Ephedrine in Australia: Is it BANNED Without a Prescription? [Legal Status]
Do you know the legalities of the use of ephedrine in Australia? If you don’t, you should. Whether you live there, are a traveler, or are looking to buy this product online know the law of the land.
What does the law say about use of ephedrine in Australia if you are a resident of this country? Is it legal for a tourist to import ephedrine in any form into the country?
Do you have to have a prescription to purchase ephedrine or ephedra diet pills in Australia or has this product been completely banned? Are there any legitimate medical uses for this drug?
These are just a few of the questions that anyone traveling to or from, or living in Australia should know – before purchase and use from any domestic or international sale or usage.
Ephedrine in Australia – The Basics
Ephedrine is defined as a sympathomimetic amine. It’s also likened to, at least in regard to effect on the body, adrenaline and in some cases, amphetamine. One of the most prevalent mechanisms of action of ephedrine on the body is its effect on the central nervous system, acting as a stimulant.
Such stimulants can influence the sympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the functions in the body over which a person has no control. Such functions include:
- Heart rate
The effect of any sympathomimetic amine on the brain, such as ephedrine, and on numerous body functions can trigger a number of activities. One of those activities is as a response of alpha and beta adrenergic receptors to ephedrine.
Adrenergic receptors influence a number of activities of muscles, blood glucose levels, liver functions, and more. They’re responsible for their binding action that triggers a continuous series of biochemical reactions in a specific target cell. Those reactions automatically produce a certain physiological response.
Five types of adrenergic receptors, and receptors that bind to epinephrine (former name adrenaline) affect the function of the sympathetic nervous system. Of concern to dieters or athletes who take an ephedrine product or combine it with another stimulant in order to enhance weight loss or energy enhancement is the way in which ephedrine influences alpha and beta had returned receptors.
In this aspect, and when influenced by ephedrine, alpha and beta-adrenergic receptors stimulate cells in the body to increase the production of energy. At the most basic layman’s description, these receptors play a huge role in the body’s fight or flight response.
Ephedrine has an influence on the production of norephedrine in the brain. Norephedrine can trigger an alpha receptor to instruct arteries in the body to constrict. This constriction increases blood pressure. The increased blood pressure accelerates and enhances the flow of blood that returns to the heart for oxygen.
Ephedrine and norephedrine also influence beta-1 receptors, which are found in the heart muscle. When these receptors are stimulated, the heart rate accelerates and the force or contractility of the heart’s pumping functions are also increased. This can contribute to a sense of heart palpitations, or the “pounding heart” that is commonly noticed during exercise.
Ephedrine also influences beta-2 receptors, which are found primarily in the airways of the lungs, but also are found in mucosal linings such as those found in the nasal and sinus passages. When beta-2 receptors are stimulated, the airways in the lungs dilate or widen. It is for this reason that ephedrine may still be found in a number of bronchodilation medications prescribed to asthma patients around the world.
Ephedrine is found in a number of medicine products today, primarily in asthma bronchodilators, some cough, cold, and flu remedies, as well as traditional ephedrine used in teas, primarily provided from Asian countries for sale around the world.
Potential users should note that ephedrine can cross the blood-brain barrier and behave in a similar manner to the central nervous system as amphetamine and trigger the release of other brain chemicals and neurotransmitters including dopamine and noradrenaline.
Dopamine can have an influence on how the muscles move and behave as well as affect a number of hormones and hormone levels in the body. Some dopamine receptors in the brain can trigger blood flow changes, as well as release of catecholamines and other processes involved in cardiovascular function.
Dopamine itself is defined as a catecholamine neurotransmitter and can be influenced and affected by ephedrine and other stimulants.
Ephedrine Use For Non-Medical Purposes
As in other countries around the world, ephedrine in Australia is often used for non-medical purposes including facilitating accelerated weight loss. This is due to the fact that the stimulative properties of ephedrine and its triggering stimulus on receptors in the body can accelerate metabolism via the increased cardiovascular and respiratory function.
In 2004, ephedrine alkaloids such as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine were banned by the US Food and Drug Administration due to the tens of thousands of complaints received in regard to the usage of the product.
As such, every country around the world will also have stipulations regarding maximum dosages of ephedrine still found in medicine products based on their own country codes and regulations. Of special importance to consumers is the way in which the ephedrine product is used.
Ephedrine used in the treatment of asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, or rhinitis. It may be accepted in certain locations, depending on local laws, but it is not approved as a weight-loss drug nor a physical performance-enhancing drug, nor as an energy-producing or enhancement substance.
While ephedrine may not legally be classified as a controlled substance in Australia, nor in other countries around the world, its use in non-medical scenarios is strongly discouraged.
Depending on locality, products containing ephedrine may be closely monitored. For example, in the United States, sale of any product containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine is tracked by pharmacies and retail distributors, and display of photo identification and contact information may be required prior to purchase.
Nevertheless, a number of products deemed to be genuine ephedrine are sold on websites around the world. This is spite of the fact that a huge majority of such supplement companies are no longer legally able to manufacture ephedra products that contain ephedrine. Instead, they have substituted other components for the ephedrine.
Some of the substituted components have been deemed as dangerous as the original ephedrine alkaloids. Among them is Citrus aurantium, otherwise known as Bitter Orange. Citrus aurantium contains p-synephrine, which is similar in its chemical behavior to that of ephedrine and adrenaline.
Guidelines involving sales of ephedrine in Australia as well as other countries are also under closer watch due to the fact that a number of methamphetamine manufacturers use ephedrine and pseudoephedrine as precursors in such manufacturer.
Legalities of Ephedrine in Australia
The Australian Therapeutic Goods Act of 1989 covers information regarding legalities and use of certain substances in the country as well as the export of what are considered therapeutic goods from Australia.
Regulations in Australia specify that any and all therapeutic goods are required to be found in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods, including any such substances that are exported. 
While a number of consumers interested in either using, buying, selling, importing, or exporting ephedrine in Australia may not be particularly enthusiastic about researching the laws, taking the time to do so can avoid both criminal charges and potential penalties and monetary fines for doing so.
Information regarding legalities of ephedrine in Australia – and other substances such as pseudoephedrine, norephedrine (phenylpropanolamine) as well as a number of dietary weight loss and anabolic/androgenic steroids – can be found under the Australian government’s Federal Register of Legislation. More specifically, under the Criminal Code Regulations 2002, updated from the Criminal Code Act of 1995. The most recent update is listed as 18 November 2017. 
Under Schedule 3 of these codes are found regulations regarding the list of controlled drugs as well as quantities defined as commercial quantities in kilograms, marketable quantities in grams, and traffic in bulk quantities in grams. Ephedrine is not on this list, nor is pseudoephedrine.
This can promote some confusion, especially when compared to the import and export laws and regulations (see below).
It’s also important to note that ephedrine hydrochloride, as may be used in medical care scenarios, also must follow a number of guidelines provided by the Australian Public Assessment Report for Ephedrine Hydrochloride published by the Australian Government Department of Health’s Therapeutic Goods Administration in June 2017.
The assessment report primarily covers the use of and dosages of ephedrine hydrochloride when used in clinical scenarios. This includes biopharmaceutics as well as pharmacokinetic properties and justifications for use. 
A number of forum boards and discussion groups on the Internet discuss the use and availability of ephedrine in Australia for weight loss, and a broad range of information is found on those discussion threads – not all of it accurate.
It is always recommended that consumers or users of ephedrine in Australia or coming into Australia, or even purchasing ephedrine from Australia go to government resources for the latest updates on legalities and information regarding usage.
According to the Australian Government Department of Health’s Therapeutic Goods Administration, updated in August 2016, Australian citizens were warned to use the utmost caution when purchasing any medications that promote weight loss from online sources or unknown foreign websites.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration warns that such weight loss products can be considered medication, and therefore may fall under the regulation of Therapeutic Goods Act in order to meet safety as well as quality standards. They must also be included within the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.
According to the administration, a number of such weight-loss substances, products, and components from foreign websites are not approved in Australia. The Therapeutic Goods Administration labs have confiscated a number of these weight-loss products and determined that they can contain heavy metals, substances that are not disclosed on the label, and components that can trigger adverse interactions and dangers to those currently taking medication.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration routinely assesses and publishes safety alerts regarding products that are of concern, and potential consumers should also know that the TGA also combines and closely works with Australian border forces.
What About Shipping Ephedrine To and From Australia?
Anyone at all interested in shipping or receiving ephedrine in Australia, or even ephedra in Australia, should be aware of the regulations regarding importation. The Australian Government Department of Health (Therapeutic Goods Administration) provides detailed information about personal importation of therapeutic goods, including medical pot, but each country will have different regulations and controls in place dependent on the substance.
Such legalities come into play not only with use of narcotics or other psychotropic drugs such as cocaine, but can also be applicable to anything from anabolic or androgenic steroids or herbal products containing even slightly questionable ingredients.
Keeping track of some of these more questionable substances is the responsibility of the user/purchaser/seller. In a number of countries around the world, some dietary supplements and products containing such supplements are not classified as a controlled substance. Among them include:
- Ephedra (Chinese Ma Huang)
- Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
Are the same substance as applicable as non-controlled compounds in Australia?
According to Australian customs legislation, the above-mentioned compounds or substances can be deemed as precursors for anabolic steroids, and unless a permit has been obtained, they are prohibited in the country. 
One of the best resources to determine whether any substance, whether prescription, herbal, dietary, or the more obvious classification of “street drugs” is to obtain information about specific substances before they’re brought into the country by travelers or through mail services.
Visit the webpage of the Australian Government’s Department of Health (Therapeutic Goods Administration) under the Industry tab, and potential users or consumers will find information regarding the import and export of controlled substances.
A specific list of controlled substances is found by following the link to the Australian Government’s Department of Health Office of Drug Control. You can search long form, or type in a specific drug name, ingredient, or keyword into their search bar.
If needed, an application forms section is also available on this page in the event that a specific substance requires government acknowledgment as well as permission for pre-import, and export notifications, or potential to import or export the product.
Travelers, residents, and others even considering sending or receiving one of the controlled substances found on the list should be aware that the ramifications for skirting regulations will depend on the amounts and whether previous offenses have been noted for any company or individual.
Be aware that according to the Office of Drug Control, ephedrine is classified as a precursor and describes any product including ephedra and sida cordifolia. An import permit and import license is required, as well as an export license and permit in order to bring the product or export the product out of the country.
The same as applicable to phenylpropanolamine (norephedrine) as well as pseudoephedrine (including sida cordifolia), which according to the Office of Drug Control, are also classified as precursors.
What about Travelers Entering Australia with Certain Herbal, Dietary, or Other Substances?
As with the rules and regulations regarding import and export of ephedrine in Australia, travelers are also responsible for knowing the regulations of any country they’re entering. Australian residents are required by law to be able to show a valid prescription from an Australian doctor for any medication that they travel with into or out of the country. 
It is strongly recommended that all travelers declare any and all medications to the Australian border forces on arrival, and to also be aware that a number of substances require special permission. Among those items include anabolic or androgenic substances as well as hormones and peptides.
The Australian authorities and Office of Drug Control encourages Australians traveling out of the country with any medications take the time to research and verify information about such substances in the country to which they are traveling.
It is strongly discouraged that any person carry, transport, or have on their person any medications for someone besides himself or a family member who he or she is traveling with by ship or air. Doing so can incur severe ramifications and penalties including up to two years in jail and fines up to $5,000.
Finally, be aware that border officials in Australia, as well as any country into which you are entering, has the legal right and power to seize medications that they suspect are being transported for someone else.
Australian border forces may stop any shipment of a product deemed risky as well as sample any such products or identify them so that future shipments of that product are not allowed to enter the country. Seizure and destruction of such products is subject to the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
Safety and Usage of Ephedrine in Australia
As with many other countries around the world, Australian authorities are concerned regarding the use, misuse, and overuse as well as abuse of ephedrine in Australia by consumers. A number of side effects and adverse reactions have been associated with use.
These side effects and adverse reactions are not just limited to high levels of ephedrine in a product, or excessive or overuse of the product. number of adverse reactions have occurred in individuals using the product for the first time, or when combining it with other stimulants such as caffeine.
Australia, like other countries around the world, is concerned regarding the increased prevalence of combining numerous stimulants into products containing even small doses of ephedrine.
The combination of stimulants, including caffeine anhydrous or other sources of caffeine can contribute to unexpected and undesired physical ramifications for users. Among them:
- Heart palpitations
- Racing heart
- Heart attack
A number of studies have been conducted on the efficacy of ephedrine and ephedrine from which the ephedrine alkaloid comes in regard to weight loss, athletic performance enhancement, as well pass increased promotion of energy.
Most of such studies show a very moderate (realistically minimal) effect on weight loss. As of 2003, over 500 articles and case reports documented were analyzed in regard to usage of ephedra, ephedrine by itself, and ephedrine combined with caffeine in regard to weight loss. The results? Anywhere from 0.6 kg per month to 0.9 kg per month in regard to overall weight loss within a six-month period. 
In addition, the risks of side effects and adverse reactions have been deemed to outweigh any benefits due to the fact that ephedra or ephedrine, and even more so that ephedrine and caffeine usage has been linked to increased risk of a number of alarming side effects.
Such side effects involve the autonomic nervous system (again defining functions over which a person has no control), as well as gastrointestinal upset and symptoms, heart palpitations, as well as (for some), psychiatric or mood disorders.
Other studies regarding the dangers of herbal food supplements, including weight loss products, can enhance the risk of adverse events. 
It can be time-consuming to determine the specific laws and regulations regarding use of ephedrine in Australia, but it pays to be knowledgeable and aware. Legislation and regulations are often updated. To be on the safe side regarding use of ephedrine in Australia, it is also recommended to check with the consulate office or even the local law enforcement agency in the area of Australia under consideration.
In addition to the legalities and risks of importing or exporting ephedrine in regulations applicable to date, consumers must also consider the safety and benefits of using ephedrine. This is especially true when high amounts of caffeine or any caffeinated product are included in such products.
Before using ephedrine in Australia, or importing or exporting the product in any form or amount, take the time to research the regulations and weigh benefits as opposed to side effects as well as ramifications, both legal and physical, of use.
- Australian Government Department of Health. Therapeutic Goods Administration. Import and Export. Import and export of controlled substances.
- Australia Federal Register of Legislation. Criminal Code Regulations 2002.
- Australian Government Department of Health. Therapeutic Goods Administration. Australian Public Assessment Report for Ephedrine Hydrochloride
- Australian Government Department of Health. Therapeutic Goods Administration. Personal importation scheme.
- Australian Government Department of Health. Office of Drug Control. Travellers.
- Shekelle PG, et al. Efficacy and safety of ephedra and ephedrine for weight loss and athletic performance: a meta-analysis. JAMA 2003 Mar 26;289(12):1537-45. Epub 2003 Mar 10.
- Pittler MH, Schmidt K, Ernst E. Adverse events of herbal food supplements for body weight reduction: systematic review. Obes Rev. 2005 May;6(2):93-111.