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Ephedra, a herb of Asian origin, has long been used in traditional medicine. However, because of the safety concerns surrounding compounds it harbors, most countries are now banning it.

Chinese medicine and other traditional medicines have been using ephedra (otherwise called Ma Huang) to treat different ailments. Modern medicine also suggests that the herb has compounds that can assist in weight loss by fastening fat burning and increasing metabolic rates. Besides, there are claims that the weight loss compounds in ephedra exert more effects when combined with caffeine. Still, many safety concerns surround ephedra, including higher chances of nausea, increased palpitations, vomiting, etc. As such, most countries, including the USA, are now banning ephedra wholly some of its specific compounds. Here is all you need to know about ephedra, including its relationship with weight loss and caffeine, as well as its legality and safety.

Ephedra- what is it?

It is critical to fully understand ephedra before getting into the nitty-gritty about safety, potentials, and legality. Simply put, ephedra is an herb from the Asian continent, although it has spread widely and can now be found in most parts of the world. It is also called Ma Huang and has been used in traditional medicine, particularly Chinese, for thousands of years to handle different conditions. In the years leading to 2000, researchers and scientists committed to studying ephedra after the claims that it could help boost weight loss by fastening fat burning and increasing metabolic rates.

Ephedra sinica or Ma Huang has many compounds, most of which are potent. However, research suggests that its weight loss potential results from ephedrine compound. While ephedrine may be helpful for metabolism and weight loss, other compounds related to it, including ephedrine alkaloids, have safety concerns. For instance, they are associated with increased chances of vomiting, nausea, and palpitations and are the main reasons behind the banning of ephedra in many countries. Of course, the legal regulations vary from one country to another, but many consider banning the herb or supplements containing specific compounds from the Ma Huang plant.

Ephedra and weight and weight loss

The primary reason behind the fame and haze around the Ma Huang herb is connected to its ability to aid weight loss and fasten fat burning in the body. Ephedra became popular for this use/application between 1980 and 2000, but once the supplements made from the herb were banned, the studies increasingly ceased. Earlier studies showed that the Ma Huang plant could be effective for weight loss since it can boost metabolic rates. As such, the supplements were claimed to help boost muscles’ ability to burn more calories while at rest. Nonetheless, the suggestions are still subject to scrutiny.

Furthermore, other studies found that ephedrine, a compound in the ephedra herb, could fasten fat burning. For instance, one survey divided a sample population into two groups and gave each group a placebo or ephedrine supplements. The results showed that the group taking ephedrine experienced at least 3.6% more fat-burning than the placebo group. Additionally, it was observed that the overall weight of the individuals who took ephedrine supplements reduced significantly.

Nonetheless, research on the long-term effects of ephedrine and ephedra for weight loss, fat burning, and increased metabolism is lacking. Some preliminary studies suggested that the two could help support the weight loss quest in the long term, but most of these were merely observational. What’s more, once most of the world’s countries banned ephedrine supplements, studies related to them ceased. Consequently, it is almost impossible to state how ephedrine may affect weight loss with utmost confidence.

Ephedrine can work better with caffeine for synergistic effects in weight loss

Many of the existing studies about ephedrine have examined the compound’s weight loss effect alongside caffeine. The two are believed to help with increased metabolism, which is why their synergistic effects are not far-fetched. In fact, some researchers indicate that ephedrine or caffeine cannot significantly help with weight loss, but the two can produce a wonderful synergistic effect for weight loss. For instance, one study revealed that a combo of ephedrine and caffeine resulted in 5%+ weight loss, while either caffeine or ephedrine could not match these observations. In another instance, a study involved giving people under observation a placebo or supplements with ephedrine and caffeine, and the latter resulted in at least 7.5% weight loss and increased metabolism.

Ephedra and ephedrine: dosage

In conducting studies about ephedra and its compound ephedrine, researchers have used various dosages. Generally, the dosages have ranged from 10 mg to 150 mg, with 10- 40 mg, 50- 90 mg, and 100- 150 mg being low, moderate, and high, respectively. Like other supplements, the effects of ephedra/ephedrine supplements have varied with the dosages. While some have experienced mild to severe side effects, others have recorded no counter effects.

Safety and side effects of ephedra or its ephedrine compounds

As stated in the preceding paragraph, different dosages of ephedrine compounds have resulted in different side effects. However, most studies that used low amounts of the herb’s compounds have recorded no serious effects, whether used in isolation or together with caffeine. Still, some studies that used ephedrine alkaloids recorded increased risks of severe side effects, including heart palpitations, vomiting, nausea, psychiatric problems, heart attacks, death, etc. consequently, many countries, including the USA, were prompted to ban the herb and its supplements.

The legal status regarding ephedra and its ephedrine-containing supplements varies by state, but most countries have banned the latter. Of course, some countries consider ma huang tea and ephedra herb legal, and you might find them over the counter. However, ephedrine-containing supplements are banned in the USA and elsewhere, especially after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned them in 2004. Remember, ephedrine was popular in the years leading to 2000, and some medications have its traces. Nonetheless, ephedrine alkaloids are out of the picture and should not be present in any supplements because of their safety concerns.


Ephedra or Ma Huang is a herb of Asian origin that has been used for a long time in Chinese medicine. Ephedrine is a critical compound in the herb and is associated with weight loss. However, the same compound, alongside others related to it, such as ephedrine alkaloids, are potentially dangerous, which is why the USA and other countries have banned them.

Ieva Kubiliute is a psychologist and a sex and relationships advisor and a freelance writer. She's also a consultant to several health and wellness brands. While Ieva specialises in covering wellness topics ranging from fitness and nutrition, to mental wellbeing, sex and relationships and health conditions, she has written across a diverse range of lifestyle topics, including beauty and travel. Career highlights so far include: luxury spa-hopping in Spain and joining an £18k-a-year London gym. Someone’s got to do it! When she’s not typing away at her desk—or interviewing experts and case studies, Ieva winds down with yoga, a good movie and great skincare (affordable of course, there’s little she doesn’t know about budget beauty). Things that bring her endless joy: digital detoxes, oat milk lattes and long country walks (and sometimes jogs).

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