Ma Huang Plant Extract Benefits, Uses & Dangerous Side Effects
Ma Huang (Ephedra Sinica) is one of the most important herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine.
It has been used medicinally for over 2,000 years and is recommended by herbalists for lung conditions, the common cold, headache, fevers and more.
More recently, Ma Huang extract has been used in dietary supplements for the promotion of weight loss and increased metabolism. This herb is a source of the ephedrine and pseudoephedrine alkaloids, both of which have a stimulant effect on the body.
Ma Huang and other species of ephedra plants are now banned from dietary supplements in the United States. However, this herb can still be sold in natural medicine formulations or used to prepare Ephedra tea.
What are the effects and benefits of using Ma Huang extract? In this article, we will review the traditional uses of this plant as well as side effects and safety information. Click here to buy ephedra supplements online legally without a prescription.
Ma Huang Plant Review
Ma Huang, otherwise known as Chinese ephedra, belongs to the Ephedraceae family of plants. This evergreen shrub is also known as Chinese joint fir, yellow horse, yellow astringent and sea grape.
The name “Ma Huang” translates literally to “hemp yellow” because of its distinct coloring.
Ephedra Sinica is indigenous to eastern Asia, portions of India, and northern China. It prefers arid climates and dry or sandy soil. It grows to 16 inches in height and flowers from May to June. The seeds ripen between August and December.
This herb was first described in ancient Chinese texts dating back over 3,000 years. It appears in The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica (Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing) where it is described as a remedy for the common cold, headache and “warm malaria.”
According to this text, “It causes the body to sweat, suppresses cough and counter – flow of qi (asthma), eliminates cold and heat, and breaks concretions and hardness, accumulations and gatherings.”
Ma Huang has long been used as a treatment for a variety of lung disorders in traditional Chinese medicine and some Ayurvedic practices. It is classified as one of the most fundamental herbs in Oriental medicine.
In TCM, it is often prescribed along with other herbs to alleviate specific concerns. The stems of the herb are often brewed into a tea and combined with apricot seed for coughing and wheezing. As a diuretic to relieve fluid retention, this herb may be combined with ginger. To alleviate inflammation, it may be combined with gypsum (Shi Gao) or skullcap root (Huang Qin).
Ephedra sinica is only one of 60 species of this family of plants. Other species grow in Africa, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, parts of South America and arid, desert locations in the United States, including Texas and the Southwest.
Herbalists around the world grow ephedra and utilize various portions of the plant for a number of health benefits. Edible components of the plant are found in herbal remedies and include the fruit, leaves, stems, and sometimes the root. This plant is prepared into a tea, mixed with honey and ground into a powder for topical poultices.
More recently, Ma Huang extract has been used as an ingredient in weight loss and energy boosting supplements. The main active components of ephedra include its alkaloids, primarily ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.
Ma Huang is recognized as having physiological effects due to the presence of bioactive alkaloids in parts of the plant. Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are the two main alkaloids that have been isolated from this species.
Both of these compounds are now available as pharmaceutical drugs and over-the-counter remedies for coughs, colds, allergies and asthma symptoms.
Different species as well as portion of the ephedra plant used in supplements can have different strength or potency. Also, different parts of the plant can have different uses as well as results.
Much of this depends on the ephedrine content of the specific plant species used as well as the part of the plant utilized in a formulation. Ma Huang is said to have the highest ephedrine content of the different species of this plant. It provides between 0.5-2% total alkaloids with 30-90% of that consisting of ephedrine.
Other species of this plant contain little to know ephedrine or pseudoephedrine alkaloids. Below are some commonly used species of this plant ranked in order of their total ephedrine concentration: 
- Ephedra distachya
- Ephedra major
- Ephedra altissima (High-climbing Joint Fir)
- Ephedra Americana or Ephedra nevadensis (Grows in the American West desert regions)
- Ephedra viridis (Mormon Tea, Cowboy Tea, Squaw Tea)
The ephedrine alkaloid behaves in a similar manner as adrenaline inside the body, stimulating the central nervous system (CNS) and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).
The SNS controls aspects of body function that we can’t control, such as heart rate, breathing, metabolism, digestion, and core body temperature. Ephedrine works by increasing activation of alpha- and beta-adrenergic receptors, causing airways to open, increasing heart rate and increasing metabolism.
The stems of the Ma Huang plant are often cultivated and used to make Ma Huang tea, a bitter tasting brew commonly used to relieve asthma and allergy symptoms. When prepared properly, ephedra doesn’t tend to cause side effects because only a small dose of active ephedrine is provided per serving,
The root of the ephedra sinica plant is believed to have the opposite effect or mechanism of action compared to the stems and is not typically prescribed for lung conditions.
The stem portions of ephedra plant are also used as a diuretic and have vasodilator as well as vasoconstrictor effects. This effect on blood vessels can be dangerous for some users.
Traditional Chinese medical practitioners warn that Ma Huang extract should be used with caution and only under the supervision of experienced and knowledgeable practitioners.
Ma Huang Herb Analysis
The stems of the Ma Huang plant contain a number of phytochemicals , including but not limited to:
- D- norpseudoephedrine
- Ellagic acid
- Gallic acid
This herb also contains a number of nutrients, minerals and vitamins including but not limited to:
- Vitamins B1, B2, B3
- Vitamin C
Effects on the Body
In traditional practice, ephedra extract is used with other herbs for the treatment of a number of health conditions.
The Chinese pharmacopeia describes recipes or concoctions that contain numerous additional ingredients used in conjunction with Ma Huang.
These can include licorice root, apricot seeds, cinnamon, dried ginger root, and other ingredients for reducing symptoms of various ailments that include:
- Nasal mucus
- High fever
In traditional Chinese medicine, Ma huang is recognized as having the following properties:
- Bronchodilation effect, relieving muscle spasms triggered by asthma
- Oil of Ma Huang has been noted to promote anti-pyretic effects
- Diuretic effects triggered by pseudoephedrine
- Anti-inflammatory effects promoted by methanol extract
Use of Chinese Ma Huang in traditional medical practices is considered to be safe. This herb is widely used in China where it is prescribed and taken under the guidance of licensed practitioners.
According to one source, there have not been any instances of serious side effects or deaths linked to use of this herb within TCM practices.
Ma Huang Pills for Weight Loss
In Chinese medicine, Ma Huang is not used for weight loss. However, its metabolism-boosting effects have received most of the attention in recent years.
When this herb was first introduced to the Western market, it became recognized for its ability to increase energy levels and promote fat loss. Bodybuilders began using it to help them slim down and increase workout stamina and intensity.
Athletes also recognized a positive effect on physical performance from taking this herb. Ma Huang supplements in the USA were marketed by many nutritional supplement manufacturers as effective fat-burners, promoting thermogenesis as well as enhanced energy.
A number of studies have been conducted that show some benefits for using ephedra extract and ephedrine HCL for weight loss. These studies have demonstrated that this supplement can increase metabolism by 5-10%.
This plant extract exerts a thermogenic effect on the body, causing you to burn more calories and fat for the production of heat due to temporary stimulation of the central nervous system. This may support weight loss goals by increasing Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).
In one meta-analysis, herbal ephedra extract was found to increase potential weight loss results by less than 1 lb. per month compared to a placebo. When combined with caffeine, it resulted in a 2.2 lb. per month increase in weight reduction.
Caffeine acts as an adenosine antagonist and can increase the beta-agonist effects of ephedrine. Using these two substances together is called an “EC Stack”. 
Another six-month long study reported weight loss results of approximately 16.6 kg (36 lb.) when taking this supplement in conjunction with diet and exercise. This is an average of 1.5 pounds per week.
Most weight loss programs recommend that individuals not drop more than one to two-pounds of body weight per week in order to maintain optimal metabolic and endocrine function as well as to prevent excess muscle deterioration. 
The National Institutes of Health released a fact sheet regarding the benefits of ephedra and its alkaloids in weight loss as well as athletic performance. 
They reported that this herb can promote “modest to significant” weight loss within six months but stated that no studies have determined efficacy or ability to maintain such weight-loss at the post-six-month mark.
They also found that Ma Huang pills could produce a short-term (one to two hours) increase in energy but were most beneficial for those who were already physically fit.
While there is evidence that Ma Huang works for fat loss, the risk of serious adverse effects must also be considered. This supplement has now been banned in the United States as an ingredient in diet pills and fat burners due to the risk of harmful side effects.
Ma Huang For Sale Online
Products containing Ma Huang are highly restricted in many countries around the world. This herbal extract is no longer legal in dietary supplements in the United States due to its ephedrine content.
If you are looking for real Ma Huang plant extracts, powder, leaves, stems or teas, it is best to visit a licensed herbalists in your local area. Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners are allowed to legally sell this herb as a natural remedy. They are also good sources of information for how to use this extract and where to find high quality Ma Huang products.
You cannot buy Ma Huang ephedra on Amazon or from most major internet retailers. It is also not sold by many local stores like Walmart, GNC, CVS, Rite-Aid or Walgreens. This plant extract is legal to buy online, but you cannot use PayPal as a payment method.
If you search on eBay, a number of Ephedra sinica (Ma Huang tea) or other herbal Chinese products are available. Much of it is shipped from China, although there are some vendors based in the United States.
Prices range from $10 – $50, not including shipping, although some of the sellers do offer free shipping. Packages are available in 250 g and 500 g, marketed as a loose tea form of organic raw natural Ma Huang tea.
Several product offerings only display images of the front of the package and not the ingredient labels, so proceed with caution. Ask for a Certificate of Authenticity where available.
Ephedra Extract Products
While Ma Huang extract is only available from a limited number of vendors, other species of the ephedra plant may be easier to purchase over the internet.
Many of these other species are subject to fewer regulations because they do not contain active ephedrine alkaloids. For example, the American species of E. Viridis, E. Nevadensis and E. Californica are devoid of this alkaloid.
If you search for ephedra on Amazon, you will find products labelled as Mormon tea, or Brigham Young tea. These products are made from the stems of the Ephedra Nevandensis species and sold as a finely ground powder in a 50 g bag.
The reason that this species was given the name “Mormon tea” has to do with its historical use in the state of Utah. The Mormon religion (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) discourages its members from using any form of caffeine.
Ephedra tea promotes a stimulatory effect but does not contain any caffeine. It was used historically as a substitute for coffee and as an energy booster.
Another product found on Amazon is manufactured by Sunflower Botanicals called Mormon Tea extract. It is a liquid drop extract that contains 0.80 mL Ephedra nevadensis per serving. The product is promoted as a decongestant and caffeine substitute.
Ephedra Supplements and Fat Burners
Ephedra weight loss supplements containing ephedrine alkaloids were made illegal under US law in 2004. Prior to this time, a number of fat burners and diet pills promoted themselves as Ma Huang supplements including:
- Premium Nutrition Metabo Ma Huang
- Pure Ma Huang
- Energy Nutrition Ripped MaHuang
- Sports One MaHuang RP
Other products did not use the Ma Huang name, but provided an extract from this plant in their ingredients. One popular supplement was Lipodrene with 25 mg ephedra sinica extract.
In April 2004, these products were banned and recalled by the FDA. However, their ban only covers forms of the ephedra plant that contain the alkaloids ephedrine or pseudoephedrine.
A number of other ephedra extract supplements remain legal because they do not contain any of the banned alkaloids. One example is the Ma Huang RFA-1 product with Ma Huang leaf extract.
Since this product does not contain any ephedrine, it is not clear how effective it will be for promoting fat loss. This supplement replaces the ephedrine with other herbal stimulants like yohimbine, acacia rigidula and theobromine.
A number of other ingredients are commonly used in ephedra extract supplements to enhance weight loss. These include:
- Caffeine anhydrous
- Bitter Orange (Synephrine)
- Yohimbine (Yohimbe bark extract)
- White Willow Bark Extract
- Forskolin (Coleus Forskolhii extract)
- Phenylethylamine HCL
- Kola Nut
- Yerba Mate
Some examples of legal ephedra supplements sold today include Zenalean Pro and Green Stinger. Both of these products can be purchased online in the USA because they do not have any real ephedrine content.
Zenalean contains 10 mg of ephedra extract. In place of the ephedra alkaloids, the product now contains Bitter Orange, also known as p-Synephrine, a potent stimulant. The product also contains caffeine, and White Willow Bark extract (an aspirin substitute) as well as green tea extract.
Green Stinger is a popular supplement that contains 27 mg of ephedra extract, manufactured by Schwartz Labs. It also contains a number of thermogenic ingredients that are designed to:
- Enhance metabolism
- Promote massive fat loss
- Increase energy
- Suppress appetite
Can you Grow your own Ma Huang Plant at Home?
A number of individuals report trying to grow their own Ephedra Sinica plant at home, with varying degrees of success. Ma Huang seeds are not difficult to find online and are still legal to buy in the USA.
This plant will only grow in a limited number of climates and geographic regions. Furthermore, a Ma Huang plant can take as much as three years to reach maturity and produce flowers. It can take longer for cultivation of its stems and leaves to yield maximum ephedrine alkaloid content.
If you decide to grow this plant at home, follow the directions provided to you by the seed supplier. Ma Huang seeds are placed in a mixture of sand and potting soil in a container or directly into the ground. Daily watering is needed to maintain soil moistness but not saturation.
New seeds should be covered with plastic wrap and then placed in sunlight for approximately 6 hours daily. After about 10 days, the plastic wrap can be removed, and the seeds will begin to germinate. Once germination has begun, the plant does not need to be watered as often because it prefers dry climates.
Some growers recommend using a low nitrogen liquid fertilizer every couple of weeks through the growing process. Relocate the plant when the seedlings have reached approximately 4 inches in height.
When mature, the Ma Huang plant can reach up to one foot in height. The fruit of the shrub is edible either raw or cooked. However, the fruit has limited ephedrine alkaloid content as most of this is found in the stems.
Novices should be extremely careful regarding what parts of the plant are cultivated, consumed, or ground down into tea or powdered form. It is best to consult with a trained herbalist before using the raw herb as a medicinal agent.
Side Effects & Contraindications
Ma Huang has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years and may provide a number of benefits when used properly and appropriately.
While traditional medicine practitioners assert that it is safe if taken as directed by a trained and licensed herbalist, there is a risk of serious side effects associated with ephedrine alkaloids.
This herb has been reported to cause dangerous and potentially fatal adverse events in some consumers including heart attack, irregular heartbeat, stroke, seizure and temporary psychosis.
Some of the side effects of Ma Huang pills are temporary and diminish within a few hours of discontinuing use. Others may contribute to long-term issues, especially involving the cardiovascular and central nervous system.
Among the most common side effects of Ma Huang extract can include:
- Mild to severe jitteriness or trembling
- Dry mouth
- Increased sense of anxiety
- Headaches or migraines
- Decreased appetite
- Changes in mood
- Confusion or lack of focus
- An “energy crash”
- Difficulty sleeping
- Accelerated heart rate (tachycardia).
- Arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat.
- Nausea, sometimes accompanied by vomiting
More serious adverse effects can occur including chest pain, allergic reactions, stomach pain, hostility, agitation, pain when urinating, rapid or troubled breathing, irrational thoughts or depression. Seek medical attention if you experience these side effects.
Because it is a stimulant, it is recommended that anyone taking any form of Ma Huang avoid use after midafternoon so that the effects wear off before bedtime. If you experience gastrointestinal side effects, symptoms can be reduced or eliminated by taking Ma Huang supplements with food.
Any symptoms affecting cardiac function require medical attention. If symptoms of tachycardia do not subside within an hour, consider consulting a healthcare provider. Long-term elevated heart rate can place added strain on the cardiac muscle.
An arrhythmia or irregular heart rate may also require medical attention. This may be experienced as a feeling of the heart racing at one moment and slowing dramatically at the next. This may be accompanied by heart palpitations or the feeling of the heart skipping a beat. This should be addressed by a physician.
Traditionally, the use of Ma Huang is considered inappropriate in individuals with high blood pressure, nervousness, cardiac arrhythmia, heart disease, insomnia, chronic bronchitis, or people with excessive perspiration.
Before you buy Ma Huang to use for weight loss, it is recommended to read more about the possible side effects, how to use it safely as well as research results from clinical studies. It is best to use ephedra under consultation with a qualified physician or traditional medicine practitioner.
- Plants for a Future. Ephedra sinica – Stapf.
- Balch Phyllis A. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Fifth Edition. Penguin Group. 2010.
- National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. Ephedra and Ephedrine Alkaloids for Weight Loss and Athletic Performance.
- Astrup A, Toubro S, Cannon S, Hein P, Madsen J. Thermogenic synergism between ephedrine and caffeine in healthy volunteers: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Mebabolism 1991 Mar;40(3):323-9.
- Astrup A, Breum L, Toubro S. Pharmacological and clinical studies of ephedrine and other thermogenic agonists. Obes Res. 1995 Nov;3 Suppl 4:537S-540S.