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MDA vs MDMA: Unraveling the Complexities of Molly and Sally

In the intricate tapestry of psychoactive substances, two threads that have increasingly captured public attention are MDA (commonly known as Sally) and MDMA (often referred to as Molly). These substances have not only been a part of the recreational drug scene but have also sparked curiosity due to high-profile incidents like the tragic accidental overdose of Scott Weiland, former lead singer of The Stone Temple Pilots, which involved MDA.

This article aims to demystify these two closely related drugs, comparing their effects, risks, and key differences to provide a comprehensive understanding of both substances.

Understanding MDA and MDMA

MDA and MDMA are more than just street names; they belong to the broader class of drugs known as amphetamines, which are known for their stimulant and psychoactive effects. The history of these substances is as intriguing as their effects. MDA was first synthesized in the 1910s for medical use, while MDMA emerged in the 1960s with the initial interest in its potential as an appetite suppressant. Despite their medical origins, both drugs have predominantly found their place in recreational use due to their potent effects on mood and perception.

Chemical Composition and Synthesis

At their core, MDA and MDMA are similar in structure, yet distinct in their chemical composition. MDA stands for Methylenedioxyamphetamine, and MDMA for Methylenedioxymethamphetamine. MDA’s synthesis is notably linked to safrole oil, derived from the sassafras plant, which has contributed to its street name, “sass” or “Sally.” The synthesis process of these drugs is complex, and while they are structurally similar, the slight chemical differences lead to notably different effects on their users.

Effects on the Brain and Body

Both MDA and MDMA act upon the brain by triggering the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. These chemicals are responsible for the regulation of mood, empathy, and affection, which is why users often experience a heightened sense of wellbeing and emotional closeness with others. However, the aftermath of using these drugs can lead to a depletion of serotonin, which can result in feelings of depression and a sense of emotional hollowness.

Short-term and Long-term Side Effects

The short-term side effects of MDA and MDMA can be both pleasurable and distressing. Users often report feelings of euphoria, a strong sense of wellbeing, and an extreme energy boost. However, these can be accompanied by less desirable effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and profuse sweating. The jaw clenching and decrease in appetite are also common experiences shared by users of both substances.

In the long-term, the side effects become more concerning. MDA has been linked to issues such as erectile dysfunction, muscle tension, memory loss, and headaches, in addition to anxiety and depression. MDMA, while similar, has been associated with a slightly different profile of long-term effects, including insomnia, decreased appetite, and feelings of irritability, along with anxiety and depression.

Potency, Duration, and Neurotoxicity

When comparing the potency and duration of effects between MDA and MDMA, MDA is often considered to be more potent by weight and has a longer-lasting impact. The peak effects of MDA can last from 6 to 8 hours, with the overall experience potentially lasting up to 12 hours. On the other hand, MDMA’s effects tend to peak for about 1.5 hours, with the total duration ranging from 4 to 6 hours.

A critical concern with the use of both MDA and MDMA is their potential for neurotoxicity. MDA is particularly notorious for being more neurotoxic, posing a risk of damaging serotonin neurons, which can lead to long-term serotonin depletion. While MDMA is considered to be less directly neurotoxic than MDA, it still carries significant neurotoxic risks, especially at high doses or with frequent use.

Differences in Classification

Despite their similarities, MDA and MDMA are classified slightly differently due to their distinct effects. MDA is considered more of a psychedelic or hallucinogen than a stimulant, although it exhibits qualities of both. This classification stems from its pronounced psychedelic properties, such as causing hallucinations and altered perception. MDMA, while also having psychedelic qualities, is typically associated with a “loving” high and is thus considered more of a psychedelic than a stimulant.

MDMA Variants: Ecstasy and Molly

The terms Ecstasy and Molly are often used interchangeably with MDMA, but there are differences worth noting. Ecstasy is the street name for MDMA when it comes in tablet form, which often contains additional substances. Molly is marketed as a purer form of MDMA, typically found as a crystalline or powdered substance. However, the assumption that Molly is always pure is a misconception, as it can also be laced with other substances.

Overdose Symptoms and Risks

The risk of overdose is a grim reality with the use of psychoactive substances like MDMA. Overdose symptoms can be severe and life-threatening, including elevated body temperature, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, seizures, loss of consciousness, and hallucinations. Users may also experience panic attacks, profuse sweating, nausea, and vomiting. Recognizing these signs is crucial, as immediate medical attention can be the difference between life and death.

Detection in the Body

For those concerned with the detectability of MDMA in the system, it’s important to understand the drug’s lifespan in various biological matrices. MDMA can be detected in urine for 1-3 days, in blood for 1-2 days, in hair for up to 90 days, and in saliva for 24-48 hours. These time frames can vary based on several factors, including the user’s metabolism, the purity of the substance, and the frequency of use.

MDMA and MDA in Medical Settings

While both MDMA and MDA are not FDA-approved for any medical condition, there has been a growing interest in the therapeutic potential of MDMA. In December 2019, the FDA agreed to a MAPS application for an expanded access program to study MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD. This research represents a significant step towards understanding and potentially legitimizing the medical benefits of MDMA under controlled conditions.


MDA and MDMA are complex substances with a range of effects, risks, and potential uses. MDA, with its more pronounced psychedelic properties, longer-lasting effects, and greater neurotoxicity, offers a different experience compared to MDMA, which is less potent and has a shorter duration of effects but still carries significant risks. Understanding these key differences is essential for anyone considering the use of these substances, whether for recreational or therapeutic purposes.

The use of MDA and MDMA is not without consequences, and it is vital to approach these drugs with caution and awareness. The allure of their euphoric and empathogenic effects can be overshadowed by the potential for addiction, neurotoxicity, and the unknown dangers of laced substances. As research continues, particularly into the therapeutic uses of MDMA, it is crucial to stay informed and prioritize safety above all else.

In conclusion, MDA and MDMA are more than just party drugs; they are substances with a rich history, complex pharmacology, and a potential future in medicine. As we navigate the evolving landscape of psychoactive substances, let us do so with knowledge, respect for the science, and a commitment to harm reduction.

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