Ephedra And Ephedrine pills – Legal Status, Benefits and Side Effects

Ephedra And Ephedrine pills – Legal Status, Benefits and Side Effects

6 min read


28 Jan 2021

Hands down one of the most famous and controversial dietary supplements ever brought to market is ephedra. This plant-derived supplement has long been used in Chinese medicine to treat breathing issues such as asthma, but it exploded in popularity back in the 90s when studies and anecdotal reports found that it could promote weight loss and increase energy levels.

Following several medical reports of the supplement’s side effects including an athlete’s death, it wasn’t long before ephedra was effectively banned. But is ephedra really all that dangerous? Let’s take a look at what ephedra is, the role of ephedrine in promoting fat burning, why it was banned, and safer alternatives to ephedra pills.

What is Ephedra?

Red cones of Ephedra used as a medicinal plant in folk medicine

Native to most of Asia, ephedra sinica, also known as ma huang, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for years. The two most common ways to take ephedra are through the following means:

  • Dietary Supplements: The extract found in the ma huang plant is placed into a capsule or tablet.
  • Beverage: The ma huang plant is brewed as a tea, steeped in water for 5 to 10 minutes. It may be taken with sweeteners to cover the bitter taste of the plant.

Benefits of Ephedra

Setting aside its reputation, let’s discuss the proven benefits of ephedra and the reason it became so popular in the fitness industry and among professional athletes.

Fat Burning: The science is clear in regards to ephedra pills being an effective fat burning supplement. Several studies have shown that ephedra can help you burn more fat by increasing your metabolic rate, which in turn will boost the number of calories you burn. What’s more, ephedra may be able to support the direct process of fat utilization (using fat as fuel) without building up a tolerance. In other words, you won’t need to take more and more ephedra to continue benefiting from its fat burning effects.

Weight Management: While the bulk of weight loss should be focused on a healthy diet and exercise program, a supplement like ephedra can complement your weight loss progress and help you stick to your goal weight. One study found that subjects were able to lose weight and keep it off for up to four months. Admittedly, four months isn’t a long time, but the idea is that ephedra should be taken in cycles of four weeks on, several weeks off. In other words, many people used ephedra as a weight management supplement from time to time.

Energy Levels: A few reports and many anecdotal reviews claim that ephedra is an excellent energy booster, which contributes to its role as a fat burner. After all, the more active you are, the more calories you’ll burn. Ephedra was often used as an energy booster and performance enhancer in athletic circles.

Boosts Benefits of Caffeine: One of the unique effects of ephedra is its relationship with caffeine. Studies show that while both ingredients – ephedra and caffeine – may provide benefits on their own such as energy-boosting and fat burning when they are taken together, that effect is amplified. This is why ephedra and caffeine were once taken with aspirin, forming the popular supplement: ECA stack.

What is Ephedrine?

Ephedra’s beneficial effects come from a compound within the plant called ephedrine. Studies suggest that it is ephedrine that produces the biochemical effects in the body that promote a boost in metabolic rate, energy levels, and fat utilization.

While some supplements still claim to contain ephedra, it’s ephedrine pills that have been effectively banned, but we’ll discuss this more below.

Effectiveness of Ephedrine

Ephedrine has long been thought of as an effective way to burn fat and lose weight. In fact, studies from the 80s were shedding light on its potential as a future form of treatment for obesity.

As we discussed above, the science confirmed the effectiveness of ephedrine long ago for weight loss. Here are a few examples:

  • One study discovered that over a 24-hour period, subjects taking ephedrine burned almost 4% more weight than those taking a placebo.
  • Another study showed that subjects who were given an ephedrine supplement lost three pounds more per month (up to four months) when compared to their placebo counterparts.
  • One study took a closer look at how ephedrine, caffeine, and aspirin worked together, confirming the supplement’s fat burning effect and potential as a tool for overcoming obesity.

Dangers and Side Effects of Ephedrine Pills

If ephedrine was so effective, why did it land in hot water in the early 2000s? Despite helping with fat burning, weight loss, and energy levels, the number of reports of side effects related to ephedrine diet pills steadily and consistently increased. The most commonly reported side effects of ephedra include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Tremor

More serious side effects – the ones that landed the supplement in front of the FDA – include the following:

High Blood Pressure: Higher blood pressure is always a risk with stimulants, but with ephedrine, the number of reported hospitalizations was far greater than a normal stimulant such as coffee.

Palpitations or Fast Heart Beat: Continuing with the point above, studies show that users who are sensitive to stimulants tend to experience a faster heart beat and heart palpitations.

Psychiatric Issues: In the same way that people who are sensitive to stimulants tend to report anxiety after drinking coffee, users of ephedrine may experience the same. Mood swings, excitability, and psychosis was also reported.

Seizures: Ephedra is not recommended for anyone who is currently suffering from seizures as studies have found that it can trigger or worsen the condition.

Death: Finally, there have been several deaths that implicate ephedra as a potential direct or indirect cause. The most famous example has been Baltimore Orioles pitcher, Steve Bechler, who died after taking ephedrine.

Is Ephedrine Legal to Use?

Ephedrine is currently listed as an illegal substance. In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration made ephedrine alkaloids illegal. While you may see some supplements that claim to still contain them, this is usually a completely different ingredient that provides a similar, but not nearly as powerful fat-burning effect.

There are two forms of ephedrine alkaloids: ephedrine hcl (hydrochloride) and ephedrine sulfate. While these alkaloids are now illegal in the United States, they were once used to treat breathing issues because of their status as a central nervous stimulant. Some anecdotal reports claim that the HCL version of ephedrine is more bioavailable.

With that said, the whole ephedra herb and ma huang tea are still available for purchase, which means you could buy the plant and use it to make tea. No ephedra product can be labelled as a dietary supplement.

What are Safer and Legal Alternatives?

Who doesn’t want some help when trying to achieve weight loss? Even though ephedra and ephedrine are potentially dangerous and illegal, there are safer and legal alternatives that can support your weight loss goals.

Ginseng: Another plant that is popular in Chinese medicine, studies show that the ginseng root can boost your body’s metabolic response, promoting more caloric expenditure without the side effects associated with ephedra.

Capsaicin: More commonly known as cayenne pepper extract, this ingredient is extracted from your favorite peppers. Studies show that the same spice that gives your food a kick has been shown to increase the thermogenic effect in your body.

Clenbutrol: A powerhouse of natural fat burning ingredients, Clenbutrol is an effective weight loss supplement that contains Vitamin B3, Garcinia Cambogia, and Bitter Orange Extract, to name a few.


Weight loss supplements have become commonplace in the quest to burn more fat and drop more pounds. Ephedra and ephedrine were once considered the kings of fat burning supplements until studies found that their side effects far outweighed their benefits.

Due to their illegal status in the United States and long list of side effects, we do not recommend using supplements claiming to contain ephedra or ephedrine. Instead, opt for a natural and proven weight loss support supplement such as Clenbutrol, which provides similar results as ephedra without the side effects.

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