December 20, 2011 — The FDA announced that U.S. Marshals had seized more than 4,000 pounds of ephedra, worth more than $70,000, in Rancho Dominguez, CA. The products were inside unlabeled shipping drums that did not indicate they contained ephedrine alkaloids. Subsequent chemical analysis identified the presence of the illegal drugs. Ephedra has been banned in the U.S. since 2004, when the FDA found that it has seriously harmful effects on the heart and cardiovascular system, and can even cause death. Before 2004, many dietary supplements contained ephedra.
Ephedrine alkaloids are derived from plants, and the FDA seized over 4,000 pounds of plant material from Cissus quadrangularis and Cassia angustifolia. These plants grow naturally in many countries, but the FDA would not tell reporters where the country of origin was for the shipment because the investigation is ongoing.
The FDA did identify Infinity Marketing Group, Inc. as the company importing the illegal drugs (not the same company as Infiniti Marketing Group, another California-based company). The action against the company was coordinated by three federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. These three organizations stop illegal drugs from entering the U.S. and being sold to Americans. The FDA spokesperson said that “We will continue to take enforcement action that prevents potentially harmful products from reaching consumers and endangering their health.”
Before ephedrine alkaloids were banned in 2004, they were the active ingredients in many popular dietary supplements. Because of the adrenaline-like stimulant nature of the drug, they were used in energy pills, weight-loss medications, and sports enhancement products. Ephedrine alkaloids contain compounds called “sympathomimetrics,” which mimic adrenaline in the body. Unfortunately, they can also have potentially deadly side effects. Raising blood pressure, stressing the cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of heart attacks, and causing death are all documented side effects of the products. The FDA found that this serious risk of side effects vastly outweighs any health benefit, and so the products are banned for sale in the U.S.
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