Ephedra: Usage trends

Last modified: Sunday, 31. May 2009 - 2:14 pm

Despite the growing health concerns about ephedra, products containing ephedra remain popular in the United States. Studies indicate that use of ephedra may begin in the high school years. High school and college athletes may purchase products containing ephedra because they believe that the supplements can build muscle mass and enhance performance, while teenaged and adult weight-conscious consumers may purchase supplements as a diet aid. And finally, some users may turn to ephedra products as a legal high.
Scope and severity
Exact data about the scope of ephedra use is unavailable, but the Ephedra Education Council estimates that more than three billion servings of ephedra products are consumed each year, and it claims that use increased dramatically between 1997 and 2002. But a New England Journal Medicine article about ephedra points out that actual consumption may be higher. That is, if ephedra supplements were used as directed, at three doses a day for 12 weeks, 12 million Americans used ephedra supplements in 1999. These figures refer only to ephedra supplements, not over-the-counter nasal decon-gestants and cough and cold remedies.
Age, ethnic, and gender trends
Because ephedra manufacturers claim that the product enhances athletic performance and builds lean muscle mass, ephedrine supplements are especially popular among both male and female athletes. A 2001 survey of National College Athletic Association (NCAA) student athletes revealed that 42% of college athletes use nutritional supplements. Not all of these supplements contain ephedrine, but many do. According to the survey, 3.9% of NCAA student athletes use ephedrine. This is an increase from a similar survey completed in 1997, which showed that 3.5% of athletes used ephedrine. Products containing ephedrine are particularly popular among women gymnasts. In 2001, 8.3% of NCAA women gymnasts used ephedrine products. In 1997, 1.1% of women gymnasts used ephedrine. On the other hand, ephedrine use among NCAA wrestlers fell from 10.4% in 1997 to 4.3% in 2001.
The NCAA survey also revealed that most drug use, including ephedrine use, begins in high school. In fact, 62% of student athletes in the NCAA survey reported that they had started using nutritional supplements in junior or senior high school.

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