The Severity of Toxic Reactions to Ephedra

Comparisons to Other Botanical Products and National Trends from 1993–2002
Clinical Toxicology (formerly Journal of Toxicology: Clinical Toxicology)
      Publisher:      Taylor & Francis
      Issue:      Volume 43, Number 5 / 2005
      Pages:      347 - 355

Alan D. Woolf A1, William A. Watson A2, Susan Smolinske A3, Toby Litovitz A2

A1 Division of General Pediatrics, Children\'s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
A2 American Association of Poison Control Centers, Washington, District of Columbia, USA
A3 Children\'s Hospital of Michigan Poison Center, Detroit, Michigan, USA



Ephedra is a botanical product widely used to enhance alertness, as a weight loss aide, and as a decongestant. Its reported adverse effects led the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban ephedra-containing products in the United States in 2004. This study\'s purpose was to compare toxicity from botanical products containing ephedra to nonephedra products.


The Toxic Exposure Surveillance System (TESS), a national poison center database, was utilized to determine the number and outcomes of cases involving botanical products reported from 1993–2002. Cases listing both a botanical product and any other drugs or chemicals were excluded a priori. Ten-year hazard rates (moderate outcomes + major outcomes + deaths per 1000 exposures) were used to compare botanical product categories.


There were 21,533 toxic exposures with definitive medical outcomes reported over the 10 yrs where a botanical product was the only substance involved. Of these, 4,306 (19.9%) had moderate or major medical outcomes and there were two deaths, for an overall hazard score of 200 per 1000 exposures. The number of ephedra reports to poison centers increased 150-fold over the 10-yr period. The hazard rate for products that contained only ephedra was 250 per 1000 exposures and 267 per 1000 exposures for products that contained ephedra and additional ingredients; whereas the hazard score for only nonephedra botanical products was 96 per 1000 exposures. The rate ratios for multibotanical products with ephedra (RR 1.33; 95% C.I. 1.27–1.40) and for single-ingredient ephedra products (RR 1.25; 95% C.I. 1.11–1.40) were both two to six times higher than those of other common botanical products. Yohimbe-containing products had the highest hazard score (417) and rate ratio (2.08; 95% C.I. 1.59–2.80).


Ephedra-containing botanical products accounted for a significant number of toxic exposures with severe medical outcomes reported to poison centers. Hazard rate analysis suggests poison center–reported events involving ephedra-containing botanical products were much more likely to result in severe medical outcomes than those involving nonephedra-containing botanical products.

These data support recommendations by policymakers that the sale of ephedra should be prohibited to protect consumers. Our data suggest that the botanical product, yohimbe, may also be associated with unacceptably high risks of toxicity and should receive close scrutiny from health policymakers.

Ephedra.Nu, Your ephedra source