Ephedrine vs. Ephedra – What is the Difference Between the Plant Extract & Alkaloids?
What is the difference between Ephedra vs. Ephedrine? It can be difficult to distinguish between these two terms, but there is an important difference.
Ephedra refers to a type of plant that grows around the world. Typically, the name “ephedra” is used to refer to a Chinese species of the plant called E. Sinica or Ma Huang.
Ephedrine refers to one of the natural chemicals that grows in that plant and that has physiological effects when consumed by humans. It is the most prominent alkaloid found in this plant.
You can think of ephedrine as similar to caffeine while ephedra is similar to the coffee bean. Just like caffeine is the bioactive alkaloid found in coffee beans that causes you to feel more alert, ephedrine is the component in ephedra extract that has stimulant properties.
Both Ephedrine and Ephedra are used in health products today. But their effects, safety, dosages, side effects, recommended use and legal status vary depending on which form they are in. Click here to buy ephedra supplements online legally without a prescription.
Ephedrine Vs. Ephedra
Ephedrine is the active ingredient in the ephedra plant, but not all forms of this plant contain this alkaloid.
Ephedra is the common name given to 60+ species of shrubs that belongs to the plant family Ephedraceae. Different species of this plant grow around the world, in Asia and westward throughout central Europe and many portions of the Mediterranean.
Certain variations of ephedra also grow in some North African regions, the southwestern United States, and along and the western coastline of South America.
Some of the most common species of this plant used in traditional medicine include:
- Ephedra Sinica (Ma Huang)
- Ephedra Viridis
- Ephedra Equisetina
- Ephedra Distachya
- Ephedra Nevadensis
- Ephedra Intermedia
Depending on which species of plant is harvested, the extract contains a number of natural phytochemicals that have stimulating properties. Primary among them are ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.
Not all ephedra plants contain these alkaloids and some species have lower concentrations of these chemicals. Some plants contain more of the pseudoephedrine alkaloid than the ephedrine alkaloid.
The most widely used species noted for its stimulant properties is Chinese ephedra sinica or Ma Huang. According to some sources, this plant has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for over 2,400 years. This species also has one of the highest alkaloid contents.
Several species of ephedra are indigenous to the United States, but these varietals have much lower alkaloid content. E. viridis and E. nevadensis are two species that have little to no ephedrine and pseudoephedrine content.
Ephedrine Effects and Benefits
What are the effects of taking ephedra extract with ephedrine alkaloids? This phytochemical has a similar effect on the body as the natural hormone adrenaline.
Ephedrine can be derived naturally from the Ephedra Sinica plant or it can be manufactured synthetically in a lab. If you buy cough medications that contain this ingredient, it will likely be provided in the synthetic form of ephedrine HCL or sulfate.
L-Ephedrine is a phenethylamine molecule with a chemical formula of C10H15NO. Some of its properties are summarized below:
- Molecular weigh:165.236 g/mol
- Half-life: 3 hours
- Solubility: Water, oil, ethanol, chloroform
- Boiling point: 260 degrees Celsius
- Onset of Effects: 15 – 60 minutes
Ephedrine acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system by directly activating beta-2 adrenergic receptors and indirectly increasing activation of alpha adrenergic receptors.
It has been shown to increase heart rate, cause blood vessels to dilate in some areas and constrict in other areas, and to widen airways found in the lungs (bronchi). Medicinally, this substance is used to relieve chest tightness and wheezing caused by asthma, to increase blood oxygenation and to alleviate nasal congestion.
This plant-derived compound can also cause your energy levels to increase, boost fat metabolism, control the appetite, enhance athletic abilities, increase sex drive and promote a positive mental state.
As a result, ephedrine is often taken off-label by bodybuilders and dieters who want to lose weight and burn more body fat. However, it has not been approved for these uses due to a risk of side effects.
In traditional Chinese medicine, herbal preparations of the ephedra plant, were used to treat breathing and lung disorders including sinus congestion, asthma, bronchitis and more.
The stems of the plant would be brewed into a tea and consumed for a large number of ailments, including fever, bladder problems, edema, allergies (hay fever), hives and arthritis.
In the 1980s and 1990s, dietary supplements containing ephedra extract became very popular for their ability to promote weight loss and energy levels. Due to the ephedrine content in ephedra supplements, these products could stimulate the metabolism, so you burn more calories throughout the day.
Use of ephedrine can increase thermogenesis or heat production within the body, causing you to convert stored fat deposits into energy and heat. Research showed that both ephedrine and ephedra products could increase weight loss results over a short period of time.
These ingredients were found in in hundreds of dietary and weight-loss supplements around the world and were taken by millions of people. However, many of these products combined ephedrine with other stimulants or provided unsafe dosages.
These products were also commonly misused, taken at excessively high doses, used for long periods of time or used by individuals with contraindicated medical conditions.
Due to increasing reports of negative side effects and adverse reactions, including some reports of deaths, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned ephedra fat burning supplements in 2004.
However, there is a difference between the legal status of ephedra vs. ephedrine in the USA. The ban only applied to the sale of supplements with ephedrine alkaloids.
Technically, other forms of ephedra extract from species of this plant that do not contain the ephedrine alkaloid are legal. If you see products advertising “real ephedra” that are sold in US supplement stores, it is because they contain this inert form of the extract.
While there are other alkaloids in ephedra that can promote weight loss, none are as powerful as the original ephedrine diet pills. For this reason, many manufacturers will add other stimulants to these products to increase their efficacy. Among these ingredients include:
- Caffeine anhydrous
- Bitter Orange (Citrus aurantium) – which contains p-synephrine
- Acacia rigidula
Ephedrine and Ephedra Side Effects
When comparing the safety of ephedrine vs. ephedra, both can cause unwanted side effects such as:
- Difficulty sleeping
Research suggests that taking pure Ephedrine HCL tablets is more likely to produce adverse effects than use of herbal ephedra extracts. However, this will largely depend on how much of these substances you take and your individual health status.
Ephedrine can be dangerous for anyone with conditions that affect blood pressure or heart rate. This drug can cause serious adverse reactions if used by individuals with a history of heart disease, kidney or liver disease, diabetes, seizure, stroke, or thyroid disease.
Do not combine ephedrine or ephedra with drugs used to treat mental health conditions. Use of this substance with MAO-Inhibitors can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening.
In a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study involving 16,000 patients using ephedra, four heart attacks, nine strokes and two deaths were reported among users of this product. While it is not possible to know whether these adverse effects were caused by the supplement being used, the researchers concluded that there was a higher risk of side effects when taking this herb.
To minimize the risk of side effects, consult with a doctor before using these products. Do not exceed the recommended dose and do not combine this product with other stimulants.
Ephedrine pills are dangerous for women who are pregnant or nursing. Do not use this product if you are under the age of 18. Do not combine this substance with alcohol as it could increase the risk of side effects.