Overview: For an ancient drug, changes sure have
been swirling up around ephedrine in recent years. Why? Mostly
because ephedrine is chemically similar to methamphetamine, and
has figured into the illicit production of that drug for years.
Once a main ingredient in legally-available energizers and nutritional
supplements, ephedrine was banned in those products by the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration in 2004. Then, in 2006, controls
on both ephedrine and a synthetic form of the drug, pseudoephedrine,
were tightened nationally to restrict their availability as precursor
chemicals in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
Appearance: In its pure form, ephedrine is a white
powder, but it has also been sold in tablet or capsule form or
as loose plant material.
Actions/Effects: Ephedrine triggers a mild burst of energy,
due to its similarities to the body hormone epinephrine (or adrenaline)
and the street drug methamphetamine. In addition to its stimulant
effects (which can include feelings of alertness and reduced
appetite), ephedrine also relaxes bronchial muscles and dilates
airways, and can cause sharp increases in both blood pressure
and heart rate.
Medical Uses: Due to its effects on respiration, ephedrine
has long been used as an ingredient in over-the-counter cold,
allergy, and asthma products.
Side Effects: Common side effects include increased
body temperature, sweating, dry mouth and tremors. Higher doses
may cause dizziness, restlessness, anxiety, and insomnia.
Risks: Users who are sensitive to ephedrine or who take
high doses may experience potentially-serious health risks, including
abnormally high blood pressure, breathing difficulties, and rapid,
irregular heartbeat. These effects may be accompanied by confusion
and paranoia. An amphetamine-like psychosis has also been linked
to chronic abuse of high-dose levels of the drug.
Trends: Despite numerous deaths linked to ephedra-based
products, national debate on the subject never reached critical
mass until the early 2000’s. Following the 2003 ephedrine-related
death of a major league baseball pitcher, the FDA rewrote the
1994 Dietary Supplements Act to include much-needed regulatory
authority, standardized dosage, content and warning labels. And
in 2006, the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act sharply curbed
U.S. distribution of the drug, banning unregulated over-the-counter
sales of ephedrine and placing strict limits on its availability