bar Title: Ephedrine: Fast Facts
Author: Staff
Publisher: Do It Now Foundation
Publication Date: February 2010
Catalog Number: 528

Overview: For an ancient drug, changes sure have been swirling up around ephedrine in recent years. Why? Mostly because ephedrine is chemically similar to methamphetamine, and has figured into the illicit production of that drug for years. Once a main ingredient in legally-available energizers and nutritional supplements, ephedrine was banned in those products by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2004. Then, in 2006, controls on both ephedrine and a synthetic form of the drug, pseudoephedrine, were tightened nationally to restrict their availability as precursor chemicals in the manufacture of methamphetamine.

Appearance: In its pure form, ephedrine is a white powder, but it has also been sold in tablet or capsule form or as loose plant material.

Actions/Effects: Ephedrine triggers a mild burst of energy, due to its similarities to the body hormone epinephrine (or adrenaline) and the street drug methamphetamine. In addition to its stimulant effects (which can include feelings of alertness and reduced appetite), ephedrine also relaxes bronchial muscles and dilates airways, and can cause sharp increases in both blood pressure and heart rate.

Medical Uses: Due to its effects on respiration, ephedrine has long been used as an ingredient in over-the-counter cold, allergy, and asthma products.

Side Effects: Common side effects include increased body temperature, sweating, dry mouth and tremors. Higher doses may cause dizziness, restlessness, anxiety, and insomnia.

Risks: Users who are sensitive to ephedrine or who take high doses may experience potentially-serious health risks, including abnormally high blood pressure, breathing difficulties, and rapid, irregular heartbeat. These effects may be accompanied by confusion and paranoia. An amphetamine-like psychosis has also been linked to chronic abuse of high-dose levels of the drug.

Trends: Despite numerous deaths linked to ephedra-based products, national debate on the subject never reached critical mass until the early 2000's. Following the 2003 ephedrine-related death of a major league baseball pitcher, the FDA rewrote the 1994 Dietary Supplements Act to include much-needed regulatory authority, standardized dosage, content and warning labels. And in 2006, the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act sharply curbed U.S. distribution of the drug, banning unregulated over-the-counter sales of ephedrine and placing strict limits on its availability and display.

This is one in a series of publications on drugs, behavior, and health by Do It Now Foundation.
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