Ephedrine for weight loss: why is it banned?
LAST UPDATED: Aug 28, 2023
1 MIN READ
HERE'S WHAT WE'LL COVER
We spoke to Dr. Yael Cooperman, MD about ephedrine and its use as a weight management drug.
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Why is ephedrine banned in the US?
Ephedrine, the active component derived from the plant known as ephedra (or ma huang in Traditional Chinese Medicine) was once a popular over-the-counter weight loss treatment, but the FDA banned the plant-derived compound in 2004. That’s because the active component of the medication is known to have stimulant effects on the central nervous system, including increasing blood pressure and heart rate. Ephedra has also been linked to more than 150 deaths in the US and was associated with tens of thousands of calls to poison control prior to the FDA’s ban.
While the ready availability of certain supplements may make them seem harmless, the opposite is frequently true. These drugs and others can have devastating effects when used without regulation, especially by people with pre-existing conditions. For that reason, ephedrine is no longer permitted by the FDA as a component of OTC supplements for weight loss (though this potent medication is still used for other purposes in medicine, including the treatment of breathing issues and during surgery).
Are there any FDA-approved weight loss medications?
If you’re looking to find help on your weight loss journey, there are many different FDA-approved options available. Your best bet is to speak with your healthcare provider about your personal medical history, what medications (if any) you are taking, and what you’ve tried in the past to help with your weight. They may consider prescribing medications like Wegovy or Saxenda, which in combination with diet and exercise are safe and effective for helping people manage their weight.
Wegovy Important Safety Information: Read more about serious warnings and safety info.
Saxenda Important Safety Information: Read more about serious warnings and safety info.
If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
NBC News. (2004). Nationwide ban on ephedra goes into effect. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna4721505
Zell-Kanter, M., Quigley, M. A., & Leikin, J. B. (2015). Reduction in ephedra poisonings after FDA ban. The New England Journal of Medicine, 372(22), 2172–2174. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMc1502505. Retrieved from https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmc1502505