Ephedra, or Ma Huang, is a plant used in Chinese medicine. Many weight loss, bodybuilding, and energy supplements contain it as the main ingredient. Ephedra is a low, evergreen shrub with scaly leaves. In China and India, it is used to treat colds, fevers, headaches, coughs, wheezing, and other conditions.

Ephedra suppresses appetite and stimulates metabolism when combined with caffeine.
Athletes and non-athletes alike have embraced ephedrine for its reported benefits, including:

  • Increased athletic performance and endurance
  • Enhanced concentration
  • Fat loss and weight loss

Despite ephedrine’s widespread popularity in sports and diet supplements, a 2003 study found its benefits are questionable. The study found ephedrine does not appear to increase strength, endurance, reaction time, anaerobic capacity, or recovery time after prolonged exercise.

Despite the possibility of short-term weight loss, there is no evidence that ephedrine will offer any long-term benefits.

Almost no new research has been conducted on ephedra since its use in dietary supplements was banned in the United States. There had been considerable research on ephedra’s short-term effects on weight loss and its harmful effects before the ban.

What Are the Health Risks Associated with Ephedra?

Ephedrine appears on the list of banned substances issued by the International Olympic Committee and practically every major professional and amateur athletics organization.

Ephedra is an amphetamine-like substance that increases heart rate and blood pressure.

Ephedra use increases the risk of heart attack, seizure, stroke, and even sudden death. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2000 reported that several people had died of cardiac arrest after taking an ephedra-containing product. These deaths were not always linked to high intake or overuse. Steve Bechler, a pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles, was among the 40 such deaths reported by 2003.

Numerous products found to contain caffeine or ephedra/ephedrine were not found to be effective for their intended purposes and were found to increase the rate and severity of the above side effects.

How Can Nutritional Supplements Be Illegal?

In 2004, the FDA cracked down on the manufacture, sale, and distribution of the popular nutritional supplements Andro (androstenedione) and Ephedra. Congress passed the Anabolic Steroid Control Act the following year. As a result of this law, designer steroids and steroid precursors are now illegal to traffic or use under the Controlled Substances Act. These drugs, such as Andro and THG, are now considered Schedule III drugs, the same as actual anabolic steroids.

The FDA banned dietary supplements containing ephedrine alkaloids due to their serious safety risks. Supplements were associated with heart attacks, seizures, strokes, and sudden death. Some of the severe events occurred in people without preexisting medical problems, in people taking relatively low doses of ephedra, or in people taking ephedra alone.

People with cardiovascular disease, those taking high doses of ephedra, and those taking it together with caffeine are at an increased risk. Other side effects of taking ephedra include anxiety, dizziness, dry mouth, headaches, irritability, nausea, personality changes, insomnia, and more.

Due to its serious risks, ephedra is not recommended for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Developments in the Law

There have been a number of recent developments regarding products containing ephedra:

  • Following more than 800 reports of adverse effects of ephedra in 1997, the FDA proposed rules for dietary supplements containing ephedra. This included a warning on the product and a statement that the product should not be used for more than a week.
  • The widow of Major League Baseball pitcher Steve Bechler filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against an ephedra-based dietary supplement manufacturer in July 2003.
  • Dietary supplements containing ephedra were banned in February 2004 because they posed an unreasonable risk to consumers.
  • Despite a lawsuit by an ephedra-based dietary supplement manufacturer that claimed ephedra could safely assist consumers in losing weight when used as directed, the ban went into effect on April 12, 2004.

Ephedrine is banned in diet and sports supplements, but it is still commonly used to treat allergic disorders like bronchial asthma. Ephedrine is also used to prevent dangerous drops in blood pressure during some anesthesia procedures.

Even for these purposes, the use of ephedrine is strictly regulated by state-to-state drug control laws. Many states will require merchants to obtain proof of identity and keep records of all sales.


Several sports supplements are marketed as containing safe ephedra extracts. However, in many cases, they are made with plants, such as Caralluma fimbriata, and do not contain ephedra at all.

Ma huang, a Chinese herbal medicine, is the only product that contains ephedrine that can be legally purchased over the counter. It is the raw, natural tea made from E.equisetina or E.sinica.

A legislative loophole allows the tea to be sold without restriction as long as it is not marketed as an appetite suppressant or added to any other supplement.

What Should I Do if I Have Experienced the Adverse Effects of Ephedra?

Manufacturers are responsible for informing consumers of known risks associated with their products. It may be held liable for patients injured due to inadequate warnings if it does not do so. If you have been injured by consuming an ephedra-based product, you may be able to sue for damages.

Talk to your health care provider about any complementary health approaches you use. Make an informed decision together.

Penalties for Selling or Possessing Designer Steroids and Steroid Precursors

The Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 2004 defines designer steroids and steroid precursors as Schedule III drugs, and imposes federal penalties for both the illicit possession and sale of steroids. The following are the federal penalties for both possession and sale of steroids:

Simple possession with no prior offenses

  • Up to a year in federal prison; or
  • Minimum fine of $1,000.

Simple possession with certain prior convictions

  • Minimum 15 days in prison, and up to two years in prison; or
  • Minimum fine of $2,000.

Possession with intent to sell

  • Up to five years in prison; or
  • Minimum fine of $5,000.

Even though steroids and supplements are not always viewed as a top priority by law enforcement officials, recent attention brought by steroid use in professional sports may lead to an increase in arrests. This is reflected by recent state decisions to test high school athletes for performance-enhancing drugs.

What Is the Maximum Amount of Ephedrine You Can Take?

Unless your doctor has diagnosed you with mild, intermittent asthma, do not use medicines containing ephedrine. The products have different strengths. That’s why you should always read and follow the Drug Facts label. See a doctor if symptoms persist or if your asthma worsens.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Recover Damages for Ephedra-Related Injuries?

Researchers found that dietary supplements containing ephedra/ephedrine (usually when combined with caffeine) had modest short-term effects on weight loss prior to the ban. Despite this benefit, the serious risks associated with these supplements were deemed too great to outweigh it. No long-term effects on weight had been assessed. In terms of athletic performance, there was insufficient evidence to draw any conclusions.

It can be difficult to sue a large corporation. An experienced defective product lawyer can help you determine what damages you are entitled to. A product liability attorney can also help you prepare the necessary paperwork and represent you in court.