Ephedrine has been used by several athletes and sportsmen, for a long time, as a stimulant. Consequently, it has given some athletes an upper hand over others. Besides this, some athletes have won medals and titles just because of using ephedrine. However, the use of this drug has several negative effects on the health of the user. This paper discusses the effects of ephedrine on sports and athletic performance.
According to Bell et al. (1996), ephedrine has been used for an unusually long period as a central nervous decongestant and stimulant. The drug is derived from Ephedra equisetina plant. Pseudoephedrine, a synthetic form of ephedrine is commonly used as an ingredient in most over-the-counter allergy and cold drugs. The drug has a structure similar to that of amphetamines and has been proven to increase heart rate and blood pressure. Besides this, the drug performs well in reduction of weight and increases energy use as it increases basal metabolic rate and lipolysis, and lowers food intake through suppressing a person’s appetite.
In general research has indicated that use of ephedrine increases loss of body fats, improves concentration and performance in sports and athletics. On the other hand, it has no effect on endurance, strength, anaerobic capacity, reaction time, or recovery from a strenuous exercise. Some people have combined caffeine with ephedrine with a misinformed mind that it will improve the functioning of ephedrine. On the contrary, research has proved that this combination is extremely dangerous. Although, the use of ephedrine might improve sport and athletic performance at early stages, the risks associated with its continued use considerably over weigh the benefits. Supplements with ephedrine contents will hinder an athlete or sports person from attaining set goals. Attaining goals can only be realized through sound training, nutrition, and hydration programs (Bell et al., 1996).
Role of Ephedrine in Sports and Athletic Performance
Bell et al. (1996) explains that ephedrine has appealed to many sports persons and athletes on the basis that it may perform one or all of the following functions:
- Improve their performance by making the central nervous system relax and increasing the heart pulse rate through activating the beta-1 receptor.
- Lowering down the person’s appetite through increasing the production of norepinephrine and stimulating the hypothalamus production of adrenergic pathways
- Promoting loss of weight through resting energy use and increasing thermogenesis by stimulating the beta-2 muscle receptors that in turn increase substrate metabolism.
Combination of the drug with other stimulants such as aspirin and caffeine, as most of its users do with hope that it will promote the functioning of the drug, increases the magnitude of the risks. In relation to this, ephedrine promotes the production of norepinephrine, which in turn stimulates the release of prostaglandins and the production of adenosine. It is necessary to point out that both prostaglandin and adenosine inhibit the functioning of norepinephrine. In addition to this, aspirin lowers down the production of prostaglandins and thus promotes the functioning of norepinephrine (Bell et al., 1994).
Side Effects of Ephedrine on Sports and Athletic Performance
There are several side effects, both real and fictional, associated with both controlled and uncontrolled consumption of ephedrine. Some of the common side effects are insomnia, dry mouth, anxiety, and headaches, however, all of these effects usually diminish with repeated use. More serious side effect than the aforementioned ones, are usually aggravated by the way, in which athletes use the drug, that is large, irregular levels, or acute. Some users of the ephedrine cannot work when they cannot ‘feel’ drug (Bell et al., 1994).
When seeking the performance enhancement of ephedrine, most users do not take into account the adverse side effects the drug can give. The drug raises body temperature and heart pulse rate, and as a result, it may increase an athlete’s chances of having a heart injury while practicing in warm weather. Other serious effects include gastrointestinal distress, dizziness, and headache, augmented chances of heart attack, irregular heartbeat, seizures, psychosis, stroke, and death, at extreme levels. The side effects are not in direct proportion with the consumption among users and occasions (Bell et al., 1996).
Athletes have used ephedrine for several years as central nervous system stimulant. It is necessary to note that there are also other users of the drug other than only the athletes. Many studies indicate that the use of these drugs by sports people is linked with unexpected collapsing and in some cases, deaths due to cardiac and respiratory attacks. In particular, during competitions, long-term side effects of ephedrine addiction are psychologically damaging. Note that in relation to the central nervous system, ephedrine belongs to a class of stimulants called psychomotor stimulants (Bell et al., 1994).
Several organizations and civil societies have raised several questions over the ephedrine validity. In response to this, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted a study in 2000 to determine effects of the drug. In particular, this study examined the effects of the drug on the central nervous system and the cardiovascular system. FDA carried out the study by taking records from 140 ephedrine users who had serious heart attack, stroke and seizure complications. The specimens for the experiment were physically sound, and some people had used the drug for a few days. The study came to a conclusion that one-third of the studied population’s complications were probably caused by the use of ephedrine. On the other hand, another third of the complications was possibly as a result of ephedrine use and lastly, a fifth of the studied population did not have information to ascertain satisfactorily the causes (Pasternak, 2000).
The results of this study pointed out the risks related to ephedrine use and its effectiveness. According to the research:
- Combining caffeine and ephedrine (0.7 to 1.0 milligrams of ephedrine and 5 milligrams of caffeine consumed one and a half hours before resuming sport and athletic practise) will improve both aerobic and anaerobic performance.
- Combining caffeine and ephedrine (200 milligrams of caffeine and 20 milligrams of ephedrine with low calories taken thrice per day) may help improve weight loss in obese persons.
Continued uncontrolled use of ephedrine has caused deaths of several athletes and sports people, for example, in 2001, Korey Stringer, the Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle died unexpectedly of heat stroke. An investigation of his death revealed that ephedrine found in his bag was one of the main contributing factors to his demise. An autopsy revealed that ephedrine toxicity caused Stringer’s heart-related death (Pasternak, 2000). Later, in 2003, there was another reported death that was caused by overuse of ephedrine.
Munhall & Johnson (2006) argue that the nervous system’s side effects associated with large doses of ephedrine include nervousness, insomnia, vertigo, tremors and headache. Doctors also report seizure, anxiety, and tremors as other possible side effects. Other cases include myocardial infarction, stroke, and hypertension. Psychiatric side effects caused by prolonged use of the drug include paranoid schizophrenia and psychotic episodes.
Dosses of ephedrine have several effects on the cardiovascular system including palpitation and tachycardia. Recently, studies have established arrhythmias and precordial pain as side effects following the injection of ephedrine. Besides this, use of the drug has been related to a 2.3 heart palpitations increase and raising the blood pressure. Note that the figures in relation to the aforementioned defects have always been misread by many people. For instance, defects in relation to the use of ephedrine are sometimes exaggerated (Munhall & Johnson, 2006).
Studies that have tried to ascertain the cardiovascular side effects such as heart rate, blood pressure, and palpitations have concluded that the defects become worse with excessive use of the drug. Just as explained above, the tolerance to side effects is majorly due to ephedrine as a beta-3 agonist. On the other hand, tolerance to raised adrenalin, dopamine, and noradrenalin levels increase more rapidly than after the use of other drugs. Despite the fact that when used in recommended doses ephedrine is safe, people with high blood pressure complications or any other cardiovascular related complications should entirely avoid this drug. In fact, using ephedrine mixed with other stimulants is much riskier, unless it is done under the control of a medical doctor (Bell et al., 1994).
Athletes and sports people need extremely high rates of normal glucose metabolic rate. It has been suggested that in the short-term, ephedrine lowers insulin sensitivity in the human body. Though no study has fully ascertained this argument, most scientists assume that the claim is true. So far, two studies have indicated that ephedrine raises the insulin level in blood, one of which concluded that ephedrine can only reduce insulin or glucose uptake if taken in excess (Bell et al., 1994). Two other studies indicated no differences in glucose metabolism and insulin levels after chronic treatment with caffeine and ephedrine. Therefore, there is a likelihood that ephedrine tolerance increases quickly, but the drug should be used after doctor’s prescription in complications such as insulin resistance and diabetes (Munhall & Johnson, 2006).
For several years, studies have been conducted to compare the reinforcing effects of the drug in human bodies to other stimulants, such as amphetamine and cocaine. It has been proven that just like amphetamine and cocaine increases the activity of some inhibiting hormones in the body, ephedrine inhibits some body functions. In addition to this, there can be similar reinforcing effects to amphetamine and cocaine at any stage of ephedrine consumption. Studies done on some consumers have considerable enlightenment in scientific circles concerning the abuse potential and addiction (Pasternak, 2000).
The Addiction Research Centre Inventory (ARCI) carried out two ephedrine dose studies, which specifically concentrated on measuring the addictive characteristics. The studies noted that the addiction of the drug led to psychological depression, that is, "decreased tiredness". Another study that is relatively more comprehensive than ARCI’s indicated that ephedrine addiction raised the ratings of both anxiety and euphoria; besides its reinforcing strength is much lower than that of cocaine and amphetamine (Bell et al., 1994). Amphetamine gave higher scores in euphoria scales than anxiety scales. The researchers, who made this study, came to a conclusion that ephedrine abuse potential is relatively low when compared to caffeine addiction. This revelation was in agreement with world data. Although, the addiction potential of ephedrine is low, it does not necessarily mean that the drug should be consumed by sports people and athletes (Bell et al., 1994).
Pasternak (2000) argues that the sympathetic nervous system is particularly useful as far as the performance of a sports person is concerned. It discharges hormones in case of anxiety, stress or emergency cases. This response, therefore, enables individuals to deal with emergency cases. Biological studies have indicated that the sympathetic nervous system is made up of a series of nerves, which originate from the spinal code to other body parts. Ephedrine affects the sympathetic nervous system such that it binds to receptors on its outside surface. This bind results to the production of a substance called cyclic AMP. Cyclic AMP serves as modulators of a number of body processes, since it makes the athletes body metabolise at a fast rate. This will, in turn, have a dramatic influence on the functioning of heart, liver, and skeletal muscles. However, it is necessary to note that ephedrine can have such effects at its early stages of consumption. Continued use of the drug to achieve this functions means that the athletes’ body will not function properly without its influence.
As a result of the side effects of ephedrine, doctors have come up with recommended doses of the drug. The ratio of the drug to other alkaloids, for example pseudo ephedrine, to be used by any normal person should range between 10:1 to1:2. This converts to 40-90% of alkaloids available in ephedrine with relatively few drugs containing ephedrine as the only available alkaloid. In addition to this, it is advisable that people should discriminate ephedrine products that are standardized for other alkaloids (mostly with alkaloids, which produce toxic effects, such as caffeine). For instance, methyl ephedrine (which is generally made up of 0-5% alkaloids) combined with other alkaloids, such as caffeine, can produce effects similar to those of methamphetamine (Pasternak, 2000).
Although several individuals have managed to control their consumption of this drug, a majority of the users have failed. Several victims of this drug are suffering all over the world, and the number is still rising. In addition to this, ephedrine has been used to give unfair advantage over other competitors by several athletes. It is valid to argue that the drug has enabled several athletes win medals and millions of money through unfair means. On the other hand, some sports people as well as athletes have suffered considerable losses after the discovery that they used the drugs to win. Many athletes and sportsmen have been stripped off their titles and asked to pay large sums of money, as a result of the drug use. In some extreme conditions, some have served jail terms. These are some of the reasons that caused several world sports bodies to make efforts to prohibit the use of this drug. This campaign was started by the U.S. in 2003 at national and state levels. By 2004, FDA stopped and totally banned trading of this drug. Most importantly, in 2001, the National Football League prohibited the use of the drug by athletes (Bell et al., 1994).
The world should combine efforts to prohibit uncontrolled use of alkaloids that have adverse side effects on a user, such as ephedrine. However, the use of such alkaloids should not be fully illegalized, since it has been proved that they have beneficial medicinal functions if administered properly. Ephedrine should be prohibited to a level that its abuse is controlled. On the other hand, doctors should be allowed to prescribe it, since it has some decent medicinal functions.