Ephedra Users Stockpile as Ban Looms

ByABC News
January 15, 2004, 7:02 PM

Jan. 16 -- Last month the Food and Drug Administration announced plans to ban the popular herbal weight-loss supplement ephedra, citing potential health threats. But the FDA may not have expected ephedra users' reaction to the move. People from all over the country are stockpiling ephedra before the ban takes effect.

Watch 20/20's full report on ephedra and herbal supplements tonight.

Caroyln Cacciotti of Bridgeport, Conn., says ephedra helped her lose 40 pounds. When news of the ban came down, she was in the right place at the right time.  She works at a health food shop that sells the supplement. She says she cleaned out the store.

"I went to the shelf, grabbed all the liquids, all the individuals," she says.

She's already got 12 bottles in her not-so-secret stash.  At two doses a day, that's about a year's supply.  And she's not sharing.  Not even with her sister-in-law, Jeannie Cacciotti, who lives down the street.  

"She was my supplier, you know, because she worked at the store," says Jeannie Cacciotti. "I would say pick me up a bottle, here's the money.  And now she's saying, no, there's no more left because she has it all."

Dieters Credit the Ephedra Stack

They're desperate to get ephedra because they say it works like nothing else for short-term weight loss. They're quick to point out that ephedra is not a drug.  The active ingredient, ephedrine, comes from a plant.  But it's a stimulant that increases the heart rate, raises blood pressure, and speeds up brain activity. 

Citing 16,000 reports of palpitations, heart attack, stroke and other adverse events, including 155 associated deaths professional athletes among them the FDA is warning consumers to stop taking ephedra immediately. 

Justin Varuzzo of upstate New York has lost more than 100 pounds.  He worked out, but credits ephedra with the drop in pounds.  He says combined with diet and exercise, ephedra gives him that extra little something.

"Most of the stuff that you buy at the store, like Xenadrine, it's usually ephedra, caffeine, and aspirin mixed together, which they usually call the 'ephedra stack,' " says Varuzzo.