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Ephedrine increases arousal in women

If women take a 50 mg dose of ephedrine sulphate [structural formula shown below], their body reacts more strongly to sexual stimuli three-quarters of an hour later. Sexologists at the University of Washington stumbled across the sexual stimulatory properties of the now outlawed dietary supplement in 1998.

Ephedrine sulphate
Ephedrine is a stimulatory alkaloid from the plant Ephedra sinica. The compound was discovered in 1885 by the Japanese pharmacologist Nagai Nagayoshi while he was studying Chinese and Japanese medicinal plants. In the 1990s ephedrine became a popular ingredient in weight-loss supplements when doping guru Dan Duchaine mixed ephedrine with aspirin and caffeine in his Ultimate Orange.

After that tens, if not hundreds of companies based their slimming stackers on Duchaine's brainchild, even though most of them did not use synthetic ephedrine analogues, but extracts from the Ephedra plant. When the stackers became so strong that some users started getting sick or dying, the American government outlawed the use of Ephedra extracts in supplements. European governments followed suit.

In this study the researchers examined ephedrine sulphate because they wanted to know about the effect of stimulatory hormones such as adrenalin and noradrenalin on women's sexuality. Medicines that block the effects of these hormones, such as beta-blockers, reduce women's interest in sex. Therefore, reasoned the researchers, a substance like ephedrine sulphate should enhance interest in sex. After all, ephedrine imitates the effect of adrenalin.

The researchers gave twenty women between the ages of 19 and 44 a 50 mg dose of ephedrine sulphate. Three-quarters of an hour later they watched a pornographic film showing "a heterosexual couple engaging in foreplay, intercourse, and oral sex". In another session the women watched a similar kind of film, but had been given a placebo.

The ephedrine had no effect on the women's mental arousal, although they did report feeling that their heartbeat had increased. See the table below.

Ephedrine increases arousal in women

The ephedrine did have an effect on the circulation of blood through the vagina. Using a photoplethysmograph the researchers were able to see that ephedrine increased the blood supply to the vagina in the women while they watched the porn film. The figure below shows this. Neutral = while watching non-erotic images; erotic = while watching porn.

Ephedrine increases arousal in women

The researchers were not quite sure how to interpret their results. "It may be the case that ephedrine increases physiological sexual responding in sexually functional women by providing a boost to already increasing levels of sexual arousal", they wrote. "Whether ephedrine might also provide an initial 'jump start' for women who have difficulty becoming sexually aroused needs further investigation."

During the trial the women had no problems with side-effects. However, these may well arise if ephedrine is used over a longer period or in higher doses, the researchers warn. "Higher doses ephedrine have been reported to cause a variety of negative effects, e.g. anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, dizziness, headache, hypertension."

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1998 Jul; 55(7):652-6.

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