MDA vs MDMA: What’s the Difference?

woman's eye looking through wall- mda vs mdma

Medically Reviewed by: Eric Chaghouri

MDA and MDMA, recreational drugs commonly referred to by their street names such as Sally, Sass, Molly, or Ecstasy, can often blend into the background or become mistaken for one another. These psychoactive substances are both entactogens and psychedelics, significantly influencing serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine neurotransmitter levels in the brain.

Known formally as 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), and 3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), they can lead to a wide range of side effects and pose severe health risks if abused.

Comparing MDA and MDMA

While MDA (3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine) and MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) might share similarities in their names and chemical structures, it’s crucial to understand that they differ significantly in terms of their pharmacological effects and potential risks. These substances, popular in party scenes and often referred to by their street names—Sassafras or Sass (MDA) and Ecstasy or Molly (MDMA)—have distinctive profiles that set them apart.

The two substances often come in powder or pill form, their appearances giving little clue about their potential to dramatically alter the user’s psychological state. Additionally, these drugs are often adulterated with other substances, such as LSD or Ketamine, which can further exacerbate the risks associated with their use. The exact composition of these pills or powders can be a mystery to the user, adding another layer of danger to their use. When ingested, they can both induce feelings of euphoria and increased sociability, but they can also have a range of unpleasant and dangerous side effects.

Side Effects of MDA

MDA, also known as Sally, Sassafras, or Sass on the street, has a significant impact on the user’s brain, influencing various neurotransmitters and receptors, leading to a broad range of side effects. Like many drugs, the impact of MDA can differ between individuals due to variations in personal neurochemistry, metabolism, and the presence of other substances in the body.

Common side effects of MDA include:

  1. Nausea and vomiting: Users often report feelings of sickness and a weakened appetite after ingestion, which can impact overall health and nutrition.
  2. Decreased appetite: The drug can reduce feelings of hunger, leading to weight loss and associated health issues.
  3. Euphoria: A heightened sense of happiness and wellbeing is a key draw for many users.
  4. Profuse sweating: This is a sign that the body is responding to the drug and can sometimes lead to dehydration.
  5. Jaw clenching: This is often accompanied by teeth grinding, which can damage dental health.
  6. Increased energy: This can lead to overexertion, particularly if the user is dancing or physically active for extended periods.

The after-effects of MDA use can be substantial and often include a significant serotonin drop. This decrease can last for several days and frequently results in a depressive state. Long-term side effects of MDA use can be even more severe and include erectile dysfunction, anxiety, muscle tension, memory loss, headaches, and depression. Among its distinctions, MDA is generally considered more hallucinogenic than MDMA, often providing a longer and more intense high, which has led to its popularity in certain circles.

MDMA’s Side Effects (Ecstasy/Molly)

MDMA, otherwise known as Ecstasy or Molly, also profoundly interacts with the brain, creating a unique blend of physical and emotional effects. It is considered less hallucinogenic than MDA, and its effects tend to be less severe. That being said, it’s still a potent substance that should not be taken lightly.

Some of the common effects of MDMA include:

  1. Euphoria: MDMA can produce strong feelings of happiness, which can be incredibly intense.
  2. Heightened senses: This can alter perception, making lights seem brighter, sounds more acute, and touch more sensitive.
  3. Sense of calm and relaxation: Some users report feeling at peace or in a state of tranquility.
  4. Empathy toward others: It can create a heightened sense of emotional connection, which might lead to behavior one may not typically engage in.
  5. Lowered inhibitions: This could potentially result in risk-taking behavior.
  6. Increased extroversion: The drug often makes users more outgoing and communicative.

The Risks Associated with MDA and MDMA

Both MDA and MDMA have significant impacts on the brain’s serotonin levels, which can result in a host of adverse effects. Persistent MDMA use, in particular, has been linked to sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, concentration difficulties, depression, heart disease, and impulsivity. Further, a study indicated that heavy MDMA use over a 2-year period could lead to diminished cognitive function. These risks are often heightened when these substances are combined with other drugs, such as during social events like raves. This “cocktail” of substances can complicate the picture, making the identification of a single substance addiction difficult.

Substance Abuse and Addiction

Research has highlighted the fact that regular use of MDMA and MDA can significantly alter the serotonin and dopamine systems in the brain, both of which play pivotal roles in substance use disorders and related behaviors. Symptoms of addiction to MDMA and MDA include continued use despite adverse side effects, tolerance (where larger doses are needed to achieve the same effect), withdrawal symptoms, and cravings.

Even though withdrawal symptoms from Ecstasy and Molly are not always readily apparent, they can manifest subtly through psychological symptoms. These may include depression, anxiety, and a reduced ability to experience pleasure. Over time, the brain comes to rely on the drug to stimulate feelings of happiness and pleasure, resulting in physical dependence. This is a clear sign of addiction and should be addressed promptly and professionally.

No Matter What Recovery Can Help

Although the short-term euphoric effects of MDMA and MDA may seem appealing, the long-term consequences can be harmful, leading to high blood pressure, hyperthermia, and various mental health issues. If you or a loved one is battling MDMA or MDA abuse, don’t hesitate to contact us at No Matter What Recovery. We tailor each treatment program and rehab to your unique needs. Our addiction treatment center is ready to assist you in overcoming challenges associated with opioids, alcohol, and more, and setting you up for success on your road to recovery.

This page has been medically reviewed by:
Eric Chaghouri, M.D.
Eric Chaghouri, M.D.

Dr. Eric Chaghouri is our Medical Director at No Matter What Recovery. Since completing his forensic psychiatry fellowship, he has established a successful and thriving practice in Southern California, focusing on treatment of co-occurring psychiatric and addictive disorders.

Eric Chaghouri, M.D.
Eric Chaghouri, M.D.

Dr. Eric Chaghouri is our Medical Director at No Matter What Recovery. Since completing his forensic psychiatry fellowship, he has established a successful and thriving practice in Southern California, focusing on treatment of co-occurring psychiatric and addictive disorders.