What is the legal status of ephedrine and ephedra diet pills in New Zealand?
Ephedrine is a plant alkaloid derived from the Ephedra Sinica family of evergreen shrubs. This alkaloid has a number of medicinal properties, including acting as a stimulant for the Central Nervous System.
Both ephedrine HCL and ephedra supplements have been sought-after by bodybuilders in New Zealand for their purported fat loss and energy boosting effects.
However, ephedra weight loss supplements are now illegal to sell in this country. Furthermore, ephedrine is only legal to buy with a doctor’s prescription for residents of New Zealand.
Another related alkaloid from this plant – pseudoephedrine – is also restricted under New Zealand law. While some low-dosage forms are available over-the-counter, other forms require a prescription to buy. Click here to buy ephedra supplements online legally without a prescription.
Ephedrine in New Zealand
Before using or purchasing ephedrine in New Zealand, it is important to know what it is and how it behaves in the body.
Ephedrine is one of a handful of alkaloids found in the ephedra family of plants. This plant has a long history of use in traditional medicine.
Ephedra Sinica extract is used to treat asthma, bronchitis, nasal congestion, muscle pain, fatigue, for bladder conditions and as an aphrodisiac.
It works by causing dilation of the bronchial airways, helping to open nasal passages and improving airflow. This drug can also help to reduce mucus build-up and relieve allergy symptoms.
Use of this supplement is also popular among dieters, athletes and bodybuilders. Ephedrine HCL has been used to promote greater energy levels, increase fat burning and to suppress the appetite.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s it was one of the most popular ingredients in over-the-counter diet pills, fat loss supplements and energy boosters. However, it also became associated with a high risk of side effects and serious adverse reactions.
As a result, many countries around the world including New Zealand made ephedra-based dietary supplements illegal. They also introduced further restrictions on ephedrine-based OTC drugs used to treat breathing disorders and sinus congestion.
In the fall of 2004, the New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority deemed that ephedrine and pseudoephedrine would be designated as controlled drugs. 
This meant that any products containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine would only be available with a doctor’s prescription, subject to a few exceptions.
These regulations fall under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 1977 legislation and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. As such, ephedrine is scheduled as a Part IV, Class C controlled drug in New Zealand.
The pseudoephedrine alkaloid was partially exempted in Part III, Class C legislation. This compound can be found in decongestant preparations, cold or flu medications, as well as cough medications so long as preparations do not contain more than 1.8 g.
Regulations also stipulated that any product containing pseudoephedrine in sustained release or modified forms were not to be used in greater than 240 mg in a 24-hour time frame.
Misuse of Ephedrine
One of the reasons for banning the sale of Ephedrine in over-the-counter products was to prevent the misuse and abuse of this ingredient.
This plant extract was found as a component in hundreds of dietary supplements promoting weight loss and energy production. Many of these products were misused, contributing to alarming side effects and adverse reactions.
Another reason why New Zealand instituted stricter laws was to prevent the use of these ephedra alkaloids in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
Greater control over distribution of ephedrine within New Zealand was also a primary focus of the ruling. So too were clear labeling requirements for pharmaceutical companies producing or manufacturing any OTC remedy that provided these ingredients.
According to the regulations, packaging with the warning Control Drug C5 or Controlled Drug C3 was mandated to appear on product labels. Labeling was to be adapted by mid-April 2005.
Legal products containing ephedrine in New Zealand can include decongestants, mist inhalers for asthma and nasal preparations for topical use.
In some situations, this drug is also used as a cardiac stimulant in cardiac therapy and medical emergencies, especially for patients with extremely low blood pressure.
Ephedrine HCL can also be found in drugs used for the treatment of obstructive airway diseases, and in some medically and physician monitored anti-obesity preparations. These preparations exclude dietary products.
Effects and Mechanisms of Action
Ephedrine is a stimulant to the central nervous system, also known as a sympathomimetic amine. It has both direct as well as indirect effects on adrenergic receptors.
both an alpha and beta-adrenergic agonist, ephedrine can trigger a number of reactions in the body. One of those reactions is the release of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter involved in the body’s fight or flight response that is similar to adrenaline.
Adrenergic receptors are labelled as alpha, beta-one, or beta-two receptors. Stimulation alpha receptors has the potential to constrict arteries, which increases blood pressure and circulation.
Beta-one receptors are located in the heart muscle. When stimulated, they accelerate the heart rate and increase the force with which the heart pumps. While this can be beneficial in the short-term, it can have detrimental effects on the heart over time.
Ephedrine also affects beta-two receptors that are found in the airways and passages of the lungs. It causes these passages to dilate or widen, increasing intake of oxygen. For this reason, it is still a relatively common component of asthma bronchodilators.
Many of these same reactions can contribute to a faster metabolism, increased physical energy and greater fat loss. A number of studies have shown that ephedrine can promote weight loss of up to 2 pounds per month on average.
This is a significant result, but not that much more than achieved through regular diet and exercise. There is also a high risk of side effects when this drug is not taking properly.
Potential for Ephedrine Side Effects
A number of side effects have been associated with ephedrine misuse, both when used short-term and long-term. The half-life of ephedrine is between three to six hours for most individuals, depending on individual reactions, sensitivities, and other factors.
When used with discretion, the effects of ephedrine are not typically detrimental to long-term health and wellness. Even so, side effects have been reported:
- Loss of Appetite
- Jitters or Restlessness
More serious side effects can include heart palpitations and tachycardia or racing heart. High dosages can cause cardiac arrhythmias or irregular heart rhythm, and vasoconstriction with hypertension, defined as the constriction of the blood vessels which increase blood pressure and can cause angina pectoris.
Ephedrine can also negatively interact with a number of other drugs. Individuals considering usage of this drug for any reason, even if it’s medically recommended, are encouraged to discuss possible side effects and adverse reactions with their physician or pharmacist prior to use.
As in other countries around the world, use of ephedrine in New Zealand is closely restricted. This drug is only available to buy with a prescription from a licensed physician.