremain unregulated, so it is best to use them with caution, investigate your source, and interrogate health benefits claimed by manufacturers of the product. Their benefits to athletic performance have not been found in studies. They can help with weight loss, but can also increase your heart rate and should not be taken without a doctor's supervision. Consult with your doctor before taking ephedrine and related products and make sure you understand the legality of the drug in your state.

Benefits and Risks of Dietary Supplements

9 Sources

Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Ephedra.

  2. Williams AD, Cribb PJ, Cooke MB, Hayes A. The effect of ephedra and caffeine on maximal strength and power in resistance-trained athletes.J Strength Cond Res. 2008;22(2):464-470.

  3. Yoo HJ, Yoon HY, Yee J, Gwak HS. Effects of ephedrine-containing products on weight loss and lipid profiles: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.Pharmaceuticals (Basel). 2021;14(11):1198.

  4. Shekelle P, Morton S, Maglione M. Ephedra and ephedrine for weight loss and athletic performance enhancement: clinical efficacy and side effects. Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE): Quality-assessed Reviews [Internet]. 2003.

  5. Haller, C. A., & Benowitz, N. L.Adverse Cardiovascular and Central Nervous System Events Associated with Dietary Supplements Containing Ephedra Alkaloids. New England Journal of Medicine. 2000. 343(25), 1833–1838. doi:10.1056/nejm200012213432502

  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Ephedra. 2016.

  7. Oshima N. Efficient Preparation of Ephedrine Alkaloids-free Ephedra Herb Extract and Its Antitumor Effect and Putative Marker Compound. Yakugaku Zasshi. 2017;137(2):173-177. doi:10.1248/yakushi.16-00233-3

  8. Lee MR. The history of Ephedra (ma-huang). J R Coll Physicians Edinb. 2011;41(1):78-84. doi:10.4997/JRCPE.2011.116

  9. Torpy JM, Lynm C, Glass RM. Ephedra and ephedrine.JAMA. 2003;289(12):1590-1590.

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By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.

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Are All Ephedrine Supplements Banned? (2024)

FAQs

Is ephedrine banned in supplements? ›

While ephedrine is banned in diet and sports supplements, it still is commonly used to treat allergic disorders such as bronchial asthma. 7 It is also used in certain medical procedures involving anesthesia to prevent dangerous drops in blood pressure.

Can you still buy Ephedra in the US? ›

FDA Prohibits Sales of Dietary Supplements Containing Ephedra.

Is ephedrine still prescribed? ›

Since April 2006, all products, including plant parts, that contain ephedrine are only available with a prescription.

What is a substitute for ephedrine? ›

Ephedrine Alternatives Compared
EphedrineSunosi (solriamfetol)Xywav (calcium oxybate / magnesium oxybate / potassium oxybate / sodium oxybate)
Injectable solution Intravenous solutionOral tabletOral liquid
Brand Names
Akovaz, Bronkaid Max, Corphedra, Emerphed, Primatene Intermittent Asthma, RezipresN/AN/A
40 more rows

What is the closest thing to ephedra? ›

The ingredient drawing the most attention is bitter orange, which McClellan says the FDA is monitoring closely because it contains synephrine, a stimulant chemically similar to ephedra. Also called citrus aurantium, the peel of this very sour "Seville orange" is found in some foods like orange marmalade.

What pills contain ephedrine? ›

Medicines that contain ephedrine
  • Ephedrine (Wockhardt)
  • Ephedrine (Aguettant)
  • Wockhadrine.
  • Ephedrine Hydrochloride (SXP)
  • Ephedrine Hydrochloride (MYX)
  • Ephedrine Sulfate (DBL)
  • Ephedrine Instillation APF (extemporaneous)

Does Mormon tea contain ephedrine? ›

Unlike these other plants, Mormon tea does not contain ephedrine, an unsafe stimulant. As a medicine, people use Mormon tea for sexually transmitted diseases, colds, kidney disorders, and other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.

Is metabolife still around? ›

Today, Metabolife 356, like all other ephedra-based products, is banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and Metabolife International is a long-defunct company.

Which ephedra plant has the most ephedrine? ›

The 235 highest amount of ephedrine was recorded in E. strobilacea (2.7 mg g À1 dry 236 weight), while the highest amount of pseudoephedrine was recorded in Ephedra 237 procera (3.7 mg g À1 dry weight) [33] (Table 29. 2). ...

Does Sudafed still have ephedrine in it? ›

You may know pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine from their use in Sudafed products. Sudafed contains pseudoephedrine, while Sudafed PE contains phenylephrine. The drugs are also available in several combinations with other over-the-counter cough and cold medications. These drugs are both nasal decongestants.

Can you buy ephedrine in Florida? ›

SALES LIMITS:

In any single day, a person may not knowingly obtain or deliver to an individual through an OTC (retail) more than 3 packages of a nonprescription compound, mixture, or preparation containing PSE/EPH/PPA (regardless of weight). Person purchasing PSE/EPH/PPA products must be 18yrs old.

Is ephedra coming back? ›

The US Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday announced it is lifting the 10-year ban on weight-loss blockbuster botanical ephedra, a significant reversal on what was the No. 1 natural ingredient in the marketplace.

Can you buy ma huang in the US? ›

Ephedra sinica (ma huang) is a plant that has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. You can buy ma huang tea and ephredra herb, but the FDA banned ephedrine-containing products.

Is there a natural ephedrine? ›

Ephedrine is a natural product of the ephedra plant (Ephedra sinica), and is a mixed-acting, noncatecholamine sympathomimetic with both direct and indirect stimulating effects on α- and β-adrenergic receptors.

What stimulants are like ephedrine? ›

Common ATS includes amphetamine, methamphetamine, ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), 3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA) and 3,4-methylenedioxyethylamphetamine (MDEA). ATS when used illicitly has street names including ice, meth, crystal, crank, bennies, and speed.

When was ephedrine taken off the market? ›

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A 13-year tally of deaths and poisonings from ephedra show a spectacular decline after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of weight loss products containing the herb in 2004.

Do bodybuilders take ephedrine? ›

Throughout the second half of the 20th century, bodybuilders, professional athletes as well as normal individuals used ephedrine to help burn fat, suppress appetite and boost their performance in the gym.

Is ephedrine FDA approved? ›

It is in the sympathomimetic class of drugs. The FDA-approved primary indication for ephedrine is the treatment of clinically significant hypotension perioperatively.

Is ephedrine banned in natural bodybuilding? ›

Be advised that among the banned substances are ephedrine and its derivatives, DHEA and Andro and all of its derivatives. It is your responsibility to be aware of the substances that are on the prohibited list.

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