Ephedra, from the plant Ephedra sinica, has been used as an herbal remedy in traditional Chinese medicine for 5,000 years for the treatment of asthma and hay fever, as well as for the common cold. Known in Chinese as ma huang (traditional Chinese: simplified Chinese: pinyin: má huáng), ephedra is a stimulant which constricts blood vessels and increases blood pressure and heart rate. Several additional species belonging to the genus Ephedra have traditionally been used for a variety of medicinal purposes, and are a possible candidate for the Soma plant of Indo-Iranian religion.Native Americans and Mormon pioneers drank a tea brewed from an Ephedra, called Mormon Tea, but North American ephedras lack the alkaloids found in species such as E. sinica.
Ephedra-containing dietary supplements have been linked to a high rate of serious side effects and a number of deaths, leading to concern from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and the medical community. However, initial efforts to test and regulate ephedra were defeated by lobbying and political pressure from the dietary-supplement industry. Ultimately, in response to accumulating evidence of adverse effects and deaths related to ephedra, the FDA banned the sale of ephedra-containing supplements on April 12, 2004.
Following a legal challenge by an ephedra manufacturer, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit upheld the FDA’s ban of ephedra in 2006. The sale of ephedra-containing dietary supplements remains illegal in the United States due to evidence of adverse ephedra-related effects. Following the FDA’s ban, the supplement industry has marketed “ephedrine-free” or “legal” ephedra products, in which the ephedra is replaced with other herbal stimulants such as bitter orange.
Ephedrine (the key ingredient in Herbal Ecstasy) stimulates the cardiovascular and central nervous system. It may cause harmful reactions in people with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions. People with vulnerabilities to ephedrine can suffer from heart attacks, strokes, and seizures when taking the drug.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned the sale of dietary supplements containing ephedra (ephedrine alkaloids) due to concerns over their cardiovascular effects, including increased blood pressure and irregular heart rhythm. The final rule became effective on April 12, 2004. The rule does not pertain to drugs that contain chemically synthesized ephedrine, or to traditional Chinese herbal remedies and herbal teas.