Ephedrine is an herb distilled from the ephedra plant that has a variety of medical effects. Though commonly used as a decongestant, ephedrine is also noted for its stimulant effects, similar to caffeine. In many organized sports, the substance is banned due to its possible performance enhancing effect. Many regions regulate the use and distribution of the substance because of its potentially adverse side effects.
The ephedra plant has been used for centuries in the treatment of respiratory problems like bronchitis and asthma. The substance works by opening bronchial passageways to allow more air to flow through, thus reducing the pain and discomfort of asthma or a respiratory infection. Although once found in many over-the-counter decongestants, ephedrine is now sometimes reserved for use in prescription or limited availability medications. In the United States, cold medicine containing ephedra is often available only by asking pharmacists for it specifically, and then only in limited quantities.
Body builders and athletes frequently use ephedrine to boost metabolism and improve performance. Much like caffeine, the chemical compounds in the drug speed up the heart rate and blood pressure, while some studies also show that it can increase concentration and improve focus. Many dieters also use ephedrine-containing diet pills to help increase weight loss by improving metabolism and suppressing the appetite.
Unfortunately, ephedrine has several downsides that have led to increased regulatory laws regarding its use and public availability. In excessive amounts, the substance can cause high blood pressure, heart attacks, and hyperthyroidism. Used in conjunction with other drugs, mental side effects such as hallucinations, anxiety attacks, and even bursts of rage can occur. Though generally considered safe in moderate amounts, some experts suggest that prolonged or regular use can lead to a chemical and psychological addiction to the substance. Addiction to ephedrine can also lead users to increase the dose as their bodies become used to the normal amount, increasing the chances of adverse or dangerous effects.
More sinister is the use of the substance in the production of methamphetamine drugs, which are illegal in many regions. These highly dangerous compounds are used as stimulants, but can result in potentially fatal side effects and severe behavioral changes. Methamphetamine drugs can lead to severe paranoia, rage, and even a euphoric feeling of invincibility, making injury and violence increasingly likely. The production of methamphetamine is named as a major factor in the creation of laws and regulations that guide ephedrine use and sales.