Ma huang (ephedra) is a shrub found growing in deserts throughout the world. The dried green stems of the three Asian species (Ephedra sinica, E. intermedia, E. equisetina) are used medicinally. The North American species of ephedra, sometimes called Desert Tea or Mormon Tea, does not appear to contain the same active ingredients as the Asian species.
Ma Huang, more commonly know as ephedra, contains active ingredients called alkaloids; the primary alkaloid is ephedrine. When ephedrine is produced synthetically by humans, it is considered a drug; however, it is not technically classified as a drug when derived naturally. Ephedrine and some of the other alkaloids in ephedra used to be commonly found in products for weight loss, as they help to stimulate the central nervous system and increase metabolism. Some people using ephedra have experienced small to moderate weight loss.
While ephedra is a popular weight loss supplement and performance enhancer, due to the possibly severe side effects associated with using ephedra, several athletic organizations, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the U. S. National Football League (NFL), and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) have prohibited its use among their athletes.
While it has a tightening effect on blood vessels near the surface of the skin, ephedrine also widens bronchioles, which are small airways in the lungs. Consequently, ephedra has been used by some to relieve stuffy nose and chest tightness caused by allergies and colds. Ephedra was formerly used in drugs to treat asthma until more effective and safer drugs were invented.Precautions and Side Effects
Ephedra can cause many side effects including dry mouth, irregular heartbeat, sweating, and even death.
The FDA investigated ephedra and ephedrine for several years. In 1983, they banned over-the-counter medications containing both ephedrine and caffeine due to reports of abuse. More recently the FDA has banned use of Ephedra throughout the United States.