Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are phenethylamine derivatives identical in their molecular formula but slightly different in their arrangement of molecules. Both are considered sympathomimetic drugs, which means that they affect the sympathetic nervous system. While these drugs are very similar, even belonging to the same amphetamine chemical classes, there are distinct differences between them. Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine differ in their appearance, their uses, and the way they affect the body.
While both of these substances are derived from the Ephedra sinica plant, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are not identical in appearance. Once extracted from the Ephedra plant, ephedrine looks like a wax or grainy powder that is white or clear in color. Pseudoephedrine is a fine, white powder that turns yellow when exposed to the air for long periods of time.
The uses of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine also differ. In medicine, ephedrine is most commonly used as a nasal decongestant and a bronchodilator. Less commonly, ephedrine is used to dilate the pupils, control urinary incontinence, and treat anesthesia-related hypotension. Ephedrine has also been used for its ability to stimulate the nervous system and cause weight loss. While the use of ephedrine as a weight loss supplement has been banned in many different countries, it was commonly used for that purpose in previous years.
Pseudoephedrine is primarily used as a nasal and sinus decongestant. This drug is commonly included in medications for allergies, hay fever and common colds. It can also be combined with other medications to treat sinusitis, croup and more conditions.
In addition to their primary uses, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine also differ in the way they affect the body. Ephedrine is a more effective stimulant than pseudoephedrine. When consumed, this drug will increase energy, suppress appetite, and increase heart rate. In some individuals, these effects can be dangerous. Misuse can result in hypertension, vertigo, nausea, headache, rapid heart rate and other health problems.
Though ephedrine might be more stimulating, pseudoephedrine is commonly regarded as a more effective decongestant. For this reason, pseudoephedrine is more frequently included in cold, sinus and allergy medications. Unlike ephedrine, pseudoephedrine is also less likely to cause serious changes in heart rate, euphoria and other negative side effects. While pseudoephedrine can cause negative effects, these side effects are typically less severe than those caused by ephedrine. It is, however, still important to exercise caution and use both of these drugs only as directed.