Ephedra sinica represents one of the oldest medicinal plants in China, where it is known by the name of ma huang. It is estimated that its use began 4,000 years ago, particularly in northern China and Mongolia. Ephedra was used in ethnomedicine as a stimulant, to increase perspiration, and as an anti-inflammatory. In the Chinese school of medicine, a preparation called mimahuang, containing roasted honey and chopped dried aerial parts of this species, is claimed to be an effective treatment for flu and respiratory tract inflammations. Ephedra, which contains ephedrine and similar alkaloids, has been used extensively in the ancient pharmacy as an antihistaminic in the treatment of asthma and as a natural decongestant. It has become a very popular ingredient in herbal combinations for allergies and hay fever. Since it is a central nervous system stimulant and increases the metabolism and increases body temperature, it has been used to control weight and to help prevent sleep, and by athletes in order to improve their performance. One of the side effects of increased metabolism is an increased pulse rate and a potentially dangerous rise in blood pressure. Occasionally, ma huang has been mixed with other stimulants or food supplements and used as a narcotic stimulant. Dangers stemming from lack of knowledge about the pharmacological effects of the drug caused several American states to ban ephedra in 2003, followed by a federal ban in 2004 on sales of products containing ephedra. It is currently on the doping lists of banned substances and ingredients of all the international sport associations. E. equisetina in China and E. gerardi-ana, E. intermedia, and E. major in Pakistan have also been used in a similar way.
Dried aerial parts of several Ephedra species, including E. trifurca, are known in the US as "Mormon tea," a very popular stimulant beverage made by Native Americans and the early settlers in the southwestern United States and Mexico.
See: Psychoactive Plants, p. 199
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