portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reporting united states

drug war | government | health

Relatively harmless herb Ephedra illegal as of today

What's more plausible - that the government has outlawed ephedra because it's LINKED to 155 deaths in history, or because the pHarmacuetical industry is one of the biggest political contributors and doesn't want a natural extract as a competitor that can't be trademarked and regulated?
Ephedra is the main active ingredient of Ma Huang, an herb that has been used for thousands of years to alleviate symptoms of asthma, upper respiratory infection, nasal and chest congestion, and to increase metabolism.
The Food and Drug Administration, citing a TOTAL of 155 deaths that have been LINKED to it, has banned all sales of it as of today, April 12, 2004.

The move marks the first time the government has outlawed a dietary supplement and will set a precedent for action against other "risky" products, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said. "For too long, dietary supplements containing (ephedra) have been heavily promoted and widely used. They are simply too "risky", Thomson said at a news conference.
Bush administration officials said several recent developments allowed them to take action against a substance that had been under scrutiny for at least six years.

The "dangers" of ephedra received widespread publicity with the death in February last year of Baltimore Orioles pitcher steve Bechler, whose fatal heatstroke was linked to the supplement by a medical examiner.
BUT THE FDA ADMITS ITSELF THAT THERE IS NO DEFINITIVE PROOF that ephedra caused Bechler's death or any other serious injury.

In the tens of articles about the ephedra ban that I read, I have yet to see any mention of the fact that ephedra - and all other herbal and dietary supplements COMBINED - have averaged LESS THAN FIVE CONFIRMED DEATHS over the past 25 years in the USA. Most of those relate to a single batch of genetically engineered tryptophan introduced in the late 1980's (Source, CDC/FDA).

-- 46 people die from aspirin every single day in the US alone.
--Properly researched, regulated, and prescribed drugs are the fourth most common cause of death. (Source, Journal of American Medical association - Range 90,00 to 160,000 deaths per year.)
--Food poisoning/adverse reactions causes between 5,000 to 9,000 deaths per year (Source, CDC)
--Greater than 26,000 times more people die from preventable medical misadventure and properly regulated, properly prescribed drugs than from dietary supplements.

The pharmaceutical industry is one of the most powerful forces in politics, and one of the biggest political contributors. With last years total sales of ephedra capsules topping 1.4 BILLION dollars in 2002, it's no wonder they're using their influence to limit US citizens from using natural herbs and plant extracts which cannot be trademarked and regulated by multibillion dollar corporations and the government.
Every gelcap filled with the powder of Ma Huang stems and roots is one less "ChemDiet" capsule sold, or one less SUDAFED (psuedo ephedrin).

This is a dangerous and foreboding step towards the administration and the FDA limiting our right to an increasing list of naturally occuring, relatively harmless substances.
At his news conference, Thompson said he believes congress should toughen the supplemental laws even more and require companies to do more to prove their products are safe.

In the time it took you to read this (2 minutes?), approximately 13 PEOPLE HAVE DIED due to doctor-prescribed prescription drugs around the world. That's almost 400 an hour, almost 10,000 a day.
Aren't there more important things the administration and the FDA should be concerned about?

Still legal for Oriental Medicine Practioners 12.Apr.2004 13:37


If you are a practitioner of Oriental Medicine (OM), or a student under the supervision of a licensed OM practioner, you can still use ephedra in formula prescriptions. This is because when prescribed by those who have been trained to use this herb correctly, in combination with appropriate balancing herbs, the beneficial effects of ephedra/Ma Huang for a variety of different issues, especially asthma and other bronchial problems, are irreplaceable in Oriental Medicine. This exemption was won as a result of hard work, lobbying and pressure on legislators to not remove this important herbal medicine from our pharmacies. However it does not necessarily mean that States that adopt their versions of this Federal Law will include this exemption.

The exact wording of Section III B of the final rule explains that the ban applies only to "dietary supplements containing ephedrine alkaloids, including, but not limited to, those from the botanical species ephedra sinica Stapf, ephedra equisetina Bunge,"...and a few other species varations.

Section III B also includes a caveat for the use of ephedra as it applies to "traditional Asian Medicine":

Several ephedra species (including those known as Ma Huang) have a long history of use in traditional Asian medicine. These products are beyond the scope of this rule because they are not marked as dietary supplements. The use of ephedrine alkaloids in traditional Asian medicine is discussed in more detail in section V B 5 of this document. As we describe there, this rule does not change how these products are regulated under the act.

A standard response to the multitude of comments the FDA received during the comment period reads as follows:

"This final rule does not affect the use of ephedra preparations in traditional Asian medicine, although we considered the comments' views and information on the use of ephedra in traditional Asian medicine in the context of their possible relevance to the risks of dietary supplements containing ephedrine alkaloids. This rule applies only to products regulated as dietary supplements."

Of course, this exemption only remains valid as long as the FDA doesn't consider oriental herbal medicine to be supplements. The classification could change at any time. All herbal remedies are increasingly replacing the use of prescription drugs. The pharaceutical companies are buying out herb companies for exactly this reason. If the trend continues, it's only a matter of time before the next step, banning all herbs for whatever reason they come up with, is taken.

Ephedra happens to be indispensable as a component of many traditional OM asthma formulas. For any of you who know of people with asthma, you may be aware of how much these steroid inhalants cost, but may not be aware of the damage incurred on kidney function as a result of repeated use of steroid antiinflammatories. Negative feedback mechanisms exist to let the kidney know how much corticosteroids to produce. When these are available in synthetic form, the kidney no longer is signalled to make these corticosteroids. Over time, kidney function declines, chronic fatigue and weakened bone structure are some of the many side effects of long term use of these steroidal antiinflammatories.

This is not to say that ephedra on it's own is a cure or even a treatment for asthma, as the writer of the original article implies. I think it's important to emphasize that ephedra is always used by Oriental Medicine practitioners in combination with other herbs to moderate it's extremely drying & heating effects. On it's own it does have an effect on heart rate, and taken in combination with the drugs derived from it, ephedrine & pseudoephedrine, can cause serious heart problems. Native American ephedra (which is NOT Ma Huang) is also called mormon tea. This variation contains no Ephedra.

Caffeine & tannin - containing foods amplify the side-effects of ephedrine, as does guarana. Other tannin-containing herbs include green tea, black tea, and uva ursi. All these reduce Vitamin C in the body and supplementation of Vitamin C should happen when ingesting these herbs long-term. Potassium & Magnesium may also be a good idea.

It's good to be informed. But I want to emphasize that the use of ephedra really should happen only after consultation with and under continual care of a qualified practitioner of Oriental Medicine. Ephedra really shouldn't be taken on it's own. It is always used in combination for asthma formulas, along with other herbs that may be indicated based on the practitioner's assessment of each person's unique physiological situation & underlying constitutional imbalances.

propagate against the propaganda! 12.Apr.2004 13:44


although it's now illegal to sell, the plant itself is still legal.
Anybody know where to get a living ma huang plant?

takeover 12.Apr.2004 14:29


Just another way this corporate government to make money off of life. . .nature is now a product. It is only of use in how it can be harnessed into mass-produced, unethically expensive products to be purchased from large stores. It's totally totally messed up and the only thing we can do is wrack our brains to figure out how these bastards will not win their war against everything that lives.

Just because... 12.Apr.2004 14:54


...an herb is natural, does not always make it safe. There have been a number of side effects with Ephedra. I agree, that does not mean it should be banned, but there should be a warning label. Also, it is used as a precursor for making meth.

nothing compared to suppression of stevia 12.Apr.2004 15:11


Stevia is a plant whose leaves are very sweet. So sweet, in fact, that the dried crystals of the liquid extract can be 200-300 times sweeter than white sugar. The plant has been used safely in countries all over the world for centuries, yet it is banned for sale as a sweetener in the U.S., where it can only be labeled a "dietary supplement". There are no calories in stevia, it doesn't promote tooth decay, and can be used by those who are diabetic, hypoglycemic, or for any reason are avoiding sugar. The banning of stevia is the result of intense lobbying by G.D. Searle, inventor of what is now NutraSweet, and Monsanto, current owner of NutraSweet. There have even been book burnings and raids by the FDA! Regular use of NutraSweet, the marketing name for Aspartame, has been linked (by overwhelming evidence) to many deaths, including the deaths of very healthy people, even athletes, whose hearts just stopped working at a young age. It is known to cause tumors and even cause holes in the brains of test subjects. For more info on stevia vs. Aspartame, perform a Google (www.google.com) search on:

stevia banned aspartame fda

I think the best, most concise summary of the story is here:

"Natural" supplement industry as corporate as pharmaceuticals 12.Apr.2004 16:52


While I disagree with the outlawing of any plant, on principal alone, I hasten to add that this issue is more complex than a simple case of powerful pharmaceutical industry money buying protections against a weak and struggling natural competition. The fact is, the natural foods/natural supplement industry is becoming every bit as gigantic and corporate as the pharmaceutical industry. In many cases, the two are one and the same. As it happens, many of the herbal "supplements" containing Ma Huang were, in fact, very dangerous. Why? Because the supplement industry ignored all precautions and pumped far more than the dosages usually considered safe and effective into their "herbal energy" preparations. Likely they learned this trick from the tobacco industry, which made a killing (literally) by boosting the dangerous and addictive properties of the tobacco plant in an effort to addict consumers to their increasingly expensive product. "God damn the pusher."

The supplement industry was going for a cheap high that would sell products, even if it killed people. Too many well-meaning people are too easily co-opted by their sales strategies, including biting into the outrage whipped up by them regarding Ma Huang. This is a big ticket item, and they want to be able to sell it to you even more than you want to be able to buy it. I agree that it's crazy to outlaw any plant, but it's equally crazy to put your life and health in the hands of a mercenary industry that would as soon kill you as heal you, should it be more profitable. Always better to learn about the plants around you, and make your own preparations whenever possible.

As for where one can get ephedra plants, I believe they are the plants we used to call "mormon tea," and they grow in the desert. I know they're all over the Southwest, and I assume they might grow in the Oregon desert as well.

Another possible reason 12.Apr.2004 20:08


Ephedra is one of many ingredients used in the manufacture of crystalline methamphetamine. This may or may not be an additional reason that ephedra was banned: the idiotic war on drugs.

tobacco and alcohol are still legal 12.Apr.2004 22:18


when is the govt going to ban the sale of tobacco and alcohol?

they'll never take my alcohol away 13.Apr.2004 00:42



Okay, lemme get this straight? 13.Apr.2004 13:16

Confused because I'm supposed to be

MAYBE, TCM aside for a minute here, what is being banned is Ephedra packaged as a nutritional suppliment. That might actually be wise if bad labelling is contributing to misuse, even if the more obvious answer might be to require correct labelling instead of institute a ban, or to educate the public. I'm sure it's not a bright idea to overdo alcohol and then see how hot a place you can find to overexert yourself in either, but obviously nobody's into banning alcohol on account of it even if the risk of casualties is far greater through much more extensive use of the product, so we have to rely on common sense / education for that.

In the case of Stevia, I think they may have been p*ss*d off for the same reason that I get p*ss*d off about Stevia, which is when I see people raving about it as a sweetener, without mentioning that it's also... wait, I porbably can't say "contraceptive" because that's a medical claim the FDA probably hasn't approved... can I say, "may cause infertility"? On it's home turf in Mexico, it's called "seco amor," or "dry love," on this account, and sold in public markets possibly more as a contraceptive than a sugar substitute as I understand it. The FDA took to burning Stevia cookbooks... gods, I hate to see bookburning... but if the cookbooks "forgot" to mention this little detail, they shouldn't have.

Still, it makes no sense to me that the FDA can ban but not regulate substances- or certain preparations: probably the best known casualty (famous athlete) here does involve an infamous hot-rodded mix with guarana (see cautions posted above). It may be interesting how capable of that guarana is all by itself if so abused, actually.

But you may be able to still purchase Ephedra herb, or to grow it, if I'm reading that right, just as long as it isn't marked as a "nutritional suppliment"? Plants, and seeds, have been available though different herb dealers and should be unless the ban actually covers them or if someone in doubt is erring on the side of caution, probably both plants "Ma Huang" and "Teamster Tea" (generally E. sinica and E. nevadensis, respectively? watch out for and check botanical psuedonyms) are available in that way, with the associated latin names also given. Seeds may be better, you get more "chances" to have a living plant (I don't think there are unusual germination requirements?) and I'm not sure how desert plants come out in after 3 days to a week in a box in the light, soggy / peaty soil they tend to ship mail-order plants in probably to keep the weight down and shipping costs from being more astronomical than they already are. I could be wrong but as I understood it, "Teamster Tea" does contain ephedra, although not as much as "Ma Huang".

With respect to TCM, that probably is one way to go about using Ephedra safely, depending on the condition- asthma can get serious enough that you may want to avail yourself of the best Western as well as Eastern medicine, I would think? But a little caution, moderation, and common sense probably also have the potential to contribute greatly to safe Ephedra use. I don't seem to have done myself harm with Ma Huang, in fact I like it for withdrawal from caffeine without the weeklong migraine, when I'm lacking the focus to just wean off of coffee... but I sipped the tea (I thought it tasted okay even cold unlike coffee) so as not to overdose instead of scarfing caps and letting it sneak up on me, for example. (In fact, after the Jell-O / Mad Cow discussion here, I'd greatly prefer avoiding gelcaps of anything, that don't say vegan gelatin). I also had the sense to avoid heat and overexertion while using Ephedra, or mixing it with other stimulants. Seemed obvious to me, but if you were using it as a diet drug and thought the more you could sweat off with it the better, I guess it could elude you.

Cautious / moderate / knowledgeable use or trial of *any* herb, really (don't forget, you could always be dealing with a new herb you could be allergic to, or have other adverse reactions that not everyone has), is one good way we can keep the pharmaceutical industry from having these cases to point to and forging ahead with their clandestine and not-so-clandestine monopolies. I don't doubt for a minute that this is being blown clear out of proportion mainly to please them.

I knew ephedra would become illegal 13.Apr.2004 20:04

I ate two "yellow jackets" once

on a drive back from cali. My heart was going a million miles an hour. Ephedra is a harsh over-the-counter suplament. It'l mess you up.

yeh, it gave me panick attacks 14.Apr.2004 11:10


Although the herb ephedra has been used responsibly and medicinally for a long time, the supplement industry has killed people with it. Americans' insatiable desire for cheap thrills, capitalism's requirement that we all get wired and do more more more work, and the need to sell more more more expensive, designer "supplements" is causing an epidemic of this kind of thing. It's not the plant that should be outlawed, it's capitalism. In any case, I'm not crying because the "natural supplement" industry can't sell this shit anymore. We can still find ephedra in the desert if we need it.

companies squandering our recources 15.Jul.2004 17:10


I think that you are absolutely right.The big companies dont want you to have the natural remedies because if you do you will not be buying thier shitty watered down pills and they wont make any money off of you.Thats a load of shit and they know it.They cant stop us from using a natural plant which has been growing on this earth for centuries nor will they!!!

banned instead of regulated 02.Jan.2005 07:46

roman leige

don't be nieve my children. money is the sword of fear. it will always cut you more than it helps you.
...and didn't you know congressional seats are for rent?


Ephedra was the only thing that helped me lose wait!!! 12.May.2005 06:56

sad because of wait gain

Ephedra was all I had to help me lose all my wait and keep It off and give me lots of wonderful energy :o(
this Is awful, I gained all my wait back and even more, Its really depressing :o(
I have three kids and a hubby who thinks I can lose It just like that with no help at all...please!!!
Life can be so hard, so I will try my best till they bring It back :o(
there are lots of things that can kill you In this life time, you are In control of your own life.
this Is just not fair...ok, now I sound like one of my kids talking,lol!
May they bring Ephedra back and may we all stay skinny and happy, hehe!

Ephedra and Weight Loss...I know how you feel... 26.May.2005 16:28

american koapana@echoweb.net

Ephedra also helped me lose a great deal of baby weight that I couldn't loose after 2yrs. of trying diet modification and daily exercise. I did have some problems while I was taking it that included high blood pressure, light headedness, dry mouth, and generally feeling really bad when I didn't take any. When I first tried Metabolife I felt panicky and sick and I didn't feel that it was worth taking. Then I tried Xenadrine, not only did I feel not so bad but the weight melted off with the same diet and exercise plan. I too gained back most of the weight I had lost, however, even though I want to lose the weight again and keep it off I am not sure that ephedra is the best answer for me. When I stopped taking it I had headaches for over a month consistently and afterwards was diagnosed with cluster headaches, I have worn a heart monitor off and on for periods of up to a month because of unexplained rythmic issues (very scary), and I have stomach problems such as ulcers (just to name one). I don't know how much if any of this is related to the two years I took ephedra for but I can't take the chance, as a mom, of something happening to me.

Congress 14.Jun.2005 17:06


Makes me think of something I just heard recently about congress and its control:
If the opposite of 'Pro' is 'Con' does that mean the opposite of Congress is PRO-GRESS!!!!!????? I do believe that a huge reason Ephedra was taken off the market is due its connection with meth amphetamine and its trail of damage left behind. However, I do not believe removing it from the market is the answer. Where I live we have a huge jail facility that is completely EMPTY. In another local jail we keep sending convicts home! Why? No money to keep them there. So instead, in my town, we are spending copious amounts of tax payer's money to track down the meth dealers so we can put them in jail and let them back out when a more serious offender shows up to bump their spot in the jail! But God forbid we let the little house wife... who wants to take 3 pounds off ... have access to a legal bottle of ephedra!!!!

blame Ephedrine - Niehter here nor there reasoning is no excuse 20.May.2006 08:19

if it was about health we would ban chidrens cough medicine

good comments but some based off partial knowledge...as far as ephedra, and ephedrine being dangerous.
First like to mention that these two are NOT the same as Ma Huang the plant. They are not natural they are partial imitations or extractions. The actual plants makes your blood pressure go down, wher as the pill makes it go up. Where as the pills may make it go up (sometimes a lot). The pills can be dangersous, but if you take 20 times the max dosage of any pill in a awhole populationg a whole lot more than 45 will die!

If you drink a cup of coffee for the first time in your life it will make you heart race! What makes you think a diet pill will not? Don't say it is dangers because you bought a product that did not warn you to start gradual.

What isn't used to make meth? There are a LOT of alternatives for this. Including (and especially) the pills that are going to replace ephedrine.
So that is a sorry excuse because they are actually several hundreds of times more availible.

Clarification on Ephedra Prescriptions in Washington State 21.Jan.2007 22:39

Ephie Dra

To address the last comment, Ephedra, in fact, is the name of the herb. Ephedrine is a salt contained in the herb. The issue has to do with regulating abuse. Abuse is by definition, different from "use."

The herb is not labeled as a dietary or nutritional supplement. And it is not "dosed." If you put some ephedra in a teabag and put that in a teacup, your dose of ephedrine is going to be less than 25 mg.

So, the attempt to restrict access to the natural herbal "ephedra" or "ma huang" is irrational, and even counter to the intent of the law in Washington State:

(3) Ma Huang or other botanical products of genus ephedra used in their natural state and containing 25 mg. or less of ephedrine per recommended dosage as a preparation for human consumption are not legend drugs for the purposes of this section.

Washington State's law:


Herbalist 01.Nov.2007 16:34

B. Fansler barbarafansler@yahoo.com

i took a.e.a.-b a product with ephedra in it and was cured of chroic bronchitis and if i get a cold and take some (i still have on hand) i get better in one day. this is a wonderful product and i would love to have a lot on hand for future use.