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What is Ephedrine?

Jessica Ellis
Updated Feb 18, 2024
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Ephedrine is an herb distilled from the ephedra plant that has a variety of medical effects. Though commonly used as a decongestant, ephedrine is also noted for its stimulant effects, similar to caffeine. In many organized sports, the substance is banned due to its possible performance enhancing effect. Many regions regulate the use and distribution of the substance because of its potentially adverse side effects.

The ephedra plant has been used for centuries in the treatment of respiratory problems like bronchitis and asthma. The substance works by opening bronchial passageways to allow more air to flow through, thus reducing the pain and discomfort of asthma or a respiratory infection. Although once found in many over-the-counter decongestants, ephedrine is now sometimes reserved for use in prescription or limited availability medications. In the United States, cold medicine containing ephedra is often available only by asking pharmacists for it specifically, and then only in limited quantities.

Body builders and athletes frequently use ephedrine to boost metabolism and improve performance. Much like caffeine, the chemical compounds in the drug speed up the heart rate and blood pressure, while some studies also show that it can increase concentration and improve focus. Many dieters also use ephedrine-containing diet pills to help increase weight loss by improving metabolism and suppressing the appetite.

Unfortunately, ephedrine has several downsides that have led to increased regulatory laws regarding its use and public availability. In excessive amounts, the substance can cause high blood pressure, heart attacks, and hyperthyroidism. Used in conjunction with other drugs, mental side effects such as hallucinations, anxiety attacks, and even bursts of rage can occur. Though generally considered safe in moderate amounts, some experts suggest that prolonged or regular use can lead to a chemical and psychological addiction to the substance. Addiction to ephedrine can also lead users to increase the dose as their bodies become used to the normal amount, increasing the chances of adverse or dangerous effects.

More sinister is the use of the substance in the production of methamphetamine drugs, which are illegal in many regions. These highly dangerous compounds are used as stimulants, but can result in potentially fatal side effects and severe behavioral changes. Methamphetamine drugs can lead to severe paranoia, rage, and even a euphoric feeling of invincibility, making injury and violence increasingly likely. The production of methamphetamine is named as a major factor in the creation of laws and regulations that guide ephedrine use and sales.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis , Writer
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGEEK. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.

Discussion Comments

By cafe41 — On Sep 20, 2011

@Subway11 - There are dangerous products that contain ephedrine, but there are also a lot of regular allergy medications that also have this drug. Some very helpful medications also contain ephedrine because it is really effective.

My husband gets really bad allergies and takes a 24 hour allergy pill that takes care of the problem right away. He only buys it maybe once a year, but the pharmacy does keep a record of the people buying this allergy medicine because some people were using drugs like this to make meth.

I think that the more you rely on yourself the better you will be. I have to be dying in order to take one of these allergy pills.

By subway11 — On Sep 19, 2011

@Starrynight- I know that a lot of people want to lose weight with these ephedrine supplements, but most of these supplements are not FDA approved so you are really taking the pills at your risk. I think that people that buy ephedrine online have to be really careful because many of these pure ephedrine pills are toxic and come from countries that don’t have any checks or regulations regarding these pills.

I personally would not ingest anything that is not first approved by the FDA because I know people that have had irreversible organ damage because of pills like this. I knew a lady that developed problems with her heart that she will have to live with the rest of her life.

Chromium picolinate is an effective fat burner that I have taken for years with no problem. This is probably a better alternative for weight loss.

By indemnifyme — On Sep 19, 2011

@starrynight - I'm glad your friends made the smart choice. I've actually heard of people abusing those pills and then later getting hooked on meth. Scary stuff!

I've used an inhaler with ephedrine in it for my asthma before. It did the job, but I didn't enjoy the side effects. I definitely wouldn't voluntarily take something with this stuff in it if I didn't have to!

By starrynight — On Sep 18, 2011

I'm pretty sure diet pill aren't supposed to contain this substance anymore, but I'm pretty sure some of them still do. Or if not ephedrine, something pretty similar.

I would not recommend anyone taking diet pills with this stuff in it. I had a few friends who were desperate to lose weight and tried pills with ephedra in it, back when it was still legal. They both had pretty bad experiences.

They did lose weight, but they felt awful. They had all the side effect the article mentioned-anxiety, mood changes, racing heart, etc. My friends both decided it wasn't worth dealing with the side effects and stopped taking the pills.

Jessica Ellis

Jessica Ellis


With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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