Ephedra Intermedia Plant Uses, Effects & Safety [Zhong Ma Huang]
Ephedra intermedia is listed among the more potent forms of the ephedra family of plants. It typically grows in Central Asia, in various portions of Siberia, as well as Middle Eastern locations such as Iran and Pakistan.
There are over 50 different varieties of ephedra shrubs that are cultivated internationally for their medical properties. Ephedra species and subspecies grow around the world and contain different levels of primary alkaloids: ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, among others.
Many of the effects of Ephedra intermedia are the result of the alkaloids found in this plant. Traditionally, it was used for asthma, to dilate the bronchial tubes, antiviral effects, as a diuretic and a diaphoretic.
Nowadays, this plant is mostly prized as a source of ephedrine for use in weight loss and energy-enhancing formulations. It is commonly taken to promote athletic performance, workout intensity, increase metabolism and to help control the appetite. Click here to buy ephedra supplements online legally without a prescription.
E. Intermedia is also known as Zhong Ma Huang. It should not be confused with Ma Huang, which refers to the Ephedra Sinica plant.
How does Ephedra intermedia compare with other species of this plant? It is considered to be one of the more potent species identified today, with alkaloid content comparable to:
- Ephedra sinica
- Ephedra major
- Ephedra gerardiana
- Ephedra intermedia
- Ephedra equisetina
In comparison, the versions of this plant that grow in the United States of American contain much lower total alkaloid content. The Ephedra nevadensis species contains little to no ephedrine. 
Ephedra Intermedia has lower content of alkaloids in comparison to Ephedra Sinica – a species that is more common in Asia and is also known as Ma Huang or Chinese ephedra. This plant has the highest content of numerous alkaloids including but not limited to:
Effects and Plant Properties
There are a number of medicinally active alkaloids found in E. Intermedia. It has demonstrated effects as a vasoconstrictor, antiasthmatic, antispasmodic, antihidrotic and as a vasoconstrictor.
Research shows that when administered it can reduce swelling of mucus membranes, can have anti-viral affects against influenza, and that it can promote relief from hay fever and allergies.
In traditional Chinese medicine, Zhou Ma Huang is viewed as a pungent, bitter, warm herb. It is common combined with other herbs and used in a wide variety of medicinal applications.
Those interested in using ephedra or growing their own should be aware that quality will depend on the estimated quantity of ephedra and type alkaloids found in that particular species.
Even though different species of ephedra have the same pharmacological activity or mechanism of action, they do vary a great deal in regard to their potency.
So too do the plant parts i.e. stems, roots, leaves, fruit, as well as the season in which the plan was harvested, and the geographical origin of the plant. Some species contain additional phytocomponents that can modify its pharmacological activities as well as its potential toxicity.
In regard to potency, the amount of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine in ephedra intermedia plants will also vary depending on geographical collection. A recent journal article determined that the alkaloids (ephedrine and pseudoephedrine) in over two dozen samples (in 500 mg powder) in total amounts of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.
The final chemistry and total alkaloids content of ephedra species is generally rated to range 0.5% to 2.3%. Ephedrine itself is the primary alkaloid in ephedra species and makes up to 90% of the total alkaloid content, follow closely behind by pseudoephedrine, with approximately 27%.
Ephedra intermedia ratios of pseudoephedrine to ephedrine are reversed, with approximately 75% of the total alkaloid being pseudoephedrine, and 30% ephedrine. 
Some studies have determined that the stem of the ephedra intermedia plant has an ephedrine content ranging between 30% and 70% of the overall total alkaloids found in the plant. As such, the species rates among the more potent as the ephedra species.
How Does Ephedra Intermedia Work?
Ephedra Intermedia contains ephedrine which is an adrenergic receptor agonist, meaning it increases activation of adrenoreceptors in the body.
Adrenergic receptors respond to catecholamine hormones, including norepinephrine (noradrenaline) and epinephrine (adrenaline). Ephedrine is capable of mimicking some of the effects of epinephrine and is considered as sympathomimetic agent.
Consumption of this herbal extract can affect functions of the sympathetic nervous system, including regulation of blood vessel dilation and opening of airway passages in the lungs.
Ephedra products cause vasoconstriction in some parts of the both and vasodilation in others. For example, when ephedrine comes in contact with norepinephrine receptors in the heart, it causes arteries in the body to constrict, increasing blood pressure and forcing more blood to the heart for oxygenation.
These receptors are not active on skeletal muscle blood vessels. Instead, beta-adrenergic receptors in these parts of the body promote blood vessel dilation so that muscle cells can receive oxygen and nutrients.
Two types of beta receptors affect different areas. Beta-one receptors are located in the heart muscle and can influence heart rate as well as force of heart contractions. Beta-two receptors influence bronchioles and bronchi airway passages in the lungs, causing them to dilate or widen, increasing oxygen flow.
The overall influence of the adrenergic receptor activity in the body is to stimulate various areas of the central nervous system, including the brain, but primarily the sympathetic nervous system which has an influence over body functions that we can’t control (breathing, heart rate, metabolism, etc.).
For some, the stimulative components of the ephedra intermedia alkaloids will trigger a temporary increase in heart rate, which is perceived to contribute to thermogenesis or heat production, which in turn is associated with increasing metabolism.
This is purported to have a number of benefits, such as increased alertness, vigilance, attention, motivation as well as weight loss.
Purported Health Benefits
A number of ephedra herb species have been utilized in traditional medicine due to the presence of the alkaloids ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. These compounds have also been isolated and turned into pharmaceutical drugs to treat specific medical conditions.
In most cases, medical treatments utilizing these alkaloids include bronchodilators for the treatment of asthma, cold and flu remedies as well as some cough medicines.
Recent studies have attempted to determine whether ephedra intermedia is a beneficial antioxidant as well as a commonly used treatment for lung conditions. In addition to its function as an anti-osmotic, it has been used in medical scenarios as a diaphragmatic and as a stimulant. 
Because ephedrine affects certain areas of the brain that have to do with hunger and satiety, it may behave as an appetite stimulant for some. Other species of ephedra have been used in dietary supplements to promote weight reduction and control hunger cravings.
Ephedrine also acts as a thermogenic agent, which means it promotes the generation of heat in the body. This is the metabolic process by which stored calories are converted into heat, raising the core body temperature.
Due to its influence on the stimulation of brown fat beta receptors through its release of catecholamines, it may increase lipolysis.  This refers to the breakdown of stored lipids in adipose tissue.
Some may find that using ephedra intermedia in various forms may promote a quick burst of energy and focus, but the effect is short-term and usually subsides within one to three hours for most users.
Because of its activity as a central nervous system stimulant, it may promote more negative side effects than benefits for those attempting to use it for weight loss.
While use of E. Intermedia as an herbal extract is purported to be safe, the consumption of ephedrine on its own poses significant risk of adverse effects. This plant alkaloid has now been banned from dietary supplements in much of the world and its sale is heavily restricted.
- Sigma-Aldrich. Ephedra.
- FDA.gov. Full Report. Chapter 1. Introduction. Ephedra
- Rahman Gull, et al. Preliminary Phytochemical Screening, Quantitative Analysis of Alkaloids, and Antioxidant Activity of Crude Plant Extracts from Ephedra intermedia Indigenous to Balochistan. The Scientific World Journal
Volume 2017 (2017), Article ID 5873648, 7 pages https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/5873648