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Prior to its ban in 2004, no one government agency was tasked with tracking production of ephedrine-containing products. Nor were these products indexed by any industry or trade organization. Ephedrine-containing supplement products were mostly purchased at health food stores or over the Internet. Claims made by some of the Internet vendors were quite outrageous and totally unsupported by any scientific research. The large supplement makers, of course, had web pages, many of which contained, or had links to, the most recent peer review studies. But in addition to the established names, hundreds of other, smaller manufacturers also advertised and sold over the Internet. These companies came into and went out of existence so rapidly that a detailed listing of their web sites would likely be outdated before the links were published. Even today, a simple search using the word "ephedrine," will disclosed numerous off-shore vendors, along with numbers of attorneys soliciting for ephedra-related class action legal cases.

In addition to selling their own proprietary mixture, many of these same web sites sold the same popular products as the herbal and general retail outlets, such as a previous Twin Labs best seller "Ripped Fuel™," which contained ephedrine in the form of ma huang, combined with guarana, L-carnitine, and chromium picolinate. Metabolife 356™ contained guarana (40 mg caf feine), 12 mg ephedrine as ma huang, chromium picolinate 75 mg, and several other ingredients. Ever since ephedrine became the precursor of choice for making methamphetamine, federal regulators have severely restricted bulk sales of ephedrine, but these restrictions have been bypassed in some cases by illegally ordering from a foreign web site (23).

In most products, ephedrine content ranged anywhere from 12 to 80 mg per serving, with the majority of products falling into the lower range. Industry standards called for a total dose of ephedrine of less than 100 mg/day. The FDA, however, allowed a maximum daily dose of 150 mg/day of synthetic ephedrine. Unless fortified, the expected ephedrine content of ma huang capsules was generally less than 10%. Thus, a capsule said to contain 1000 g of ephedra would probably have contained no more than 80 mg of ephedrine.

In the United States, (+)-norpseudoephedrine, in its pure form, is considered a Schedule IV controlled substance. However, because of the small amounts of this alkaloid in ephedra plants or extracts, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had never stated or proposed that ephedra products were subject to the scheduling requirements of the Controlled Substances Act. Quite the contrary, DEA published a proposed rule in 1998 that stated DEA's intent to exempt legitimate ephedra products in finished form from regulation even as "chemical mixtures." Other regulatory sanctions and actions on ephedra rendered action on this regulation moot.

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