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Properties and mechanism of action

Ephedrine is a sympathetic nervous system stimulant and belongs to the same family as amphetamine. However, ephedrine effects less on the central nervous system than amphetamine. Ephedrine's effect of increased mental agility and a feeling of decreased fatigue is mediated through the central nervous system.

However, the effects of ephedrine outside the central nervous system are stronger than those of amphetamine. These effects include, among others, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, enlarged bronchi, enlarged blood vessels in striated, or voluntary muscles, the reduction of other blood vessels and stimulated energy metabolism.


Ephedrine is classified as a drug precursor because other so called designer drugs can be produced from it: in other words, new synthetic drugs. The effects of these designer drugs are similar to amphetamine and ecstasy but are stronger and longer-lasting per dose-unit.

Ephedrine is used for treatment of asthma, coughs and coryza in doses of 10 to 50 mg. Ephedrine is used in competitive sports as a doping substance to increase exercise tolerance, or in long-lasting performances to prevent exhaustion [1].

Ephedrine and other stimulants are usually used in strength sports to enhance explosiveness and power in the exercises, and for their effect of accelerating metabolism and increasing fat burning.

Adverse effects

The adverse effects of ephedrine are tremors, rapid heartbeat and increases in blood pressure. It can cause confusional and paranoid states and severe heart arrhythmia in sensitive individuals or if taken in too large doses [2].

Large amounts of medicine in concert with exertion can lead to heat stroke, dangerous heart arrhythmias and death [3].

Timo Seppälä
Medical Director
The Finnish Antidoping Agency FINADA

[1] Docherty (2008): Pharmacology of stimulants prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). British Journal of Pharmacology 154(3): 606–22.

[2] Bättig (1993): Acute and chronic cardiovascular and behavioural effects of caffeine, aspirin and ephedrine. International Journal of Obesity Related Metabolic Disorder 17(1): 61–4.

[3] Soni, Carabin, Griffiths & Burdock (2004): Safety of ephedra: lessons learned. Toxicology Letters 150(1): 97–110.

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