Many remember and may have even used ephedra just a few short years ago, but is ephedra legal? The short answer to this question is yes AND no. Firstly, ephedra can be derived from several sources. Secondly, the FDA only banned specific ephedra alkaloids for use in diet pill ingredients. There are even more details that cloud the issue. Let’s take a closer look.
There was time not long ago when athletes and weight loss candidates alike were using the “ECA stack” to boost their performance and weight loss efforts. It was simply a combination of ephedra, caffeine and aspirin and many found it to be highly effective.
Ephedra is derived from small plants living in the desert. The FDA banned only very specific extracts of the plant, sometimes referred to as the “active alkaloids”. The active alkaoloids of the Ephedra sinica plant match the banned profile while species of Ephedra viridis do not.
Ephedra sinica, also known as Ma Huang, does contain the now FDA prohibited ingredients. Another version of the ephedra plant, ephedra viridis, does not. More commonly known as Mormon Tea, it is sometimes labeled ephedra extract on dietary supplement labels. To make matters even more confusing, these same active ingredients from unregulated sources of ephedra are often derived from other sources such as acacia ridigula extracts, among others.
The ephedra ban specifically targeted very specific ephedrine alkaloids, which can be found in ephedra sinica variety of the species. Ephedra viridis, however, has become the new source of ephedra extracts. Most products with “Ephedra Extract” on their labeling are referring to this source of unregulated ephedra alkaloids.
Even the so-called “banned” versions such as Ephedrine HCL are still sold over the counter at your local drug store in other forms. So, as you can see, the answer to the question of ephedra being legal is not not exactly straightforward. With just a little bit of history and information, it is not very difficult to tell the difference between the old and the new. In short, specific alkaloids of ephedra are banned for use in dietary supplements and the industry responded with other alkaloids from similar species of the plant.