DMAA is a synthetic drug found in dietary supplements and used to lose weight and increase athletic performance. For many years, it was used as a nasal decongestant but was removed from the market because of several safety concerns. Is DMAA really that dangerous?
Note: By writing this post, we are not recommending this drug. Some of our readers who were already taking the drug requested that we commission a post on it, and we are simply providing information that is available in the scientific literature. Please discuss your medications with your doctor.
What Is DMAA?
1,3-Dimethylamylamine, also known as DMAA or geranium extract, is a stimulant commonly found in pre-workout supplements. Although DMAA’s chemical structure is similar to compounds found in geraniums, the DMAA used in dietary supplements is synthetic [R, R].
DMAA has supposedly been isolated from geranium plants but multiple reports failed to confirm this finding [R].
In 1944, Eli Lilly and Company introduced DMAA as a nasal decongestant. However, DMAA was withdrawn from the market in 1983 [R].
Since its reintroduction, DMAA has been the subject of serious debate due to alarming concerns about the safety of the product. In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) demanded 10 manufacturers of DMAA-containing products to prove the safety of DMAA in their products [R].
DMAA is known for increasing athletic performance and has been banned by several sports authorities. In fact, DMAA acts similar to cocaine and methamphetamine, had a high potential for abuse and may result in serious side effects [R, R].
What Does DMAA Do?
Although the exact mechanism of action of DMAA is still unknown, this drug acts by imitating the effect of human hormones like adrenaline. DMAA acts on the brain’s reward system to boost energy and on blood vessels to increase blood pressure [R].
By mimicking adrenalin, it activates the fight-or-flight response, similar to other stimulants. This can produce a subjective “high” and lead to abuse. It has been used to increase energy during workouts, for weight loss, as party pills, and even in the military, often marketed as a “legal high” [R, R].
Is DMAA illegal?
DMAA has been related to dangerous, potentially fatal side effects that can lead up to death. Because of this, DMAA-containing products are illegal in several countries, including the United States and Canada [R, R].
Effects of DMAA
Most of the studies about the effects of DMAA are based on dietary supplements containing DMAA. The conclusions may be misleading because it’s not certain the effects are caused by DMAA. The majority of the studies looked at a specific supplement containing DMAA, OxyELITE Pro, which is currently under legal investigation [R, R, R].
1) DMAA Burns Fat
A dietary supplement containing DMAA, OxyELITE Pro, contributed to body fat loss in 32 healthy adults (double-blind randomized controlled trial, one capsule/day for 2 weeks) [R].
OxyELITE Pro (1 capsule/day for 2 days) also increased fat breakdown and increased body temperature in 12 healthy adults (double-blind randomized controlled trial), which is thought to lead to body fat loss in the long term [R].
2) DMAA May Improve Short-Term Memory and Reflexes
To test if DMAA has the potential to be used in stroke recovery in athletics, its cognitive effects were tested in one study (crossover) of 12 healthy young adults. The consumption of 5.5 g of a dietary supplement containing DMAA (Jacked 3D) improved reflexes and short-term memory [R].
3) DMAA May Increase Physical Performance
How Long Does DMAA Stay In Your System?
When taken orally, DMAA takes around 8 minutes to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Its half-life in the human body is 8.5 hours on average, and it takes more than 24 hours to eliminate it completely from the body [R].
DMAA Side Effects
DMAA commercialization was banned by the FDA because of its dangerous side effects. However, some studies found DMAA use, at a low dosage (25 mg) and even dosages up to 75 mg with 250 mg of caffeine to be safe. But of the 8 studies that looked at DMAA, 6 were partially or completely funded by companies that make DMAA supplements, including the studies that found DMAA to be safe. [R, R, R].
The question of if there is there a safe dose of DMAA still remains controversial.
DMAA May Cause Liver Damage
In 2013, 36 people taking a dietary supplement containing DMAA, OxyELITE Pro, were hospitalized for liver damage. Of the 36, one person died and two people required a liver transplant. All were taking the recommended dose (1-3 scoops or capsules/day). However, 27 of the people were consuming a DMAA-free version of OxyELITE Pro (Super Thermo capsules). It is difficult to determine which compound was toxic [R].
DMAA May Cause Brain Bleeding
DMAA May Increase Heart Rate and Blood Pressure
The consumption of 2 capsules of a dietary supplement containing DMAA (OxyELITE Pro) resulted in an increased heart rate and blood pressure in 12 healthy adults (double-blind randomized controlled trial) [R].
56 cases of DMAA exposure in healthy adults were analyzed for side effects, most (80%) from taking OxyELITE Pro before it was banned. Almost a third of the patients had a notable increase in heart rate but that effect may be attributed to other substances like caffeine [R].
However, a dose of 25 mg of DMAA didn’t have any effect on heart rate or blood pressure in 8 healthy adults [R].
DMAA May Cause Heart Attacks
A healthy 22-year-old man suffered a heart attack after consuming a dietary supplement containing DMAA (Jack3d) and caffeine for 3 weeks [R].
DMAA May Cause Nausea and Vomiting
In one review, 15% of the 56 patients experienced nausea and vomiting after consuming DMAA supplements. Most were taking OxyElite Pro, so other substances in the product may have contributed to the side effects [R].
Limitations and Caveats
- Contradicting studies: There are several studies that reach opposing conclusions regarding DMAA’s safety and origin (natural or synthetic) [R, R, R].
- Lack of studies analyzing the effects of DMAA in isolation: Most of the studies about the effects of DMAA are based on dietary supplements containing DMAA. The dosage of DMAA in the supplements is not specified and is usually listed as a proprietary blend. The conclusions may be misleading because it’s not certain the effects are caused by DMAA [R, R, R].
- Biased studies: Several studies that supported DMAA’s safety were sponsored by a company responsible for manufacturing dietary supplements containing DMAA [R].
Is DMAA Safe?
According to the FDA, DMAA is not safe as at least 4 human deaths have been linked to the use of DMAA, including two active U.S. soldiers and a runner during a marathon. In one of the cases, the user consumed DMAA, alcohol, and caffeine at the same time [R, R, R].
DMAA Drug Test
In most sports, if DMAA is detected, the athlete would most probably be disqualified as DMAA is a banned substance [R].
In a cell study, DMAA blocked the activity of two important enzymes (cytochrome P450 2D6 and 3A4), which break down approximately 25% of commonly used drugs. They help to break down and remove antidepressants, antipsychotics, opioids, and medications for heart problems. When blocked, drugs can build up in the body and reach dangerously high levels, possibly causing liver damage [R, R].
DMAA and Alcohol
The combination of alcohol and DMAA in OxyELITE Pro increases the risk of liver damage [R].
A 21-year-old man experienced brain bleeding after consuming alcohol, caffeine, and 556 mg of DMAA [R].
DMAA and Caffeine
DMAA and caffeine are commonly found together in dietary supplements. 50 healthy men consumed DMAA and caffeine in different concentrations and there was no change in blood pressure and heart rate, even at a high dose (250 mg of caffeine + 50 mg of DMAA, RCT) [R].
The combination of DMAA and caffeine didn’t increase the heart rate of 10 healthy men even at a high dose of caffeine (250 mg of caffeine + 75 mg of DMAA, DB-RCT) [R].
DMAA Supplements and Products
DMAA is commonly abused as “party pills”, along with other drugs and alcohol [R].
Forms of DMAA:
- “Raw” DMAA powder [R]
- Tablets [R]
- Supplements containing DMAA, the most common being OxyELITE Pro and Jack3d [R]
Geranium Oil Extract?
Despite the lack of evidence, many products market DMAA as natural [R].
Supplements with DMAA
The most common form of DMAA is pre-workout supplements. These supplements often contain caffeine, which interacts with DMAA to boost athletic performance [R].
The most popular supplements containing DMAA are OxyELITE Pro and Jack3d. There are over 250 dietary supplements containing DMAA on the market including [R]:
- Biorhythm SSIN Juice
- Code Red
- Hemo Rage Black
- Lean Efx
- Lipo-6 Black Ultra
- Lipo-6 Black
- Lipo-6 Black Hers Ultra
- Lipo-6 Black Hers
- MethylHex 4,2
- Nitric Blast
- OxyELITE Pro
The ingredients listed for OxyELITE Pro are 119.5 mg of a proprietary blend (Bauhinia purpurea L. (Leaf and Pod) extract, Bacopa monnieri (Leaf) Extract, 1,3-Dimethylamylamine HCl (DMAA), Cirsium oligophyllum (Plant) Extract, Pausinystalia Yohimbe (Bark) Extract) and 100 mg of caffeine [R].
The ingredients listed for Jack3d is 4145 mg of a proprietary blend of arginine a-ketoglutarate, creatine monohydrate, b-alanine, caffeine, 1,3-dimethylamylamine (DMAA), and schizandrol [R].
DMAA Dangers Compared To Other Pre-Workout Supplements
DMAA vs. Adderall
Considering that Adderall is an addictive stimulant, its abuse may also lead to serious health problems [R].
Adderall consumption has been linked to heart attacks and even sudden death. One 20-year-old male had a heart attack after consuming 30 mg of Adderall. However, just as with DMAA, alcohol abuse may have been a contributing factor [R].
Overall, when used as prescribed, Adderall has very few side effects. The most common reported adverse effects of Adderall are increased heart rate and blood pressure with little long-term damage [R].
DMAA vs. Ephedrine
Ephedrine is a medicine used to increase blood pressure during anesthesia, as a decongestant, and also for weight loss. Ephedrine is a stimulant and can lead to abuse and addiction [R].
The use of ephedrine in the United States and Canada is not illegal but restricted to a specific dosage. According to Health Canada, the consumption of ephedrine must not exceed 32 mg/day for any longer than 7 days [R].
DMAA vs. DMHA
Dimethylhexylamine (DMHA), also known as Octodrine, is a stimulant with similar chemical structure and properties as DMAA. It was previously used as a nasal decongestant in the 1950s and reintroduced in the market as a dietary supplement just as DMAA had been [R].
DMHA is not banned in the United States as it hasn’t shown any serious side effects. However, some adverse effects are high blood pressure, shortness of breath, and high body temperature. DMHA is banned by sports authorities as it may increase athletic performance [R, R].
The content of DMAA in dietary supplements containing DMAA varies a lot, as it can range from 25 to 278 mg per capsule, depending on the product. A dosage of up to 75 mg DMAA and 250 mg caffeine was deemed “safe” as it didn’t increase heart rate (double-blind randomized controlled trial with 10 healthy men, RCT with 50 healthy men) [R, R, R].
Most users stated that they were amazed by the weight-loss properties of a DMAA-containing product (OxyELITE Pro). Also, many of them were impressed by the amount of energy that they felt after consuming it.
Users also admired the short amount of time that it takes to notice DMAA’s effects.
The major complaint that users had of DMAA was the presence of intense headaches after consuming the product for the first time. Also, some people suffered from headaches after they stopped taking DMAA.
Also, many people experienced nausea occasionally after consuming DMAA.