What is Ephedrine and Why the Controversies

Ephedrine is a drug based formulation which derives its name from its main component, Ephedra, a Chinese herbal plant also known as Ma huang. This generic …

Ephedrine is a drug based formulation which derives its name from its main component, Ephedra, a Chinese herbal plant also known as Ma huang. This generic substance is sold in the market either as a prescription drug or as a food supplement. Due to its high degree of effectiveness, Ephedrine gained popularity in both forms.

Ephedrine as a Prescription Drug

As a prescription drug, Ephedrine takes on a synthetic form widely used to treat allergic disorders that lead to asthma, nasal congestion and other respiratory ailments. It is quite effective in its treatment abilities as it can cause bronchial tubes to dilate and nasal blood vessels to shrink, hence giving the patient immediate comfort.  

Ephedrine as a Food Supplement Ephedra

As a food supplement and in its natural form it was more known by its botanical name Ephedra. It was endorsed as a weight loss remedy and performance enhancer especially in the field of athletics. Generally, it is effective in helping the user to lose weight mainly because of its hunger suppressing effect. Its strength boosting ability is only secondary to its use as a weight loss therapy.

A 25mg dosage is said to be capable of increasing the metabolic rate by up to ten percent of the normal pace. This meant that new muscle mass is produced at an increased speed and with more skeletal muscle force. This condition makes the user feel doubly energetic and more focused with the task at hand. In some cases, individuals with 200 lbs of muscles have been known to push the dosage beyond what is recommended, usually double.

Thus the controversies surrounding the use of ephedrine and ephedra began. 

The Misuse of Ephedrine and Ephedra

Similar to the methamphetamine drug which was originally intended as a nasal decongestant and bronchial inhaler, Ephedrine the prescription medicine was abused. Ephedrine became a “party pill” wherein high doses were ingested along with high levels of alcohol. The practice was a total disregard for safety concern since the overdose and combination with alcohol proved to be fatal. The number of fatalities caught media attention hence the consequential banning of the ephedrine drug came into fore.  

Ephedra the food supplement had its own case of misuse. In February 2003, Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler who was only 23 years old and a known taker of the diet pill Ephedra died during training. Bechler’s case was one of the many examples of those who took the diet pill without proper health care consultation in the use of herbal supplements. The young pitcher had a history of high blood pressure, abnormal liver and familial history of heart disease.

Following this incident at least 23 States ordered a restriction on the sale and use of Ephedrine and other Ephedrine combinations. Almost all major sports association except the Major League baseball also prohibited the use of Ephedra and ephedrine.

On April 03, 2004 the FDA banned Ephedra but the ban was later lifted in May 2005, after a court ruled in favor of the plaintiff Nutraceutical Corporation. The FDA failed to prove that Ephedra was indeed harmful even in low doses.

Ephedra is known to have been in use as far back as centuries ago to treat asthma and similar conditions, the only difference between then and now is how it is used or for that matter, misused.