What Is Ephedrine?
Ephedrine has been used as a stimulant and as medication to treat various conditions. The drug is made from the extract of a Chinese herb known as Ephedra sinica. Even though the plant has been recognized for thousands of years for its medicinal properties, the extracts used to make ephedrine pills are known to have adverse cardiovascular effects.
What Does Ephedrine Do?
The alkaloid compounds found in the ephedra plant have stimulant and thermogenic properties, which means they can raise a person’s metabolism. As a stimulant, it has been used to boost concentration and alertness. Due to its ability to stimulate the nervous system, it has sometimes been used by athletes to boost their energy, speed, and strength.
The drug has been used in the medical field to treat a number of conditions. It can increase the heart rate and has therefore been used to prevent low blood pressure during certain surgical procedures. It can relax muscles and has been recognized as a decongestant that has been used to treat asthma, influenza (the flu), and the common cold.
Before being banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2004, ephedrine was a popular ingredient in many weight loss supplements. The thermogenic properties of the plant extract can increase metabolic rate and speed up the process of weight loss. The drug is also a stimulant that suppresses appetite and enhances alertness, which has made it popular with athletes and people trying to lose weight.
Is It Addictive?
Ephedrine pills have been sold over-the-counter (OTC) to athletes looking for performance enhancing substances, students looking to boost concentration, and even partygoers looking for an energy boost or a feel-good drug.
Ephedrine is addictive and can produce serious psychological and physiological adverse effects in its users. It has a chemical structure similar to methamphetamine (meth). Even though ephedrine is not as addictive as meth, users can still develop addictions to it if they use it over a prolonged period of time.
When used by truck drivers and athletes to boost performance, it can develop dependency in its users who soon become unable to function without it. College students may also find that they are unable to concentrate.
Furthermore, even though the drug is commonly used as a performance enhancer, some studies suggest that these benefits are only marginal and in some cases,no changes were observed. Due to its addictive and adverse effects, it is advisable to only use it when prescribed by a qualified medical professional.
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How and Why Is It Abused?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), substance abuse is a patterned harmful and hazardous use of alcohol or illicit substances. Abuse is done in a manner that is harmful to the user or those around him, and the user tends to consume the alcohol or illicit drugs in significant quantities.
Even though abuse by definition is not the same as addiction, abuse often leads to tolerance and dependency. The user develops a pattern that forces him to continue taking the drug in larger amounts to achieve the same effects. The changes in brain chemistrymean the user may need the drug to perform day to day tasks efficiently.
Truck drivers sometimes use stimulants to keep up with the demands of their physically and psychologically challenging tasks. Ephedrine happens to be one of the stimulants commonly used by truck drivers to keep fatigue at bay and maintain alertness and concentration while on the job.
College students are also known to use “smart pills” or “nootropics” to boost concentration and alertness, especially when studying for a test. The problem with abusing such substances is that it changes the brain chemistry and can lead to dependency.
The use of “smart pills” is not confined to students alone. People in professions that require a lot of attention and concentration for extended periods of time are also likely to be tempted to use these pills. A survey done in 2013, showed that more 30% of more than 1,500 surgeons had used a smart pill to enhance concentration and boost performance.
Ephedrine is also used as a drug for recreation. It can enhance mental focus and generate excitement for tasks that would otherwise be seen as boring. An ephedrine high makes one feel energetic and focused on whatever they are doing. It is sometimes used by party goers to generate excitement and confidence.
What Symptoms Are There Of Addiction?
The side effects of ephedrine are common for those who do not take the drug according to the doctor’s prescription. Even though the drug may seem harmless, it can lead to addiction which can have a serious impact on the user’s quality of life.
One of the common signs of addiction is tolerance. If you find that when you need to take a higher dosage than you did in the past, in order to achieve the same result, then it is likely that you are addicted to it. Students, surgeons, and truck drivers may need to take higher doses after months or even weeks after using the drug.
Another sign is a dependency on the drug. Dependency refers to when one is unable to perform tasks as effectively as when they started using the substance. This means athletes and students may soon find that they can’t perform in the field or remain alert while studying when they can’t access ephedrine.
Physical Symptoms of an Addiction
Since the ephedra plant has compounds that can stimulate the Central Nervous System, ephedrine side effects can be severe and often cause adverse cardiovascular effects.
If you are addicted to it, you are at risk of experiencing the following physical symptoms:
- A headache
- Lack of appetite
- Painful urination
- Spinning sensation
- Dilated pupils
How Is It Treated?
Abuse of ephedrine can not only cause stroke and a wide range of cardiovascular problems but it can also cause death. Therefore, treating addiction is based on protocols that are similar to other forms of treatment for substance abuse.
During treatment, it is noted that stopping the use of the drug suddenly may cause adverse effects in the form of withdrawal symptoms. This becomes more complicated if the user was at some point using it as medication for conditions such as breathing problems. An ephedrine dose may be administered, and the dosage reduced over time to prevent complications.
Since the drug changes the brain chemistry and stimulates the CNS, it needs to be flushed out of the system. Professionally, run rehabilitation facilities have detox programs that are designed to flush out Ephedrine to help the patient overcome the debilitating effects of withdrawal. Detox is conducted by a qualified practitioner who will monitor dangerous signs of withdrawal.
The treatment may take from 4 weeks to 2 months. During this time the patient will take counseling sessions to gain more information on the negative effects of ephedrine. Patients also take counseling sessions to learn how to overcome addiction and identify environmental triggers that could cause a relapse after recovery.
Once addiction treatment is complete, the patient can go back to their day-to-day activities. They are equipped with tools that help them deal with addiction and get back on their feet after rehabilitation. Professionally, run facilities also have after rehabilitation programs to help recovering addicts to prevent a relapse and access aftercare therapy.
Getting help is critical for recovery from ephedrine addiction. To ensure that your recovery is smooth, you need to consider the treatment options and programs carefully. Some of the treatment options you ought to consider include:
Outpatient Program: An outpatient program is structured such that the patient can stay at home and only come for sessions for a few hours a week. Many outpatient programs have many of the treatment protocols such as detox, available in inpatient programs. This program is ideal for people who have responsibilities like taking care of children and therefore cannot opt for an inpatient program.
Inpatient Program: An inpatient program requires the addict to stay at the facility for between 30 and 60 days. It may not be convenient for parents or people with a lot of responsibilities. However, an inpatient program is believed to yield better results, since the patient can cut off access to social influences and environmental triggers that led to his addiction.
Additionally, you need to ensure that the rehabilitation program includes the following:
Detox: Detoxification needs to be conducted by a qualified medical practitioner. Many centers have doctors who provide round the clock care to ensure the dangerous side effects of ephedrine are addressed on time.
Dual Diagnosis: Substance abuse is treated alongside any underlying mental condition that may exist. Ephedrine may be abused to address anxiety and depression, but in the long term, it can make the problem worse.
Counseling: Individual and group counseling is done to help the patient untangle negative thought patterns. Counseling is done by a qualified therapist who uses evidence-based tools such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
- Extended Care: It is important for patients to receive care after the rehabilitation program. Extended care helps a recovering addict adjust and avoid relapses. Counseling and vocational training may be provided to help the patient adjust.