No matter how hard you train, how dialed in your diet is, or how smartly you supplement, losing weight is a pain in the ass.
That’s why many people turn to drugs like ephedrine for help, which has a special place in the hearts of bodybuilders everywhere.
If you’ve spent any amount of time in the gym, you’ve undoubtedly heard that it’s as close to a weight loss “magic bullet” as you can ask for.
Ephedrine purportedly kills your appetite while also dramatically increasing your metabolic rate and fat burning, which means you’ll not only lose fat faster but will also have an easier time of sticking to your meal plans, as well.
Even better, we’re told, ephedrine is just as safe as caffeine but, unlike the world’s most popular drug, gets more effective the longer you use it.
Poke around online, though, and you’ll find the opposition party, who claim that ephedrine is middling at best as a fat burner and not nearly as safe as many people think. The more strident critics even claim that it can significantly raise the risk of anxiety attack, heart attack, and stroke.
How effective is ephedrine, really? How serious are the side effects and health risks? And if it’s safe, how should it be dosed and how long should you take it for?
Well, you’re going to get answers to all of those questions and more in this article.
By the end, you’re going to know exactly how ephedrine works, how good of a “fat burner” it really is, what the literature has to say about its safety, and more.
Let’s get to it.
- What Is Ephedrine and How Does It Work?
- Why Do People Take Ephedrine?
- Is Ephedrine Safe?
- What Is the Clinically Effective Dose of Ephedrine?
- Do You Need to Cycle Ephedrine?
- Is Ephedrine Legal?
- Why You Should Consider Taking Synephrine Instead
- The Bottom Line on Ephedrine
Table of Contents
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Ephedrine is a stimulant that increases metabolic rate and thus fat loss.
In short, it increases your body’s energy expenditure–much of which comes from body fat.
Ephedrine is extracted and refined from a shrub that grows in China called Ephedra sinica, which is why you’ll also sometimes see it referred to as “ephedra.”
It makes breathing easier by relaxing the muscles around the airways, which is why Traditional Chinese medicine has long used this plant to treat various conditions such as the common cold, coughing, and the flu.
Here in the West, ephedrine is found in asthma medications.
At bottom, ephedrine works by binding to receptors in your cells that respond to chemicals called catecholamines, which include adrenaline, noradrenaline, and dopamine.
When any of these molecules attach to cells, they trigger the “fight or flight” physical response, increasing heart rate, decreasing hunger, and accelerating fat and glycogen burning.
Ephedrine also helps reduce fat stores that are naturally more resistant to mobilization than others (“stubborn fat“) by increasing the activity in a cellular receptor known as a beta-receptor, which triggers the release of energy stored in the fat cell.
(You can read more about this mechanism here.)
As far as body composition goes, people take ephedrine for two primary reasons:
It’s worth noting that the latter effect isn’t clearly understood or established.
Ephedrine may have inherent muscle-sparing properties, or this phenomenon may simply be a byproduct of its potential performance-enhancing properties (if you maintain a high training intensity while dieting, you’re less likely to lose muscle).
Either way, we know that people that take ephedrine while cutting generally hold on to more muscle than those that don’t.
Now, unlike many fat burner supplements on the market, the science is clear with ephedrine: it definitely can help you lose fat (and thus weight) faster.
Research shows that it reliably and significantly increases fat burning, and it also works synergistically with caffeine, which can also accelerate weight loss. In other words, when you combine these drugs, they help you lose fat faster than when taken separately.
These effects are fairly significant, too.
Research shows that the “EC stack,” as it’s called in the bodybuilding community, can increase your metabolic rate by about 5%, which translates to an additional ⅓ of a pound of fat loss per week for the average man.
That’s not game-changing, of course, but it’s the equivalent energy expenditure of about 30 minutes of vigorous walking per day. Not bad for a little pill.
Ephedrine is also a unique fat burner in that it gets more effective over time.
Unlike caffeine, for example, which loses its fat-burning mojo the longer you use it, ephedrine’s effects are amplified by continued use because it appears to increase your body’s sensitivity to catecholamines.
This is particularly beneficial when cutting because the longer you remain in a caloric deficit, the less energy your body burns at rest and during exercise. This is one of the reasons why people “inexplicably” stop losing weight after dieting for some time.
Ephedrine, then, helps compensate for this through its compounding effects on your basal metabolic rate.
Another major weight loss benefit of ephedrine is appetite suppression.
It’s not uncommon for people who take it the first time to feel satiated on just a few hundred calories per day (which I don’t recommend that you do, by the way).
These effects diminish over time, but most people report a noticeable reduction in overall hunger and cravings for as long as they take ephedrine.
Like, well—every stimulant—ephedrine isn’t without common side effects, including:
- Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
- Hand tremors
Well, there are a couple reasons.
1. Taking ephedrine does come with risks.
They may not be as serious as some people would have you believe, but the reality is every drug comes with risks.
Some people simply don’t respond well to ephedrine and experience serious side effects, which is why as of 2004, the FDA had recorded over 18,000 complaints from ephedrine users.
That said, most cases involved preexisting health conditions and super-dosing and/or combining it with other recreational or pharmaceutical drugs such as alcohol, cold medicine, or ecstasy (don’t do this).
2. Ephedrine carries a stigma that other stimulants don’t.
After several people died after taking ephedrine, including a 23-year old Baltimore Orioles pitcher named Steve Bechler, the FDA banned its use in all supplements in 2004.
This, then, gave rise to unfounded fears about its general safety.
This is slightly ironic because plenty of people have died from caffeine overdose as well, but millions abuse caffeine every day without giving it a second thought but would consider ephedrine “too risky” or otherwise “bad,” mainly because it’s found in asthma medications and less commonly used.
So the bottom line is this:
Studies show that when taken responsibly, ephedrine is generally safe and without serious side effects.
If, however, it’s contraindicated due to preexisting health conditions, doses are too high, or it’s combined with other drugs such as alcohol, large amounts of nicotine, or MDMA, it can be dangerous and even deadly.
You should also know that most of the research done on ephedrine only lasted a few weeks or months, so we don’t know if things change for the worse when it’s used for longer periods.
That said, most cuts don’t go for more than 2 to 3 months, and if yours does, you can always “cycle” on and off to minimize the likelihood of experiencing any complications.
The most common dosing protocol for weight loss is three servings of 20 to 25 mg of ephedrine per day (morning, noon, and early afternoon).
A standard “EC stack” combines each of those servings with 200 mg of caffeine (which is fairly high, I might add—probably too high for regular, long-term caffeination).
Some people include aspirin as well (“ECA stack”) because early evidence has suggested that it can increase fat burning in the obese, but it doesn’t appear to do the same in leaner people. There are also safety concerns with taking significant amounts of aspirin over the long-term, so it’s generally recommended to leave the aspirin out.
Most stimulants become less effective over time as your body builds a tolerance to them (requiring you to take more and more to feel their effects).
This is why many stimulants need to be “cycled” to remain effective for fat loss purposes, allowing your body to “reset” its sensitivity and responsiveness.
Ephedrine, we recall, becomes more effective the longer you use it, so it doesn’t need to be cycled to maintain its potency.
That said, as I mentioned earlier, we can’t be sure as to the long-term side effects of ephedrine use, so if you want to play it as safely as possible, take a week off every 4 to 6 weeks.
If you’re also taking caffeine with your ephedrine, come off that as well, as it will help maintain your body’s sensitivity to it.
Due to the various health concerns surrounding ephedrine, it’s not allowed to be included in supplements.
This is why the only legal ephedrine-containing products that you can buy (here in the U.S.) are asthma, allergy, and cold medications like Bronkaid and Primatene.
There are also limits on how much of these drugs that you can buy at one time because it’s possible to manufacture methamphetamine from large amounts of ephedrine and other similar drugs.
Ephedrine is also banned by most sports organizations, including the NCAA, MLB, NFL, and PGA, and the International Olympic Committee and World Anti-Doping Agency, because it may slightly enhance athletic performance.
Synephrine is a natural compound extracted from the bitter orange fruit that’s chemically similar to ephedrine and thus produces the same types of effects in the body.
Research shows that a single 50 milligram dose of synephrine can increase your basal metabolic rate by around 65 calories over the next 75 minutes, and when combined with two other natural molecules, naringin and hesperidin, this number jumps to about 180 calories.
That may not seem like much, but it’s equivalent to the energy expenditure of about 20 minutes of jogging, and it adds up to an additional 1,300 calories burned every week, a little more than a third of the calories in a pound of fat.
Synephrine also helps you lose “stubborn fat” faster by inhibiting a cellular mechanism that blunts fat burning, increases the thermic effect of food, increasing the amount of energy it “costs” to digest and process the food that you eat, and can reduce appetite, as well.
Another reason to choose synephrine over ephedrine is it’s extremely safe to take.
Multiple studies show that synephrine doesn’t increase blood pressure or heart rate like ephedrine, which is why it’s generally considered one of the safest stimulatory weight loss supplements that you can take.
The bottom line is if you want to lose fat faster without taking a harsher stimulant like ephedrine, then you want to take synephrine. That’s why it’s the main ingredients in my fat burner, PHOENIX.
Ephedrine is a stimulant that can help you lose fat faster by increasing your metabolic rate and blunting your appetite.
It may also improve exercise performance and appears to help preserve lean mass while dieting, but these effects aren’t clearly established or understood.
Ephedrine is also unique in that it becomes more potent over time, whereas other stimulants tend to drop off with continued use.
It’s generally safe and well-tolerated when used responsibly, but common side effects include elevated heart rate and blood pressure and jitters, which tend to dissipate after the first week or so of use.
If you take too much ephedrine, combine it with other drugs such as alcohol and nicotine, or have preexisting health conditions, then you could face serious consequences, even death.
So, if you want to speed up your fat loss and aren’t afraid of the potential side effects, then including ephedrine if your regimen can make sense.
If you’re like me, though, and prefer to stick to natural supplements whenever possible, then you need to check out its natural counterpart, synephrine.
It’s a natural, safer alternative to ephedrine that helps you burn more calories and stubborn fat and feel less hungry without putting your long-term health at risk.