There are many different mind-altering substances to which a person could become addicted. The ones that often most readily come to mind are ones like alcohol, marijuana, heroin, and cocaine. Of course, each of these substances has, at times, been a menace to society on a large scale, but they’re far from the only substances that continue to pose a problem today. In fact, hallucinogens — while not as widely used as heroin or alcohol — continue to have a following among recreational drug users today. However, hallucinogens different from the other more common classes of drugs in a number of important ways. In some ways, a person might even consider hallucinogens to be the most dangerous drugs of all. For this reason, it’s extremely important to have a basic knowledge of hallucinogens in general. But in particular, a drug known as MDA is one with which we should all be familiar. What is MDA, exactly? What are its effects and is it addictive like other types of drugs?
When it comes to hallucinogens, people tend to be most familiar with LSD, peyote, and psilocybin mushrooms, but there are far more hallucinogenic substances that many would expect. As well, it’s quite common for people to mistake MDA or MDMA, which, believe it or not, is a related substance; however, MDMA is not considered a hallucinogen while MDA is. To learn more about MDA, we’ll have to take a look back on the circumstances that led to its initial development.
MDA actually stands for 3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine. It’s also been known as tenamfetamine, or INN for short. Whichever you prefer to call it, the substance was first created in 1910 by German chemists Carl Mannich and his associate W. Jacobsohn. But the substance wasn’t actually paid much mind until a number of years later when it was ingested by Gordon Alles in 1930, but even then it wasn’t fully tested. In 1939, animal trials using MDA began, followed by human trials in 1941 in the hope that the disease could be used a treatment for Parkinson’s disease. Between 1949 and 1957, more than 500 human subjects were given MDA as part of an investigation as to whether the drug could potentially be used as an antidepressant or even as an appetite suppressant for use in dieting.
Meanwhile, the United States was also experimenting with MDA (in addition to a number of drugs) in the hope of finding substances that could be used as “truth serums” during and just after World War II. In 1953, Harold Blauer died after having 450mg of the drug unknowingly injected straight into his bloodstream as part of Project MKUltra, which was the secretive C.I.A. experimental program in which they had been testing a number of drugs — including LSD — as part of their research into mind-control. Even so, MDA was patented as a cough suppressant just five years after Blauer’s death; later, it was patented as a tranquilizer (1960) and as an appetite suppressant in 1961. Clearly, the drug’s actual uses and effects couldn’t be decisively pinned down.
Between 1963 and 1964, MDA began to be used as a recreational drug among substance abusers. At the time, the drug was extremely inexpensive and could be readily purchased by one of any number of scientific supply houses. Meanwhile, a number of researchers experimented with the substance as an aid in psychotherapy, but the drug was eventually classified as a Schedule I substance by the Food and Drug Administration, indicating that MDA has very high abuse and/or addictive potential and little to no therapeutic uses.
As psychedelic drugs became all the rage in the 1960s, use of MDA spread as the substance became known as the “hug drug” while its users jokingly insisted that ‘MDA’ stood for ‘Mellow Drug of America’. However, MDA would come to be known as the precursor to MDMA, which is the active ingredient in ecstasy and is a version of the drug with much milder dissociative effects while maintaining many of the physical sensations that MDA evokes.
Again, MDA often evokes either comparisons or confusion with the MDMA, but despite being quite similar on a molecular level and having some degree of overlap in their effects, it’s important to remember that these are two distinct drugs. The chief differences between the two is that, while MDMA has stimulant properties, MDA’s stimulant properties are stronger; however, MDA also has more hallucinogenic properties while MDMA has little to no hallucinogenic properties, which is why MDMA is typically categorized as a stimulant while MDA is a hallucinogen (although the latter could certainly be put into both categories). In short, MDMA is more ‘mellow’ and less hallucinogenic than MDA.
As you might expect of a stimulant drug with hallucinogenic properties, MDA triggers an increase in energy via an increased heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. Moreover, there’s something of a sense of euphoria that accompanies the drug’s use. Expectedly, there are hallucinations that accompany the use of MDA; typically, these are visual hallucinations although auditory hallucinations are possible. Due to MDA’s greater strength and intensity, the drug is more likely to induce side effects like vertigo, dizziness nausea, and a number of other such effects.
While most hallucinogenic substances aren’t addictive in a conventional sense, the stimulant properties of MDA make addiction a possibility. However, it’s the hallucinogenic properties of MDA that will likely keep users from using it with enough frequency to actually become physiologically dependent on the drug. Instead, the most likely scenario would be for an individual to develop an MDA habit wherein he or she feels the need to use MDA frequently simply because he or she has gotten used to the frequent used of the drug rather than because he or she will experience withdrawals without it.
Many of the risks associated with MDA use pertain to self-injury. Since it’s a hallucinogenic substance, MDA could provoke behaviors that cause individuals harm to themselves or to others. However, there’s also risk of overdose; as with virtually any drug with stimulant properties, a person who takes too much MDA could go into cardiac arrest after taking a large amount of the drug.
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