What Is MDA? Everything To Know About The ‘Love Drug’
MDA (also known as Sally, Sass, and Sassafras) is a psychoactive drug belonging to the amphetamine family. The names Sass and Sassafras refer to the fact that MDA, like MDMA, comes from the oil of the sassafras plant in the illicit manufacturing of the drug.
MDA is similar to MDMA but different in some important ways. It is certainly not as popular as MDMA, one of the most commonly used psychoactive drugs, yet many users appreciate what the MDA experience can offer.
In this article, we will delve into the history of MDA, what kind of drug MDA is, its effects, how it differs from MDMA, the research on the substance, and some harm reduction tips you should keep in mind.
Contents of this article
What Is MDA? A Brief History
The German chemists C. Mannich and W. Jacobsohn first synthesized MDA (chemical name: 3,4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine) in 1910. This means the drug is actually older than the more well-known and popular drug MDMA, which was first synthesized by the German chemist Anton Köllisch in 1912.
However, the psychoactive effects of MDA did not arrive until July 16, 1930. This is when American chemist and pharmacologist, Gordon Alles, conducted a self-experiment and ingested the drug. After this, Alles licensed the drug to Smith, Kline & French. Researchers first used MDA in animal tests in 1939 and then in human trials in 1941, exploring the potential to use the drug in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
Between 1949 and 1957, Smith, Kline & French researchers gave MDA to over 500 human participants, trying to see if the compound could act as an effective antidepressant and anorectic (a drug that reduces appetite). The United States Army also experimented with the drug (which they called EA-1298) while developing potential truth drugs or incapacitating agents.
MDA was also part of Project MKUltra, an illegal and top-secret human experimentation program carried out by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This program famously involved administering LSD to subjects (both wittingly and unwittingly).
The CIA wanted to see if psychoactive drugs like LSD could be used in interrogations to weaken individuals and force confessions through brainwashing and psychological torture. It was not just drugs that the CIA wanted to manipulate people’s minds with but also electroshock, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, and isolation.
A Controversial Past
The American tennis player Harold Blauer died in January 1953 after MKUltra experimenters injected him with 450 mg of MDA, without his knowledge or consent. In 1960, Smith, Kline & French patented MDA as an ataractic (a tranquilizer designed to treat anxiety, tension, and agitation). In 1961, the company patented the drug as an anorectic under the trade name Amphedoxamine.
Between 1963 and 1964, the drug appeared on the recreational drug scene. By that time, MDA was inexpensive and readily available as a research chemical for anyone to buy.
Several researchers — including Claudio Naranjo, Richard Yensen, and Alexander Shulgin — explored MDA in the field of psychotherapy. It was believed that the effects of MDA could enhance the psychotherapeutic process.
What Kind Of Drug Is MDA?
As already mentioned, MDA belongs to the amphetamine family of drugs, which also includes MDMA, amphetamine, methamphetamine, and dextroamphetamine (used in the treatment of ADHD). Due to being an amphetamine, MDA has stimulating effects, both physical and psychological in nature.
Like MDMA, MDA is an empathogen (or entactogen). This means it increases feelings like empathy and emotional openness. This compound is also a psychedelic, meaning it can result in alterations to perceptions and thoughts.
The Effects Of MDA
As an empathogen, MDA can promote feelings of the following.
- Emotional openness and communion
- Connection to others
It is due to these empathogenic effects that, much like MDMA, some researchers believe MDA can be used to increase the effectiveness of psychotherapy.
The emotional effects of the drug include the below.
- Extreme pleasure
In his account of his MDA self-experiment, Alles states, “While sitting relaxed there was a generalized feeling of well-being.”
As a psychedelic, MDA has the potential to change your perceptual experiences. Alles described some visual effects.
“Forty-five minutes after the second dosage, an abundance of curling gray smoke rings was readily observed in the environment whenever a relaxed approach to subjective observation was used. Perceptually, these had complete reality. It seemed quite unnecessary to test their properties because it was at the same time surely known and fully appreciated that the source of the visual phenomena could not be external to the body. Concentration of attention on the details of the gray curling forms, by trying to note how they would be affected by passing a finger through their apparent field, caused them to melt away with the fixing of attention.”
He found that the drug increased visual acuity as well; he observed that “the clearness and excellence of observation of detail of things in view at a distance was noteworthy.”
In terms of auditory effects, Alles writes the following.
“Sound perceptions were most remarkably apparent and different simultaneous sounds were each clearly distinguished. Minor sounds, such as the scuffing of shoes from the walking of persons, even at great distances and in the presence of louder background sounds such as those of streetcars, were easily distinguishable. The distance at which a watch could be heard ticking was however only slightly further than the normal, observable on other days.”
Alles found that MDA affected his thoughts in some ways: “With regard to thinking it became apparent that long chains of thought were not persisted in. During well relaxed times the thinking became introspectively speculative.”
As an amphetamine, MDA can have quite stimulating effects. Alles noticed physical effects, too, the kind often experienced when taking MDMA.
“Muscle of the neck became markedly tensed periodically, with a tendency to close the jaws tightly and grind the rear teeth.” Grinding the teeth or clenching the jaw is known as bruxism.
Other physical effects of MDA include the following.
- Pupil dilation
- Increased heart rate
- Reduced appetite
How MDA Differs From MDMA
While the effects of each drug can be similar, due to their chemical similarity and both being empathogens, there are differences between MDA and MDMA. This is because the compounds are different in their chemical structure, causing contrasting effects.
Many people find that the MDA experience is less empathic and “loved up” than the MDMA experience, as well as more psychedelic. This means that when you take the drug, it is more likely that you will experience visual effects. These may include the following.
- Visual acuity enhancement
- Color enhancement
- After images
- Seeing geometric patterns
- Visual hallucinations (in high to heavy doses)
MDA is also more stimulating than MDMA and the experience lasts longer.
What Form Does MDA Come In?
MDA, like MDMA, usually comes in either pill form or as a powder. If purchasing MDA from a street dealer, however, there is the risk that the pills or powder will be impure and cut with other (potentially toxic) chemicals.
How Long Does MDA Take To Kick In?
The time it takes for MDA is about the same as MDMA: 20 to 90 minutes. How long it takes until you experience the first effects can vary according to various factors, such as when you last ate. Taking the drug on an empty stomach will cause the effects to kick in faster.
How Long Does The MDA Experience Last?
The MDA experience lasts 5-8 hours, although there may be some after effects such as fatigue. Here are the different stages of the MDA experience, and how long they last.
- Onset: 20-90 minutes
- Come Up: 15-45 minutes
- Peak: 2.5-4 hours
- Offset: 2-3 hours
- After Effects: 4-48 hours
The Legal Status Of MDA
MDA is a Schedule I drug in the U.S. This means it is considered to have no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs carry the highest legal penalties if authorities catch a person buying, possessing, manufacturing, or distributing them. MDA is a controlled substance in most other countries as well.
Research On MDA
Scientific studies on MDA are limited, especially when compared to the related compound MDMA. In 2010, a double-blind placebo-controlled study found that the drug may lead to mystical-type experiences, as well as changes to visual perception.
For example, the researchers discovered that MDA produced a significant increase in closed-eye visions (CEVs), with considerable individual variation.
Harm Reduction Tips
In order to use MDA safely, there are some crucial tips you should keep in mind.
- Stay Hydrated. MDA can raise body temperature and lead to overheating and dehydration if you’re not careful. Make sure you drink plenty of water before, during, and after the experience. But don’t overhydrate, as this carries its own dangers.
- Don’t Take Too Much. The drug can be toxic at very high doses. It’s always best to start with a lower dose at first.
- Test Your Batch. Since drugs can be missold or adulterated with other substances, we recommend you test every batch of MDA you have. DanceSafe provides a guide (as well as testing kits) that will help you identify whether your batch contains MDA, as well as other potentially harmful substances.
With the above information in mind, you should be in a good position to know what to expect from the MDA experience, as well as how to use the compound as safely as possible.