Pharmaceutical Name: Ephedrine
Drug Classification: Sympathomimetic/Alpha and Beta Adrenergenic
Active Life: four to seven hours
Ephedrine is a sympathomimetic alkaloid derived from the herb ma huang, also
known as ephedra, and is considered to be the so-called active ingredient of
the herb along with pseudo ephedrine (1). Ephedra, and now ephedrine itself, is
primarily used for its ability to increase the activity of the central nervous
system of the user while also stimulating various target cells in the body via
its mechanism as an alpha and beta adrenergenic agonist. These abilities of
ephedrine offer numerous advantages for both bodybuilders and strength
The stimulatory effect that ephedrine has on the central nervous system offers
several benefits to athletes. For example, this enhanced stimulation should
allow for an increase in the force able to be generated in skeletal muscle
contractions. Obviously this could result in increased strength that a user
could generate and/or more explosive actions or movements during athletic
endeavors. Other such possible beneficial results of this increased activity
in the central nervous system include such things as improved lung function,
anaerobic capacity, hand-eye coordination and cardio-respiratory endurance,
among others. These listed potential benefits should not be looked upon as
absolutes however due to some contradictory research that indicates no such
benefits were seen with ephedrine supplementation (2, 3). Despite these
contradictory findings however, the vast majority of research does indeed
indicate a direct correlation between ephedrine use, an increase in central
nervous system activity and an improvement in numerous athletic performance
A second, related benefit of ephedrine administration is the increase in
metabolism and lipolytic effects in the body. For the most part this is
accomplished by the thermogenic effect that the compound produces. In much the
same way that a drug such as clenbuterol does, although clenbuterol is a
selective beta-2 agonist while ephedrine is an alpha and beta adrenergenic
agonist, ephedrine raises the body temperature of the user which creates the
increase in metabolism.
A third benefit of ephedrine, at least for some, is a reduction in appetite.
Like many other stimulants this effect varies from user to user with some
experiencing this effect much more severely then others. If one has problems
ingesting their target number of calories per day when using ephedrine they
may want to discontinue administering it.
When taken alone ephedrine should deliver these benefits for the user quite
adequately. Among users and producers of products containing ephedrine
however, other compounds are often administered along with the ephedrine to
increase the effect of the supplement. The most popular compound to include
with ephedrine is caffeine. It is thought by many that this is due to the
thermogenic nature of caffeine and that it would be of added benefit in this
regard. This is not true however. The actual effect that is trying to be
produced by using caffeine with ephedrine is to attempt to prolong and
intensify the effects of the ephedrine. This is accomplished because ephedrine
produces its thermogenic effect by way of catecholamine release,
catecholamines being chemicals that are produced and released via the amino
acid tyrosine (4). Examples of catecholamines are norepinephrine and
epinephrine. When increased levels of catecholamines are released due to
ephedrine use a negative feedback loop is triggered and the release of
catecholamines is reduced and the thermogenic effect of ephedrine is stunted.
Caffeine interferes with this negative feedback loop mechanism and thus
ephedrine can continue to produce its effects to a greater degree then if no
caffeine had been supplemented. Aspirin has a similar effect on this negative
feedback loop and is also included by some users and ephedrine product
producers when using or manufacturing ephedrine supplements. It does appear
however that the action of aspirin in this regard is not as effective as
caffeine and therefore if a user were already supplementing with caffeine no
further benefit is likely to be achieved with the inclusion of aspirin.
Use/Dosing of Ephedrine
Due to the action of ephedrine as a central nervous system stimulant, users
will want to begin administering relatively small amounts of the compound so
that they are able to gage how well they tolerate it. Dosages in the range of
four to eight milligrams would be appropriate for most. Once a user becomes
familiar with how they react to ephedrine doses anywhere from four to fifty
milligrams at a time are normal for users to administer. Due to receptor
downgrade, which will be discussed in depth below, dosages far in excess of
this range are used by some individuals. However dosages that begin to climb
higher and higher soon become impractical for a user to continue and cessation
of use of the compound should take place. Despite this receptor downgrade
however users have administered ephedrine for several months consecutively or
even for years on end with little detectable negative side effects, while
acknowledging that regular markers of general health should be consistently
monitored to help and avoid serious complications. In studies conducted
assessing the effects of long term use of ephedrine there has been little
evidence of increased risk to the users in terms of toxicity or the general
health of the heart (5).
The active life of ephedrine is relatively short, approximately four to seven
hours, so multiple dosing per day can be used depending on the tolerance of
the user. A single dose per day to as many as three evenly spread out
throughout the day is the norm for the majority of users. The synthetic
version of ephedrine reaches its peak plasma level approximately one hour
after ingestion (6), with the herbal version taking slightly longer then this
to reach its maximum level.
Due to the fact that ephedrine is an alpha and beta agonist the downregulation
of the cardiac, pulmonary and central nervous system beta-adrenergic receptors
is an issue that users must combat when using this compound. A proven method
to help alleviate this effect and ensure that the ephedrine remains effective
throughout its use is via the administration of ketotifen. Ketotifen is a
prescription anti-histimines that acts to reduce beta-2 receptor activity. By
reducing this activity the receptor function is restored to nearly its
original capability and the potency of the ephedrine remains in effect. Doses
of two to ten milligrams of ketotifen have been used by users of ephedrine,
but most would be well served to start at lower doses. It is unlikely that
many will need doses higher then 5 milligrams per day. Taking ketotifen for
seven days every two to three weeks should be enough to maintain well
functioning beta-2 receptors and ensure that the ephedrine maintains its
An alternative to ketotifen may be diphenhydramine, commonly referred to as
Benedryl. Benadryl is a cationic ampiphylic drug, with this fact being
significant because cationic ampiphylic drugs have the ability to inhibit
phospholipase A2 and therefore upgrade beta-2 receptors (7). The inhibition of
the enzyme phospholipase A2 is key due to it being responsible for methylated
phospholipids. It is thought that by reducing and/or ending this action allows
the phospholipid membrane to remain relatively intact and the beta-adrenoreceptors
will be able to remain functioning at their full capacity, or near to it, for
much longer. For most an effective dose would be 50-100mgs per day for seven
days every three weeks while running ephedrine. Users would be well served to
take this dosage just prior to going to sleep as it will likely cause
Having said this, there is much more anecdotal feedback in regards to the
effectiveness of ketotifen in relation to ephedrine then there is Benedryl
simply because ketotifen has been used much longer by strength athletes and
bodybuilders for this purpose. As well, there is seemingly more direct
research that indicates that ketotifen is effective while only a few studies
suggest the same of Benedryl. That is not to say that Benedryl is ineffective,
just that there is less ï¿½real worldï¿½ feedback as to its use with ephedrine.
Risks/Side Effects of Ephedrine
The action of ephedrine as a central nervous system stimulant obviously
suggests that an increase in heart rate and/or blood pressure is likely. This
is not as irrefutable as one would be led to believe however. It appears as
though that while ephedrine does indeed produce a noticeable increase in heart
rate in many users, it alone does not produce a dramatic rise in the blood
pressure of some users in specific circumstances (8, 9). When combined with
caffeine however both heart rate and blood pressure seemingly almost always
rise to significantly elevated levels (10). Related to this, there is little
evidence that suggests ephedrine poses serious risks to users in terms of
cardiac health in healthy individuals. Of course as would be assumed by most,
use of ephedrine by users suffering from prior conditions such as
hypertension, cardiac arrhythmia, or other circulatory conditions should not
be attempted without first consulting with a doctor.
In a small number of healthy individuals however ephedrine can sometimes cause
heart arrhythmias. One explanation of why this could occur would be due to the
tendency of ephedrine use to decrease serum potassium levels in users (11).
When a person is significantly deficient in potassium this can result in the
development of heart arrhythmias. For this reason ephedrine users will want to
ensure that they are getting sufficient amounts of potassium in their diets to
compensate for this effect of the compound or else use a potassium supplement.
A relatively small number of cases have shown that some individuals have died
while using a supplement containing ephedrine (12, 13). For the most part
there were circumstances outside of simply using ephedrine that led to these
deaths. Factors such as gross overdosing of the compound, temperature and
humidity, as mentioned earlier prior medical conditions, and severe
dehydration are all potential contributing factors that may be exasperated by
improper use of ephedrine. However when used correctly by healthy individuals
ephedrine is a safe compound for use by most adults.
Other less serious side effects of ephedrine use can include such things as
excessive sweating, tremors, sleeplessness, anxiety, rapid speech, and other
common side effects associated with stimulant use. For the most part these can
be controlled by reducing the dosages used. However for some users these side
effects may be inevitable.
As mentioned, anxiety is a possible side effect of ephedrine use (14). Other
psychological side effects can include rapid thought processes, euphoria (15),
and increased alertness. For the most part physical addiction is not a concern
however a very small number of users may find that some withdrawal symptoms do
occur although these should not be severe (16). Mental addiction may occur is
some users however especially when using ephedrine as a pre-workout or
pre-competition stimulant. For this reason frequent breaks from use of
ephedrine are recommend so that one does not become dependent upon it for the
physical sensations that it produces.
1. White LM, Gardner SF, Gurley BJ, Marx MA, Wang PL, Estes M.
Pharmacokinetics and cardiovascular effects of ma-huang (Ephedra sinica) in
normotensive adults. J Clin Pharmacol. 1997;37:116ï¿½122.
2. Gillies H, Derman WE, Noakes TD, Smith P, Evans A, Gabriels G.
Pseudoephedrine is without ergogenic effects during exercise. J Appl Physiol.
3. Sidney KH, Lefcoe NM. The effects of ephedrine on the physiological and
psychological responses to submaximal and maximal exercise in man. Med Sci
4. Powers, ME. Ephedra and Its Application to Sport Performance: Another
Concern for the Athletic Trainer? J Athl Train. 2001 Oct;36(4):420-424.
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dietary herbal supplement containing caffeine and ephedra on weight, metabolic
rate, and body composition. Obes Res. 2004 Jul;12(7):1152-7.
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high performance liquid chromatography. J Pharm Sci. 1998;87:1547ï¿½1553.
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12. Naik SD, Freudenberger RS. Ephedra-associated cardiomyopathy. Ann
Pharmacother. 2004 Mar;38(3):400-3. Epub 2004 Jan 23.
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NA 3rd. Adverse cardiovascular events temporally associated with ma huang, an
herbal source of ephedrine. Mayo Clin Proc. 2002 Jan;77(1):12-6.
14. Chait LD. Factors influencing the reinforcing and subjective effects of
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