Ephedra in perspective--a current review

Phytother Res. 2003 Aug;17(7):703-12. doi: 10.1002/ptr.1337.


Although the traditional use of Ephedra 'ma huang' has been established for thousands of years, its resurgence in the US as a herbal dietary supplement is currently a matter of national controversy. At the heart of the debate are three important questions: (1) the identity and composition of Ephedra products with regard to ephedrine and related alkaloids; (2) the potential therapeutic utility of Ephedra supplements for weight loss or performance enhancement; and (3) potential health risks associated with such uses of Ephedra, particularly in sensitive individuals or in cases of intentional abuse for its stimulant properties. This review surveys the literature on Ephedra with regard to traditional uses, botany, chemistry, analytics, pharmacological effects and health risks. A brief discussion of the central issues in the current debate on the regulation of Ephedra in the United States is included as this is where most of the problems have occurred to date.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / administration & dosage
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / adverse effects
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / chemistry
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / pharmacology
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / therapeutic use*
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Ephedra*
  • Ephedrine / administration & dosage
  • Ephedrine / adverse effects
  • Ephedrine / chemistry
  • Ephedrine / pharmacology
  • Ephedrine / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / drug therapy*
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Plant Components, Aerial
  • Plant Extracts / administration & dosage
  • Plant Extracts / adverse effects
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Plant Extracts
  • Ephedrine