Ephedrine

Ephedrine is a readily available medication for the treatment of sinus congestion, as well as to improve breathing in people with asthma. Ephedrine and other similar drugs (pseudoephedrine and phenylpropanolamine) work by stimulating the autonomic nervous system. The stimulation causes an increase in heart rate and lung capacity. The ease at which ephedrine can be obtained has caused it and similar medications to be widely abused by athletes.

WHY ATHLETES USE IT?

Ephedrine is used by athletes to increase alertness, to increase energy level, and as a weight loss aid.

ADVERSE EFFECTS

  • Seizures.

  • Death.

  • Headache.

  • Dizziness.

  • High blood pressure (hypertension).

  • Abnormal heart rhythms(arrhythmia).

  • Blockage of blood supply to the brain (stroke).

  • Increased heart rate (tachycardia).

  • Unable to slow activity level (mania).

  • Unable to sleep (insomnia).

  • Painful collections of hard material in the kidneys (kidney stones).

PHARMACOLOGY

Ephedrine and its family of drugs act on the body by stimulating adrenergic receptors of the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for "fight or flight" reaction in which the body increases its arousal (increased heart rate, dilation of the pupils, and redirecting of blood flow to the skeletal muscles). Prolonged use of ephedrine may cause the body to build up a tolerance, so that a larger dose is necessary to achieve the same effects. Ephedrine is now a controlled substance in some states.

PREVENTION

Ephedrine should only be used for its indicated purposes and according to the labeled instructions. The use of ephedrine and drugs similar to it is banned most major organizations regulating athletic competition, and athletes are routinely tested before competitions (a few organizations will allow these medications for true medical problems, but most ban them outright). Thus the athletes' coaches, trainers, and team physicians should be aware of and supervise use. Penalties for unauthorized use are stiff, and side effects, although uncommon, can be severe. Any athletes who feel a need to increase their dose of the medication should stop use.