Come and Dig My Herb


New at Reason: It's less lethal than aspirin, it didn't kill Steve Bechler, and its adverse effects "appear to be infrequent." No wonder ephedra looks likely to be banned. Jacob Sullum explains.


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  1. In 1999, the last year for which nationwide totals were reported by drug, DAWN counted 811 mentions for Valium, 641 for Benadryl, 427 for Tylenol, 305 for Prozac, and 104 for aspirin.

    It is intellectually dishonest of you not to mention that all of these drugs are commonly used in suicide attempts. Is ephedra? Once you factor out the suicides, you need to mention how many doses of each drug were consumed in order to establish a correlation.

    No drug is completely safe, but ephedra seems considerably safer than many popular over-the-counter remedies and prescription drugs.

    While it may be true, you certainly haven’t established that in your analysis or citations (Citations? What are those?).

    I don’t think this (or any other herb) should be banned, but basing your argument on a weak case for it’s safety is counterproductive.

  2. ” As one of Bechler’s teammates put it, “Someone has to be held responsible for a young kid dying like that.””

    So he’s 23 year’s old, and that must mean that _someone else_ must be responsible for his death, since he apparently wasn’t an adult or otherwise capable of making his own choices in life.

    Jee, I don’t know…maybe it was his responsability? You know, the one who took the pills and didn’t rest to drink liquids and chose to do all the physical work in the first place? Why must someone else be responsable when people put themselves into real, physical danger that could very well kill them even without any form of supplement or drug?

  3. Back in high school “meth” was cooked from psuedoephedrine (Sudafed) which is why you can only buy one or two boxes at time at your local pharmacy.

    Ephedra is an herb, I assume easily grown. If this herb was all that was required to make meth, why are the junkies risking jail time trying to buy large quantities of Sudafed?

  4. Hank: I do believe that while Ephedra contains “ephedrine”, it is a non-trivial and non-free task (in time, equipment, and research) for cooks to extract and concentrate the chemical through processing of the herb ephedra.

    However, given this, I wouldn’t at all doubt that soon enough, if not already, increasingly efficient processes will be developed and disseminated to produce speed using the home-grown herb ephedra. It will probably just be more expensive and less safe.

  5. Typical of the, “It’s not my fault, someone needs to pay,” attitude so common today. People need to grow up and take a little personal responsibility for how they live their lives. I have never taken a pill of any sort in my life, but if I do, I’ll make damn sure I know what I’m ingesting, and what it will do to me.

  6. I hope they don’t ban it, but I better stock up just in case.

  7. I had trouble understanding the point, but was he trying to say that links to Ephedra should be questioned because they concur with myocadial infarctions and cerebrovascular accidents? If so, he might want to rethink that, because a sympathomimetic like ephedra could very well cause these.

  8. If they ban it on health grounds that will just be a pretext. The real reason they want to ban it is because meth ‘cooks’ use it to make speed.

  9. A few years ago, when the FDA started making a big noise about ephedra, they talked about the number of hospitalizations due to ephedra use. I remember reading something that looked at those cases and found that nearly all of them involved combining the ephedra with large quantities of alcohol. Naturally, I have no idea where I read that or what the details were, but since you’ve provided this handy comment thingy, I might as well use it.

  10. JASBIRD: The real reason they want to ban it is because meth ‘cooks’ use it to make speed.

    SIC: Ayuh, right as rain.

    Another sterling example of how our fucked up national drug policies motivate users of currently illicit substances to create their products using more and more dangerous substances.

    Someone wanting to produce ‘methamphetamine’ – or more accurately, strong stimulants – may now be using ephedra as a base ingredient. If they lose access to it, they are not likely to close up shop given the obscene profits that Prohibition allows them. Instead they continue to create their stuff and just substitute something else that will make your heart pound faster and that something else is likely far more dangerous than ephedra.

  11. The dynamic is that if a legal pharmaceutical product harms somebody, its open news but if the government prohibits a product that will aleviate suffering, it’s a “silent” tragedy. If the FDA or congress bans ephedra it will be annoying but there are drugs that can literally save lives that they prohibit or at least delay from going to

  12. Actually I think they use ephedrine (those little pills you used to be able to get at truck stops and assorted seedy locales) to make meth and not ephedra. Ephedra is a herb and I don’t imagine your typical meth chemist could extract the ephedrine out of it. Ephedrine itself is illegal in most places nowadays but you could get it well into the 90s. (Tried it once or twice and decided to stick to coffee for my pep needs).

  13. AJB (first post), never get a headache?

    And what do you take for it when you do?

  14. Has Jacob *ever* seen a drug that he didn’t categorize as beneficial and harmless, along with rainbows and kittens and butterflys?

  15. Kittens and butterfles are not “harmless.”

  16. Actually, Jon H, there’s one drug that Jacob does find harmful: Sodium Penethol. He avoids that one like the plague, and I’m sure you can guess why.

  17. I recently went through some of the roughest times of my life. I believe my blousant pills were switched out for ephedra. Does anyone know if ephedra is detectable via hair samples. Please offer help of some type. I think someone was trying to off me!

  18. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/22/2004 03:22:56
    Communism has nothing to do with love. Communism is an excellent hammer which we use to destroy our enemy.

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