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What was in MDA, the hot drug of the 1970s?

Dear Cecil:

Remember MDA, the miracle drug of the early 70s? Well, I do. It used to turn me into blissed-out motormouth, and I can remember more than once strolling along the beach watching the sun come up after an all-night gabfest. My question is, what was in that stuff, anyway? I remember being told it was a combination of speed and acid, but this now strikes me as chemically improbable. It also occurs to me, now that my Puritan impulses have reasserted themselves with age, that something that felt that good had to be bad for you. Was it? In terms of value for the money, I always thought MDA beat the hell out of Yuppie drugs like cocaine.

Former flower-child, Los Angeles

Cecil replies:

Dear Flower:

Waxing nostalgic about the great chemicals of old strikes me as a bit weird, but I guess we have to expect this from Age of Aquarius alumni. MDA was chemical shorthand for 3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine–maybe now you know why they told you it stood for Miracle Drops of Acid instead. The stuff was in fact chemically related to both speed (amphetamines) and hallucinogens like LSD.

Dope lore had it that MDA induced a sense of confidence and a feeling of warmth and empathy toward other people (hence the appellation “the love drug”). In small doses, say about 60 mg (the average street dose was 120 mg), it acted mostly as a stimulant and could also cause some visual distortions. In larger doses, its hallucinogenic properties started to take effect, and combined with the stimulant effects–heavy breathing, rapid heartbeat, etc.– things could get pretty unpleasant for the user. But maybe you’ve forgotten that part. The drug produced a tolerance in the body with use, so that it took progressively larger doses to produce the desired effect each time.

MDA was relatively safe as drugs go, which of course isn’t saying much. It’s difficult to OD on stimulants, and MDA wouldn’t kill you except in massive doses. It may interest you to know, however, that a rather simple mistake in the MDA drug synthesizing process could produce a toxic drug called PMA, which made deadly poisoning a serious possibility. As far as long-term effects go, I haven’t come across anything particularly horrifying, but you can be assured all that speeding didn’t do your ticker any good. Cecil has never been one to get sentimental about his youthful vices.

Cecil Adams

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