EphedraEphedra, also known as Ma huang, is the name for extracts derived from a shrub in the family Ephedraceae which are high in concentrations of ephedrine. Because ephedra is an herb, it was marketed as a dietary supplement and therefore subject to looser FDA regulation. Ephedra was found in many popular weight control products, some of which the FDA believed may be hazardous.
According to the FDA, 155 deaths, including that of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, as well as dozens of heart attacks and strokes have been attributed to the use of ephedra. In spite of this, many advocates of ephedra maintain that it is safe when used as directed, and continue to regard it as a dietary supplement rather than a drug. Health food store GNC banned ephedra-containing products in June 2003, and the National Football League banned players from using it as a dietary supplement in 2001.
On December 30, 2003, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a ban on the sale of ephedra, citing "an unreasonable risk of illness or injury" from the use of the drug. The ban was effective 60 days from the announcement.