What is ephedra and why is it illegal?

Question

I’ve seen supplements with the ingredient ephedra, but I heard it’s illegal. What is it and why is it illegal?

OPSS Answer

Ephedra is an herb that contains several substances called “ephedra alkaloids,” which include ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Ephedra is neither safe nor legal as a dietary supplement. FDA concluded in 2004 that all dietary supplements containing ephedra alkaloids pose a risk of serious adverse events (heart attack, stroke, and death), and so products containing ephedra alkaloids cannot be legally sold/marketed in the United States.

Ephedra and its alkaloids are still legal in some countries, so some dietary supplement products—usually weight-loss supplements—containing this dangerous ingredient are available from some online retail websites.

For more detailed information, read HPRC’s monograph on ephedra included in our Dietary Supplements Classification System. For background information about ephedra’s illegality, read the 2004 press release from FDA and the FAQ from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

FAQ posted 5 August 2014