What is ephedra extract and what is it used for? Ephedra is the name of a plant use in ancient Chinese medicine to treat lung ailments. Today, most use it for weight loss.
There are several different species of the ephedra herb, but the one most commonly used for medicinal reasons is known as “Ephedra Sinica“.
This version of the plant is unique because it contains the highest concentration of ephedrine alkaloids, the active ingredient that promotes weight loss, energy and greater metabolism.
Bodybuilders and athletes seeking weight and fat loss often turn to ephedra products and supplements.
Before using ephedra diet pills or fat burning supplements, it is important to know the basics:
- What is ephedra – how does the plant help with health issues?
- What dosage will provide me with the best results?
- What’s in it that makes it work?
- Is it safe?
What is Ephedra – Product Overview
The chemical composition and different parts of the ephedra plant are important to know. Why?
Because different parts of the plant, and different varieties or species of the plant can produce significantly different results as well as safety concerns.
Some ephedra products are banned by the U.S. Food and Drug administration as well as other government regulatory agencies around the world. For example, in the United States, ephedra extract is considered legal, but not two of its primary alkaloids: ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.
In Canada, the primary alkaloid of ephedra – ephedrine – is legal for use in drugs, but ephedra extract is not.
In several countries, ephedra extract (which can come from different parts of different species of the ephedra plant) without their ephedrine alkaloids are legal, and allowed. It can get even more confusing because even among states in the U.S., legalities differ.
Around sixty of the recognized names of the ephedra species are commonly used, although 157 are included in scientific plant names of species of the ephedra genus, along with a number of applicable synonyms.
Among the most common and supplements today (including synonyms) include:
- Ephedra sinica (Ma Huang)
- Ephedra viridis (Green ephedra, Mormon tea, Joint-Fir)
- Ephedra vulgaris
They all come from the family known scientifically as Ephedraceae.
Chinese ephedra (Ma Huang) has been used for thousands of years as a treatment for mainly lung and breathing conditions or ailments including anything from the common cold to asthma and allergies to treatment of pneumonia.
In medical scenarios today, ephedra is used by professional and non-professional athletes and those seeking fast weight loss a weight-loss drug or supplement for the treatment of obesity.
Chinese ephedra (Ephedra sinica) is more potent in regard to results and possible side effects than the American “version” of ephedra. This version grows in the American West and southwest, known as Ephedra viridis, a shrub commonly used by settlers and pioneers to create a concoction known as Mormon tea, Cowboy tea, or Squaw tea for the treatment of minor ailments.
Today, various forms of the plant including its stems and leaves, and in some cases, the root, are used in the manufacture of extracts, teas, capsules, and tablets.
Two of the primary components of ephedra that promote weight loss benefits are alkaloids: ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Throughout the 1940s and up through the 1980s and early 90s, ephedra was commonly used as a weight-loss product due to the stimulative effect of the ephedrine and pseudoephedrine found in the products.
What Does the Science Have to Say about Ephedra Results?
A number of studies have been conducted on the potential effects of ephedra, not only for the treatment of asthma and lung conditions, but in weight loss and physical performance enhancement.
Individuals may react differently depending on milligram strength and frequency of dosage, as well as lifestyle, diet, and exercise – including exercise intensity.
Some studies have determined that combinations of ephedra and caffeine (an extremely popular combination with over-the-counter supplements today) are not that much more effective than caffeine taken alone.
However, standardized, controlled, and crossover studies are lacking in regard to specifics such as the amount of caffeine used with a combination of the ephedra to produce results.
Other considerations include:
- Method of caffeine delivery
- Milligrams of caffeine and milligrams of Ephedra
Bodybuilders, athletes, and non-athletes using ephedra for enhanced energy, potential performance, and weight loss have differing opinions regarding its efficacy, which is also the result of numerous factors:
- Body composition (lean versus muscular and height versus weight)
- Exercise – types, intensity, frequency
Even scientific studies vary widely in their conclusions regarding efficacy. This is due to a nearly overwhelming disparity among the parameters of the studies.
In medical scenarios, and under careful supervision, ephedra sinica has been shown to contribute to a decrease in body weight and body mass index, as one Korean study on obese women observed. 
Unfortunately, many of the studies on ephedra are very short-term in nature – less than eight weeks – and extrapolating data and analysis produced multiple variability in regard to results and safety, again depending on dosage and study parameters.
Of the very few studies that provide specific data, common variations also had an effect on results. Variations include (along with individuals given placebos):
- Ephedra only
- Ephedra with caffeine
- Ephedrine with caffeine versus use of ephedrine alone
- Ephedrine versus some other type of weight-loss treatment
- Ephedra versus a placebo
- Ephedra with herbs containing caffeine versus a placebo
Such studies received by the FDA for consideration contained, at the time of the publication, approximately four controlled trials (with placebo) studying combinations of ephedra with one or more herbs that contain caffeine.
Only one trial attempted to determine results of ephedra without any herbs containing caffeine. 
In terms of weight loss, ephedra combined with caffeine did contribute to increased weight loss for the short term, but with modest results.
According to the FDA analysis of the studies, an individual using an ephedrine with caffeine product or an ephedra-type dietary supplement with or without caffeine averaged a weight loss that was a mere two pounds more than that of individuals using a placebo over a period of use between four and up to six months. 
In regard to ephedra for athletic performance, very few verifiable or even moderately sized participant studies exist. According to the FDA, only small groups of government-funded studies have been tested, and these with younger, fit participants (male military recruits) .
Analyzed data from those studies were very short-term and focused on the immediacy of results in regard to performance. The report mentioned that ephedrine with caffeine provided more positive results for the short term, but a lack of studies persists regarding the efficacy and benefits of ephedra – and only on performance.
Ephedra Mechanism of Action
What are the ingredients found in ephedra that makes it work as a weight loss drug?
Ephedra is believed to work because it contains physiologically active alkaloids or plant chemicals that promote a sympathetic nervous system response in the body.
Its primary mechanism of action is stimulative in nature. The stimulative effects of the plant affect not only the central nervous system and the sympathomimetic systems, but can also have an influence on metabolism and cardiovascular function.
The main chemical components found in ephedra that have a variety of influences on the body’s systems include:
The major ephedra alkaloids – ephedrine and pseudoephedrine – behave as nonselective receptor agonists (both alpha and beta). These two alkaloids stimulate the sympathetic nervous system both directly and indirectly. Both can also:
- Influence blood pressure
- Act as a bronchodilator
- Affect central nervous system behavior
- Impact the ability of the cardiac muscle to contract
- Trigger vasoconstriction of peripheral blood vessels
The ephedrine component has long been used with other components to treat lung conditions such as asthma, due to its ability to dilate the bronchial tubes and therefore enhance oxygen intake.
It is believed that, because of its stimulative effects, thermogenesis or fat burning potential may also be possible. Results are modest in duration to short-term weight loss, and is not intended for long-term weight-loss maintenance. The thermogenesis is believed to be triggered by the release of norepinephrine.
In regard to potential weight loss, the main benefits of Ephedra alkaloids, as found in the herb ephedra, is its ability to agonize or trigger a number of beta adrenergic receptors of brown adipose tissue (known as brown fat).
Brown fat is the type of adipose or fat tissue that has the potential to burn calories, which in turn generates heat or thermogenesis, which encourages fat loss. Brown fat is “good guy” because it burns and doesn’t store calories. It has been noted by medical experts that brown fat is found more prevalently in leaner individuals than those who are overweight or obese, and when it stimulated, burns calories. 
White fat is responsible for producing hormones as well as storing energy. Small, white fat cells are also beneficial for optimal health and wellness because they produce adiponectin. Adiponectin is a hormone that improves muscle sensitivity and encourages the liver to process insulin, which helps prevent heart disease and diabetes.
However, the larger the white fat cells get, the less capable they are of producing adiponectin.
Subcutaneous fat, also equated to visceral fat, is defined as fat cells that tend to build up around the waistline, the buttocks, and the thighs. Subcutaneous fat cells, while not exactly healthy, are not as dangerous in regard to overall health and wellness as visceral fat, which is an even deeper layer of fat.
Visceral fat can literally surround inner organs. A person with a large waistline or bulging belly is more likely to have visceral fat, which increases the risk of developing insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes mellitus, heart disease, and possible stroke.
Note for results: At any rate, ephedra, ephedrine, and pseudoephedrine, at least in regard to weight loss, is nevertheless deemed more effective on individuals who have a leaner body weight than those who have great stores of subcutaneous or visceral fat.
It is very important to incorporate changes in lifestyle, diet, and exercise to achieve the most beneficial and long-term results.
ECA stacks are often sold by sports and nutritional venues. This type of product provides a combination of ephedra, caffeine, and aspirin. Some studies have suggested that caffeine combined with aspirin – along with ephedrine – can inhibit prostaglandin, which triggers an increase in the release of norepinephrine.
Ephedrine also has an effect on heart rate. One study determined that ephedra (single dose) combined with caffeine had the potential to increase resting energy expenditure (REE) for about three hours.
The study determined that a combination of ephedra and caffeine (150 mg caffeine and 20 mg ephedrine) did cause “significant” elevations in resting energy expenditure, heart rate, and blood pressure. It was determined that in spite of the increased and energy, weight loss results were negligible. 
Note: Individuals diagnosed with any cardiovascular issues or any other medical condition should use extreme caution before purchasing ephedra, as even low doses may cause a number of negative side effects and increased risk of cardiovascular issues.
Some scientific evidence does support the potential of ephedrine, either used alone or when combined with caffeine, to briefly enhance anaerobic exercise performance.
Ephedrine can trigger release of catecholamines, which in turn enhance stimulation of the central nervous system, which may contribute to a brief burst of energy production.
Even so, ephedra has not been scientifically proven to be effective in actual development of new muscle cells and has no effect on satellite cells or muscle precursor cells which can trigger growth or muscular hypertrophy.
Potential users of ephedra and ephedrine-like products should also note that it seems to be more effective on those who are observing a lower calorie yet nutritious diet.
What forms of ephedra and ephedrine can you buy today legally if your goal is to lose weight?
When looking to buy ephedra supplements online, take a look at the list of ingredients of the product. Be aware what type of the plant is used, as well as species. The stems and leaves of the ephedra plant are most commonly used.
In dietary supplements, ephedra typically contains some type of formula that utilizes the herb extract (dried), or the stems that have been crushed into a powdered form.
Bodybuilders and athletes looking for products to enhance athletic performance or weight-loss should be aware that more of the ephedra alkaloids (ephedrine and pseudoephedrine) are found in the dried extract varieties based on unit weight.
Dosage & How to Take
In regard to ephedra dosage, follow instructions found on product labels. Dosages will also depend on the milligram strength of the ephedra contained in the product supplement. Other ingredients will vary widely.
Dosages for ephedra in regard to milligram strength per product range anywhere from 10 mg to 65 per capsule, sometimes more. Dosage also depends on other components found in the product including caffeine, herbal ingredients including White willow bark, Yohimbine, and a number of nutrients such as amino acids and so forth.
Today, because of the sensitivity of many people to aspirin, White willow bark is often substituted for the aspirin component.
It can be difficult to determine the difference between a safe and unsafe dosage because an individual may react with greater sensitivity than others to the drug. Dosage may also be influence depending on whether the ephedra product contains any of the ephedra alkaloids (ephedrine and pseudoephedrine).
In regard to ECA stacks, users are often recommended to take anywhere from 20 mg to 24 mg in up to three doses in a 24-hour period. However, some athletes and bodybuilders, or those seeking accelerated weight loss, take as much as 50 mg three times a day.
The higher range of dosages (hovering closer to 150 mg,) are too strong for many, and at this stage can produce the common side effects associated with stimulative products including trembling of the hands, a feeling of jitteriness, and headaches.
Dosage and potential side effects such as nausea also depend on the milligram strength of caffeine as well as aspirin or aspirin-like products including the White willow bark, Bitter Orange, or Yohimbine found within the product.
In general, and depending on individual reactions, any dosage that exceeds 32 mg a day may contribute to up to three times the risk of developing some type of hemorrhage in the brain. 
Any person diagnosed with any cardiovascular issue or disease process should avoid ephedra or any central nervous system or cardiovascular stimulative supplements.
Is Ephedra Safe?
Safety is always an issue, and opinions are mixed, at least among laypersons, regarding the dangers associated with ephedra and its alkaloids, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.
When taken in low doses and according to directions, most find it safe. Some don’t experience any side effects, while others who may be more sensitive to the stimulative effects experience a number of unpleasant and sometimes alarming side effects.
Even at low doses, ephedra can cause severe adverse reactions, depending on individual response to the components. Such dosages – starting at 20 mg and those taking over 60 mg of ephedra that contains ephedra alkaloids can experience moderate to severe adverse effects, even when used short term.
A number of warnings are applicable when used orally.
Children and pregnant or breast-feeding women should avoid use.
Alkaloids of ephedra have been associated with a variety of negative heart issues including myocardial infarction, myocarditis, and cardiac arrhythmia.
Myocarditis defines inflammation of the middle layer of the heart wall known as the myocardium. Myocarditis may also negatively influence and affect the electrical system of heart function, interfering with the potential for the heart to contract or pump optimally. Cardiac arrhythmias are defined as irregular heartbeats, which again are associated with the heart’s pumping function.
A number of adverse reactions have been reported with use of ephedra taken orally, mainly due to its stimulative effects on several body systems.
Some of the most common side effects associated with ephedra products include but are not limited to:
- Nausea – to reduce the potential of nausea, it is recommended that any ephedra product, with or without ephedrine, caffeine, or other herbal ingredients, be taken at meal time.
- Difficulty sleeping – for this reason, avoid taking any ephedra product after midafternoon, which may help alleviate the difficulty sleeping, and some bouts of insomnia reported by users.
- Brain fog or difficulty concentrating
- Increased sense of restlessness, as well as irritability and anxiety
- Jitters or hand trembling
- Heart palpitations
High doses and/or long-term use of ephedra has been linked to some dependence and tolerance (not necessarily psychological, but physiological). 
Ephedra and ephedra products as well as ephedra products that don’t contain the ephedra alkaloids ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are plentiful and increasingly available on sports nutrition and natural supplements today.
While the supplements popular today may certainly provide a number of benefits to users, careful attention in regard to dosage and frequency of dosage is strongly recommended.
Tolerance among individuals differs greatly. One person may be able to easily handle a lower dosage of ephedra in combination with a variety of additional ingredients, while others may not. Pay close attention to the milligram strength of the caffeine included with some of these products, which may also influence not only results, but potentially unpleasant side effects.
The form of ephedra can also have an influence over its efficacy, results, and usage. Supplements found in caplets or capsules versus drinkable forms, such as Ma Huang tea, Mormon tea, or other concoctions, may also have a different effect in regard to efficacy, sustained effect, and side effects.
It is recommended that those new to any ephedra product, whether it contains alkaloids or not, always start out at the lowest dosage. If possible, split even the lowest milligram caplets in half to determine effects on the body, gradually increasing over time.
Ephedra products should not be used long-term, with most averaging a recommended six to eight weeks.
If side effects are noted, or you notice any cardiovascular changes, discontinue use. A visit to a physician is also encouraged in order to avoid potential long-term effects of even short-term usage of ephedra in any form.
When looking for supplements that contain ephedra extract, keep in mind that there are many varieties, milligram strengths, and concoctions and combinations of ingredients that are often associated with the ephedra plant.
List of Ephedra Species
- Ephedra alata – North Africa, Arabian Peninsula
- Ephedra altissima – North Africa, Canary Islands
- Ephedra americana – Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Chile
- Ephedra antisyphilitica (Clapweed, Erect Ephedra) – Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Nuevo León, Coahuila, Chihuahua
- Ephedra aphylla – eastern Mediterranean, Libya, Cyprus, Persian Gulf
- Ephedra arenicola – Arizona, Utah
- Ephedra aspera (Boundary Ephedra, Pitamoreal) – Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California, Chihuahua, Durango, Zacatecas, Sinaloa, Sonora, Baja California
- Ephedra aurantiaca – Caucasus, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan
- Ephedra boelckei – Argentina
- Ephedra botschantzevii – Kazakhstan, Tuva region of Siberia
- Ephedra breana – Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina
- Ephedra brevifoliata – Iran
- Ephedra californica (California Ephedra, California Jointfir) – California, western Arizona, Baja California
- Ephedra chilensis – Chile, Argentina
- Ephedra compacta – Mexico
- Ephedra coryi (Cory’s Ephedra) – Texas, New Mexico
- Ephedra cutleri – Navajo Ephedra, Cutler’s Ephedra, Cutler Mormon-tea, Cutler’s Jointfir – Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming
- Ephedra dahurica – Siberia, Mongolia
- Ephedra dawuensis – Sichuan
- Ephedra distachya (Joint-pine, Jointfir) – Southern Europe and central Asia from Portugal to Kazakhstan
- Ephedra eleutherolepis – Tajikistan
- Ephedra equisetina (Ma huang) – Caucasus, Central Asia, Siberia, Mongolia, Gansu, Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Qinghai, Shanxi, Xinjiang
- Ephedra fasciculata (Arizona Ephedra, Arizona Jointfir, Desert Mormon-tea) – Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah
- Ephedra fedtschenkoae – Central Asia, Siberia, Mongolia, Xinjiang
- Ephedra foeminea – North Africa, Somalia, Balkans, Italy, Middle East; naturalized in California
- Ephedra foliata – North Africa, Somalia, Middle East, India
- Ephedra fragilis – Mediterranean, Canary Islands, Madeira
- Ephedra frustillata – Patagonian Ephedra – Chile, Argentina
- Ephedra funerea – Death Valley Ephedra, Death Valley Jointfir – California, Arizona, Nevada
- Ephedra gerardiana (Gerard’s Jointfir, Shan Ling Ma Huang) – Himalayas, Tibet, Yunnan, Siberia, Central Asia
- Ephedra glauca – Iran, Central Asia, Mongolia
- Ephedra holoptera – Iran
- Ephedra intermedia – China, Siberia, Central Asia, Himalayas, Iran, Pakistan
- Ephedra intermixta – New Mexico
- Ephedra kardangensis – western Himalayas
- Ephedra khurikensis – western Himalayas
- Ephedra laristanica – Iran
- Ephedra likiangensis – Guizhou, Sichuan, Tibet, Yunnan
- Ephedra lomatolepis – Kazakhstan, Tuva region of Siberia
- Ephedra major – Mediterranean, Middle East, Central Asia; from Canary Islands to Kashmir
- Ephedra milleri – Oman, Yemen
- Ephedra minuta – Qinghai, Sichuan
- Ephedra monosperma – Siberia, Mongolia, China, Tibet, Xinjiang
- Ephedra multifloraPhil. – Chile, Argentina
- Ephedra nevadensis (Nevada Ephedra, Nevada Jointfir, Nevada Mormon-tea) – California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Oregon
- Ephedra ochreata – Argentina
- Ephedra oxyphylla – Afghanistan
- Ephedra pachyclada – Middle East from Sinai and Yemen to Pakistan
- Ephedra pedunculata (Vine Ephedra, Vine Jointfir) – Texas, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, San Luis Potosí, Nuevo León, Zacatecas
- Ephedra pentandra – Iran
- Ephedra przewalskii – Central Asia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Qinghai, Tibet
- Ephedra pseudodistachya – Siberia, Mongolia
- Ephedra regeliana (Xi Zi Ma Huang) – Central Asia, Siberia, Pakistan, Xinjiang
- Ephedra rhytidosperma – Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Mongolia
- Ephedra rituensis – Qinghai, Xinjiang, Tibet
- Ephedra rupestris – Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina
- Ephedra sarcocarpa – Pakiostan, Afghanistan
- Ephedra sinica – Cao Ma Huang, Chinese ephedra – Mongolia, Siberia, Primorye, Manchuria
- Ephedra somalensis – Somalia, Eritrea
- Ephedra strobilacea – Iran, Central Asia
- Ephedra sumlingensis – western Himalayas
- Ephedra tilhoana – Chad
- Ephedra torreyana (Torrey’s Ephedra, Torrey’s Jointfir, Torrey’s Mormon-tea, Cañutillo) – Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Chihuahua
- Ephedra transitoria – Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Saudi Arabia
- Ephedra triandra – Bolivia, Argentina
- Ephedra trifurca (Longleaf Ephedra, Longleaf Jointfir, Longleaf Mormon-tea, Popotilla, Teposote) – California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Chihuahua, Sonora, Baja California
- Ephedra tweedieana – Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay
- Ephedra viridis (Green Ephedra, Green Mormon-tea) – California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Oregon
- Ephedra vvedenskyi – Iran, Caucasus, Turkmenistan