Topic Overview

NOTE: The use of ephedra is restricted in Canada. In the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned the sale of natural health products that contain ephedra (ephedrine alkaloids) because of concerns about its safety. The product has been linked to heart attacks, strokes, and some deaths.

What is ephedra?

Ephedra-also known as ma huang and by its scientific name, Ephedra sinica-is an herbal product that comes from an evergreen plant. The Chinese used these plants 5,000 years ago, possibly for the treatment of asthma and hay fever. But they used plant preparations unlike the modern ephedra supplements that are now banned.

Ephedra stimulates the nervous system and the heart.

Serious problems are linked with ephedra. There have been some reports of heart attacks and deaths after its use.

Is ephedra safe?

Health Canada currently approves certain oral products containing low doses of ephedra for short-term use as nasal decongestants. But products that contain a combination of ephedra and a stimulant, such as caffeine, or other ingredients that might increase the effects of ephedra are not approved for use in Canada. Ephedra products that are marketed for weight loss, bodybuilding, or increased energy are also not allowed to be marketed in Canada.

Serious problems from using ephedra include:

  • Seizures.
  • Stroke.
  • Heart attack.
  • Sudden death.

Other side effects include:

For people who have heart disease, diabetes, or heart problems, using ephedra may make these conditions worse.

Always tell your doctor if you are using a natural health product or if you are thinking about combining a natural health product with your standard medical treatment. It may not be safe to stop your standard medical treatment and use only a natural health product.


Other Works Consulted

  • Murray MT, Pizzorno JE (2013). Ephedra species. In JE Pizzorno, MT Murray, eds., Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th ed., pp. 731-734. St. Louis: Mosby.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Brian O'Brien, MD, FRCPC - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine

Current as ofOctober 9, 2017