The Herb Research Foundation: Herb Information Greenpaper



Some of the most popular products in the natural food market are products for stimulating physical or mental function. Some of these include herbs which contain the natural stimulants caffeine, ephedrine, and/or pseudoephedrine. Here is some information about these stimulant products.


Caffeinated beverages have an ancient history of use and are popular in almost every culture. The most familiar of these are coffee and tea, but there are others as listed below. While the regular use of stimulants is a controversial issue, it appears that caffeine-containing beverages are relatively safe for most healthy adults when consumed in moderation. A number of caffeine-containing teas, extracts and supplenents are sold in the natural product industry. The main sources are kola nut (bissy nut, cola), guarana, maté and tea (Camellia sinensis).


Coffee 1 cup 60-150 mg
Decaffeinated Coffee 1 cup 2-5 mg
Tea (loose or bags) 1 cup 20-50 mg
Hot Cocoa 1 cup 6 mg
Milk chocolate 1 oz 6 mg
Baking chocolate 1 oz 35 mg
Maté 1 cup 25-50 mg
Cola drinks 12 oz can 40 mg
Guarana varies 25-50 mg per gram


Caffeine is considered to be inappropriate for consumption during pregnancy or lactation, or by persons with the following conditions: high blood pressure, gastric ulcers, active heart disease, stimulant sensitivities. Over-consumption of caffeine even by normal consumers can cause nervousness, sleeplessness, irritability, anxiety and/or heart palpitations. Caffeine also has laxative effects, and those who become habituated to it may become constipated and experience headaches when they quit.

Warnings required on caffeine-containing over the counter drugs: Too much caffeine may cause nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, and, occasionally, rapid heart beat. [Physicians' Desk Reference for Nonprescription Drugs. 10th edition. 1989. p. 514.]

MA HUANG (Ephedra sinensis):

This plant contains ephedrine and pseudoephedrine which are used in over the counter medications for asthma (ephedrine) and as a nasal decongestant (pseudoephedrine). Ma huang is also sold as a stimulant and weight loss product. Like caffeinated beverages, ephedrine-containing products apparently can be consumed safely in moderate amounts by healthy people. Ma huang is included in some diet formulae where it functions as an appetite suppressant. Its mechanism of activity in this use is the same as the only FDA approved over the counter appetite suppressant, phenylpropanolamine (ppa). PPA lacks the central nervous stimulation exhibited by the Ephedra alkaloids but has the same contraindications and is subject to the same cautions. Ephedra contains both pseudoephedrine and ephedrine, collectively referred to as Ephedra alkaloids. Most people have heard of the abuse of amphetamines as diet pills prescribed by doctors in the 1960's and '70's. Like amphetamines, Ephedra (ma huang), and the chemical compound ephedrine, can be dangerous if abused. While the cautions for ephedra and caffeine are similar, ephedra has greater cardiovascular activity than caffeine. Ephedra is often combined in diet or energy products with caffeine or a natural caffeine source such as kola nut, guarana, or tea. The combination of these two different types of stimulants can be especially powerful.


Ephedra herb capsule* 500 mg 2-15 mg total ephedrine alkaloids
Ephedra herb tea 1 cup (2g dry herb) 10-50 mg total ephedrine alkaloids
Over the Counter Asthma Tablets
Example: Primatene®
Adult (2 tablets) 48 mg Ephedrine Hydrochloride
Prescription Asthma Pills
Example: Marax®
Per Tablet 25 mg Ephedrine Sulfate
Pseudoephedrine Tablets
Example: Sudafed®
Children's dose 30 mg (Pseudoephedrine hydrochloride)
Adult's dose 60 mg (Pseudoephedrine hydrochloride)
12 Hour Tablets 120 mg (Pseudoephedrine sulfate)
* Some Ephedra containing supplements contain concentrated extracts of the plant, and unless the alkaloid content is listed, the potency of effects and comparison to OTC drugs are uncertain.


Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are contraindicated in the same conditions as caffeine (see above), and also should not be consumed by persons taking MAO inhibitors (prescription blood pressure drugs or antidepressants such as Marplan® Nardil® and Parnate®). Additionally, the use of Ephedra alkaloids is contraindicated in persons with diabetes or thyroid trouble or difficulty in urination due to enlarged prostate gland.

Warnings required on ephedrine-containing over the counter drugs like Primatene®: If symptoms persist, consult your physician. Some people are sensitive to ephedrine and, in some cases, temporary sleeplessness and nervousness may occur. These reactions will disappear if the use of the medication is discontinued. Do not exceed recommended dosage.

People who have heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes or thyroid trouble or difficulty in urination due to enlarged prostate gland should take this preparation only on the advice of a physician.

As with any drug, if you are pregnant or nursing a baby, seek the advice of a health professional before using this product.

[Physicians' Desk Reference for Nonprescription Drugs. 10th edition. 1989. p. 742.]

Warnings required on pseudoephedrine-containing over the counter drugs like Sudafed® (for Adult Strength): Do not exceed recommended dosage because at higher doses nervousness, dizziness or sleeplessness may occur. If symptoms do not improve within 7 days, or are accompanied by a high fever, consult a physician before continuing use. Do not take this preparation if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, or difficulty in urination due to enlargement of the prostate gland, except under the advice and supervision of a physician. As with any drug, if you are pregnant or nursing a baby, seek the advice of a health professional before using this product.

Drug Interaction Precaution: Do not take this product if you are presently taking a prescription antihypertensive or antidepressant drug containing a monoamine oxidase inhibitor, except under the advice and supervision of a physician.

[Physicians' Desk Reference for Nonprescription Drugs. 10th edition. 1989. p. 535.]


Caffeinated and Ephedra-containing products have a lengthy history of use and are considered safe when consumed in reasonable amounts by healthy consumers. They should be avoided by persons sensitive to stimulants, or with any of the conditions listed above. Stimulants derived from plants can be abused and such abuse can be hazardous. The safety of combining active amounts of ephedra or its alkaloids with caffeine sources is in question, but it can be assumed that the effects of both are stronger than either alone. Those who choose to avoid all stimulants will want to watch for the listed ingredients in any products they buy.

This Fact Sheet Prepared By:


© April 20, 1995 Herb Research Foundation

This page and all contents are © 1997 by The Herb Research Foundation, Boulder, CO, USA.