This supplement has been subject to a lot of controversy in recent years, but what is DMAA?
While many athletes claim that this is a safe and effective pre-workout supplement, it has been linked to adverse reactions and even deaths.
This under-researched stimulant has often been marketed as a natural product, but even this claim has been challenged.
DMAA has now been withdrawn from sale in many countries, including the UK and the USA, and is prohibited by many sporting organisations.
What Is DMAA?
First of all, DMAA is known by many different names:
You may see it referred to as 1,3-dimethylamylamine, methylhexanamine, geranium extract, or the trade names Forthane and Geranamine.
It has been sold since 2006 as a stimulant or energy-boosting dietary supplement, often found in gym preworkouts, but has been the subject of controversy.
DMAA was invented by Eli Lilly, and marketed as a nasal decongestant by the same company under the name ‘Forthane’ from 1944.
In 1983, Eli Lilly voluntarily withdrew their product because of reports of significant side effects, including: tremors, raised blood pressure, and headaches.
In recent years there have been reports linking DMAA to a number of adverse reactions and at least five deaths.
It has subsequently been banned by a number of sports authorities and government agencies around the world.
In competition drug tests, DMAA will give a false positive result, as it is structurally similar to amphetamines.
DMAA is what is known as an indirect sympathomimetic drug, these drugs mimic the effects of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
Cocaine is a well-known example of a sympathomimetic drug.
When taken, DMAA constricts blood vessels and causes opening of the airways.
It also affects the heart and reproductive organs and inhibits the muscular contractions which move food through the intestines.
DMAA has been marketed as a safe ‘natural’ product. While the chemical can be extracted from geranium it is only present in very low concentrations (less than 0.7%).
Most dietary supplements are made with chemically synthesised versions of the drug and are pure and much more concentrated.
Many government agencies around the world, including the UK, EU, and US, as well as organisations (such as the World Anti-Doping Agency), have banned products containing DMAA.
What Does DMAA Do?
There are many anecdotes claiming that DMAA is highly effective as a pre-workout product.
However, much of the scientific material on this drug has been put together from studying other drugs that are structured in a similar way.
Any scientific research that did look at DMAA studied the nasally administered form of the drug.
There is very little evidence from research on DMAA itself taken orally or intravenously.
The scientific material that describes what might happen when DMAA is taken orally should be fairly accurate, but without direct research, there can’t be any certainty, so caution is necessary.
DMAA as a dietary supplement stimulates central nervous system receptors.
It prompts the body to release more adrenaline and norepinephrine.
These substances give stimulatory effects including feelings of increased energy, well-being, and a sense of focus.
Of interest to bodybuilders or weightlifters are the possible increases in strength and endurance, these may allow more intense effort during workouts.
The fact that DMAA works as a vasoconstrictor can also benefit athletes.
By restricting blood flow to muscles, you can actually promote muscle growth using lower intensity exercise than usually needed.
DMAA also has a reputation as a fat burner, especially when combined with caffeine.
Metabolism is raised due to stimulatory effects, and so more fat will be burned compared to the body’s normal state.
Stimulant effects also make it more likely that users will be more active in general, increasing the likelihood of fat burning.
Structurally, DMAA and, the well-known fat-burner and stimulant, propylhexedrine are very similar, this lends credibility to the anecdotal evidence that DMAA works this way.
DMAA is also famous as a party drug. Its use in this way has been linked to a case of brain haemorrhage (see: side effects).
Casual users report feelings of positivity and well-being, which could be due to a release of neurotransmitters, like dopamine and adrenaline.
How Much DMAA Should You Consume?
Because there is no scientific research into DMAA, any dosage instructions given on supplements cannot be based on scientific evidence.
At best, they will be based on estimates arrived at by looking at similar substances. At worst, they will be based on anecdotal evidence.
Most oral DMAA dietary supplements advise a dosage of 10-20 mg, building to 40-60 mg per day.
From looking at similarly structured drugs it is thought that a dose of 4-15 mg is enough to affect the lungs.
One dose of 50-75mg is likely to be enough to affect blood pressure.
And, one 100mg dose is likely to affect the heart.
If taken with another stimulant, such as caffeine, the effects will probably be very pronounced, or even dangerous.
Additionally, DMAA has a long half-life. Half-life is the amount of time it takes for the amount of a chemical in your bloodstream to decrease by half.
At least half the original quantity of DMAA will still be present in the body 24-36 hours after ingestion.
This means that repeat doses within this time could build up, causing stronger effects.
In the UK, DMAA is classed as an unlicensed medical product and all products containing it were withdrawn from sale in 2012.
The World Anti-Doping Agency included DMAA on it’s 2010 list of prohibited substances, so competing athletes should steer clear of it.
What Foods Contain DMAA?
DMAA has been marketed as a natural supplement, but it can’t be obtained from a food source.
The natural version of this chemical is reportedly found in geranium oil extract, but in very low quantities.
It has been said that in order to get just one dose from natural sources, companies would need to process around 50,000kg of geraniums.
When to Take DMAA
Because of its stimulant effects, athletes using it pre-ban were advised not to take DMAA in the afternoon because it would interfere with sleep.
As a pre-workout energy booster, the best time to take DMAA would be about 10-15 minutes before the workout.
Do You Need to Cycle DMAA?
It is generally agreed that all stimulants should be cycled to prevent the build-up of a tolerance.
As previously mentioned, DMAA can still be present in the body after 24-36 hours of ingestion.
Meaning, if you were to take it regularly you would be at risk of creating a build-up of DMAA.
Leaving you prone to serious medical conditions and problems.
DMAA Side Effects
There are no scientific studies of oral DMAA on its own.
This makes it difficult to accurately report on the side effects.
As we mentioned earlier, a lot of the information available about the effects of DMAA are estimates based on studies of similar chemicals.
Other information is based on anecdotal evidence.
The US Food and Drug Administration asked for all products containing DMAA to be removed from sale in the US in 2013.
After reports of adverse reactions and deaths, they decided that the risks of high blood pressure, rapid heart rate and possible stroke and heart attack where too high to allow continued sale of the product.
DMAA use has been linked to a number of deaths.
It cannot be said whether the users who subsequently died had taken any other supplements or drugs.
They may have taken too much of the product, or they could have been unwell.
Because of this, there are many people who feel that the ban on DMAA is harsh.
One of the more well-known deaths that has been linked to DMAA is that of US Private Michael Sparling.
Sparling was 22 years old and reported to be in good health by his family.
He had recently completed his military basic training, but was worried that he was not as bulky as some of his colleagues.
He began to take DMAA in an effort to bulk up.
Shortly after he began training with his new unit for the first time in July 2011, he collapsed and suffered a cardiac arrest.
His family blame DMAA for his death.
Two other US soldiers collapsed and died after taking the same drug.
A US military report said that although it was likely that DMAA contributed to the deaths, it could not be isolated from other factors.
They later banned the sale of DMAA from on-base stores.
A UK marathon runner, Claire Squires, 30, also collapsed and died after taking DMAA in April 2012.
The coroner later said that her death, from extreme exertion while running the London Marathon, was complicated by DMAA toxicity.
While there are no studies of oral DMAA use in humans, an ‘LD50’ has been established by scientists.
What is an LD50?
The LD50 is the amount of a substance needed to kill 50% of a population of animals within a certain time.
The LD50 of DMAA has been set at 39mg/kg bodyweight administered via intravenous injection.
It is believed that a lethal oral dose would be much lower, and could easily be ingested.
Although anecdotally evidence says that DMAA in oral form is well tolerated, it has also been linked to brain haemorrhage.
A 21 year old male in New Zealand suffered a brain haemorrhage after taking two ‘party pills’ later confirmed as containing 278mg of pure DMAA, along with a capsule containing 150mg of caffeine.
Clearly, this dose is much higher than the dose recommended for use as a pre-workout supplement.
Additionally, taking caffeine alongside DMAA is not recommended.
Many advocates for this supplement believe that problems result from people abusing it – either taking too much, too often, with other substances or when they have health problems.
These people argue that banning the drug from use is unfair for responsible consumers, and point out that many drugs (like aspirin) accepted as ‘safe’ can be dangerous if abused.
In August 2012, the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency categorised DMAA as an unlicensed medicinal product and ordered all products containing it to be withdrawn from sale because of potential risks to public safety.
Caution should be used when taking any supplement, but perhaps in the case of DMAA, there is extra cause for concern.