CNN Food and Health

The case against 'Herbal Ecstacy'


FDA debates safety of a natural high

October 12, 1995
Web posted at: 8:15 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Eugenia Halsey

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In these days of patchouli and juice bars, a new "natural" drug is gaining currency. With the help of a little "Herbal Ecstacy," young people can dance until the wee hours at nightclub raves. (375K QuickTime movie) And guess what? It's perfectly legal.

As with dozens of other products containing Chinese herbs, an advisory committee of the Food and Drug Administration is currently debating the safety of Herbal Ecstacy.

Ecstacy Sold at many health stores, the product comes in a pyramid-shaped box with a butterfly on it. Inside: blue tablets made from a mixture of Chinese herbs, including ma huang, which contains the stimulant ephedrine, and kola nut, which packs a caffeine wallop.

Dan Uddeme Some call it a "legal high."

"I firmly believe that experimenting with the herbs themselves is far better than using a drug," said Dan Uddeme, who sells Herbal Ecstacy at a Maryland store.

man on street One young man on the street said he's thinking about giving the product a try. He'd previously taken LSD, but didn't care for the aftermath. (158K AIFF sound or 158K WAV sound) "People said this was a little bit safer," he said.

Marsha Peterson doesn't think so. Two months ago, her 16-year-old daughter Valerie and a friend tried Herbal Ecstacy at a concert. A salesman there told them it was a natural energy booster, much like vitamins. Peterson, describing the incident in vivid terms, said her daughter started shaking and throwing up uncontrollably. Both teens were rushed to a hospital emergency room after their blood pressure and heart rates soared. (150K AIFF sound or 150K WAV sound)

Dozens of dietary supplements contain ephedrine. They're marketed to make people feel good, help them lose weight and build muscles.

caution But the FDA has received more than 300 complaints of ephedrine side-effects, including heart attacks and strokes.

"They are serious in nature," stated the FDA's Dr. Elizabeth Yetley. "It doesn't mean we necessarily have determined they're related. But they're serious enough that we need to investigate further."

Now, the FDA advisory panel is trying to decide whether ephedrine can be safely used in any dietary supplements.

bottles The maker of Herbal Ecstacy, Global World Media Corporation, insists the product is safe when taken according to package directions.

Other members of the nutritional supplement industry say a proper balance needs to be struck.

"If there are products that go too far, make inappropriate claims, that's one of the issues that I hope we can resolve here, draw those boundaries," said Loren Israelson of the Utah Natural Products Alliance.

The advisory committee could recommend the FDA ban dietary supplements containing ephedrine, limit the dosage in each pill, or require warning labels on the products. A decision is expected by next month.

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