Ephedra – Uses and Administration Dose

Brigham tea, cao ma huang (Chinese ephedra), desert herb, desert tea, E. shennungiana, E. sinica, ephedrine, epitonin, joint fir, mahuang, mahuuanggen (root), Mexican tea, Mormon tea, muzei mu huang (Mongolian ephedra), popotillo, sea grape, squaw tea, teamster’s tea, yellow astringent, yellow horse, zhong ma huang

Ephedra, or ephedrine, is derived from the crude extracts of the root and aerial parts of E. sinica and E. shennungiana; other forms include E. nevadensis, E. trifurca, E. equisetina, and E. distachya. Ephedrine has been used medicinally as a stimulant and for the management of bronchial disorders. It is believed that the various members of this genus were used more than 5,000 years ago by the Chinese to treat asthma. Ephedra has been used in Asian medicine to treat colds and flu, fevers, chills, headaches,   edema , lack of perspiration, nasal congestion, aching joints and bones, coughing and wheezing. Today, ephedra continues to find a place in herbal preparations designed to relieve cold symptoms and to improve respiratory function.

The primary active ingredient of ephedra extract is ephedrine, although extracts generally contain between 0.5% and 2.5% of alkaloids of the 2-aminophenylpropane type, including ephedrine, methylephedrine, pseudoephedrine, norephedrine, and norpseudoephedrine. Similar to the structurally related drug amphetamine, ephedrine acts by directly stimulating the sympathomimetic system and the central nervous system (CNS, alpha and beta agonists), possibly increasing heart rate, myocardial contraction, peripheral vasoconstriction with associated elevations in blood pressure, bronchodilation, and mydriasis. Ephedrine is active when given orally, parenterally, or ophthalmic ally.

Other components in ephedra extracts include volatile oils, catechins, gallic acid, tannins, flavonoids, inulin, dextrin, starch, and pectin. Ephedra is available as capsules, tablets, teas, and tinctures, in combination products such as Chromemate, Escalation, Excel, Herbal Ecstasy, Herbal Fen-Phen, Herbalife, Metabolife, and Power Trim.

Reported uses

Ephedra is used to treat respiratory tract diseases with mild bronchospasm. Although it’s been in use by conventional practitioners since the 1930s to treat asthma, it has become less popular as more specific beta agonists have become available. Ephedra is also used as a cardiovascular stimulant. Pseudoephedrine remains a common ingredient in many OTC cough and cold preparations. It’s also used to treat other conditions, including chills, coughs, colds, flu, fever, headaches,  edema , and nasal congestion, and as an appetite suppressant. The alkaloid-free North American species is used to treat venereal disease.

Ma huang was traditionally used by Chinese herbalists during the early stages of respiratory infections and also for the short-term treatment of certain kinds of asthma, eczema, hay fever, narcolepsy, and  edema . However, ma huang was not supposed to be taken for an extended period of time, and people with less than robust constitutions were warned to use only low doses or to avoid ma huang altogether.


Oral use: Adults, 15 to 30 mg total alkaloid, calculated as ephedrine, every 6 to 8 hours for a total maximum daily dose of 300 mg/ day; children older than age 6, 0.5 mg total alkaloid/kg; recommended daily dose, 2 mg

Extract: 1 to 3 ml by mouth three times a day

Tea: 1 to 4 g by mouth three times a day

Tincture (1:1): Medium single dose 5 g by mouth

Tincture (1:4): 6 to 8 ml by mouth three times a day.

Safety Risk The FDA prohibits the sale of ephedra in quantities of 8 mg or more per dose, and advises individuals to take less than 8 mg every 6 hours, and no more than 24 mg daily. They further advise that ephedra products not be used for more than 7 consecutive days.