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Ephedra is the plant source from which the alkaloid stimulant ephedrine is derived for application in diet and weight loss aids. Because of its structural similarity to the stimulant amphetamine, the alkaloid ephedrine serves as a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant to suppress appetite by increasing the amount of the neurotransmitter dopamine that is present in the body. This interaction also increases heart rate, and basal metabolic rate, and contributes to thermogenesis, or burning of calories for fuel, to stimulate weight loss and fat oxidation through adrenergic neurotransmission.

The raised level of awareness, ability to focus, and increased energy is the desired effect of ephedrine use, and is also the objective with ADHD medications as well as prescription weight loss medications reserved for obese individuals. Ephedrine is also an effective herbal alkaloid stimulant of a low functioning Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) to which obesity may be connected.