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The Straight Dope On Herbal Ecstasy

Is this stuff for real?

It's a fact: plants can get you high. From illegal drugs such as marijuana and heroin, to the caffeine in a Starbuck's Mocha Java Grande, there is a huge array of herbs and plant derivatives which can alter your mind-state or heart-rate by affecting your central nervous system and brain. For thousands of years plants and herbs have been used as medicines, hallucinogens, stimulants and sedatives. Many of the medicines and drugs we use every day originally come from plants. Salicin, the active component in aspirin, is derived from White Willow bark. Hemlock, the poison given to Socrates for his death sentence, is a naturally occurring herb. From the pleasant to the poisonous, herbs and plants have a long and colorful history of interaction with the human body.

Does that mean products like Herbal Ecstasy work?

Herbal Ecstasy does have an effect on the body and the mind. However, is it a hallucinogen or a substitute for MDMA (Ecstasy)? Hardly.

Anyone who has ever tried both Herbal Ecstasy and the illegal drug Ecstasy (MDMA) will tell you that there is a huge difference in their effects. MDMA is a single chemical compound which has a powerful effect on the central nervous system which can affect emotions strongly. Herbal Ecstasy, on the other hand, is a combination of herbs which, instead of affecting the way the mind perceives, basically acts as a simple, yet effective, stimulant.

A stimulant?

Yes. The most "active" ingredient in Herbal Ecstasy is a Chinese herb called Ephedra sinica (or Ma Huang). This herb has been used for thousands of years by Chinese herbalists as a medicine and a stimulant. The juice of the berry was used to alleviate respiratory problems, and today we continue to find it in asthma medicines, bronchial dilators and decongestants. Ephedra also increases basal metabolic rates and increases caloric burning during exercise. (Mowrey, p. 240) Ephedra works by stimulating the sympathetic division of the nervous system, acting in a similar fashion to amphetamines. (Longenecker, p. 74)

The brand of Herbal E we looked at (hint: the kind with the butterfly on it) contains 10-12 mg of Ephedrine (the active ingredient of ephedra) per tablet.

Yes, that's right: Herbal Ecstasy is essentially asthma medicine dressed up in fancy packaging and sold at an obscene mark-up. Ephedra on its own can be bought for about 3% of the cost of Herbal E.

Where can I get Ephedra?

Mahuang, also known as ephedra sinica, is the plant source of ephedra, and can be found in health food stores. Ephedra preparations (capsules, tinctures, extracts and combinations) sold for their stimulant and broncho-dilating effects can be found in health food stores and from smart drug vendors (see The price for a bottle of Ephedra is usually about $11.99 for 180 capsules -- quite a mark-down if you're used to buying 10 Herbal E's for $19.99. Pseudoephedrine, a related pharmaceutical compound can be purchased over the counter at any pharmacy, but is not a replacement for ephedra because of its significantly different central nervous system effects.

If you find this hard to believe, just ask any body builder. They will tell you that for under $15.00 you can buy 100 tablets of Dymetadrine, a fast acting 25 mg ephedrine pill. Body builders have long been using Ephedra for quick bursts of energy while working out, as well as for its metabolic effect. Its is so effective, in fact, that it is now illegal for Olympic athletes to use Ephedra products as it gives them an unfair advantage.

Is Ephedra Safe?

When used correctly Ephedra is an effective stimulant and an excellent bronchial dilator. However, ephedra can be dangerous to certain people. People with heart conditions should not use Ephedra, and those who are overly sensitive to stimulants should avoid it as well. Ephedra should not be taken with a MAO Inhibitor (such as Nardil and Parnate), so those on anti-depressants should not use it. But, if you are a healthy adult with no heart problems, ephedra products should pose no serious health threat. As with any drug though, it is always best to check with your doctor first.

Of course, just because you don't need a prescription to use ephedra, that doesn't mean that it can be eaten like candy. Just as you could theoretically overdose on a sufficiently large amount of over-the-counter sleep aids, cough syrup, or aspirin, you could overdose with an excessively large dose of ephedra. The risks are the same as with any over-the-counter medication that directly affects the brain, metabolism, and central nervous system.

But isn't there other stuff in Herbal Ecstasy?

Yes, there is, the mixture in Herbal Ecstasy is a combination of mostly ephedra and caffeine, with a few smart drugs thrown in for good measure. The other ingredients found in Herbal Ecstasy are:

  • Guarana, an unprocessed herb similar to caffeine.
  • Ginseng, an adaptogen herb that helps the body fight stress and fatigue.
  • Gingko Biloba, a smart drug that increases the flow of oxygen to the brain.
  • Kola Nut, a form of unprocessed caffeine.
  • Gotu Kola, a smart drug that helps stimulate brain function.
  • Fo Ti, another adaptogen, similar to ginseng.
  • Green Tea, mild mannered beverage.
  • Nutmeg, a psychoactive herb in high doses, used mainly in prison and by junkies trying to dry out.

    It's not an awful formula, but you can easily put together similar formulas with the same effect for a fraction of the price. Check out this chart, based on a ten pill price (the going price on the Web for Herbal Ecstasy is $19.99 for ten pills).

    Herb Price/# of caps Dose Price per ten pills
    Ephedra $9.99/180 caps 375 mg $0.55 per ten pills
    Gingko $14.29/60 caps 40 mg $2.38 per ten pills
    Siberian Ginseng $6.39/100 caps 410 mg $0.64 per ten pills
    Gotu Kola $6.39/100 caps 435 mg $0.64 per ten pills
    Guarana $6.39/90 caps 800 mg $0.71 per ten pills
    Kola Nut $5.19/1 fl oz 800 mg $1.04 per ten pills, assuming 50 servings in a 1 oz bottle
    Fo Ti $8.49/100 caps 610 mg $0.85 per ten pills
    Green tea $2.99 for 16 bags n/a $0.10 per half a bag
    Nutmeg couldn't find it in pill form, but ground nutmeg in the spice section of a store will run you about 2.99. You can probably make 100 capsules from a bottle. 1 capsule $0.29 per ten pills
    TOTAL $7.20 for 10 pills
    Herbal E Price $19.99 for 10 pills

    Quite a difference! To further your savings, you could probably drop Ginseng and Fo Ti from this list. While both are good for you, it is widely believed that you need a steady intake of these herbs to really feel their beneficial effects. You can also probably drop Nutmeg from the list (there's a reason you don't find it in capsules). This brings the price down to $5.42 for 10 pills, almost a quarter of the price. Plus, one dose of your homemade concoction would probably be stronger than one Herbal E pill (Herbal E's manufacturers recommend a dose of 3-5 pills).

    But I don't want to go to the trouble of making my own Herbal E, this is America, dammit, land of convenience!

    OK, we understand. For further price comparison, here are two similar pre-packaged herbal formulas we found:

    • Pep Products: Extra Strength Guarana, 60 caps $10.39
      contains Guarana, Ma Huang, Passion Flower, Gotu Kola and Wood Betony.
      Price per 10 caps, $1.73

    • Natural Max Products: EnerMax, 90 Softgels $15.99
      contains Ma Hung, Tea, Kola Nut, L-Pyroglutamic Acid, Epimedium, Angelica and Ginger.
      Price per 10 caps, $1.78

    They're both pretty much what you'd get with Herbal E and they cost MUCH less.

    To sum up, Herbal Ecstasy is an effective, mild stimulant (if you're willing to pay the exorbitant price), but it has nothing at all to do with MDMA. Most health food stores sell similar formulas for far less money, and, as shown above, buying each ingredient separately will save you big. Marketing ephedra -- a stimulant and an asthma medicine -- as an herbal form of MDMA makes about as much sense as selling aspirin as an alternative to penicillin: it has an effect, it just does something completely different.


    Longenecker, Gesina, HOW DRUGS WORK, Ziff Davis Press, 1994

    Mowery, Daniel B., FAT MANAGEMENT! THE THERMOGENIC FACTOR, Victory Publications, 1994

    Note: This article is intended for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease. It is not intended to make health claims of any kind. If you choose to experiment with the above mentioned herbs, vitamins, medicines, food supplements or drugs please consult a physician.

    Copyright 1997