Thanks for your question and I'm glad my talk made you think - I couldn't ask for more! I've been asked many times by regular ecstasy users about the difference between these two substances as they are often offered MDA as an alternative to MDMA (the drug ecstasy users are after when they buy ecstasy). It needs to be said right at the start that the chances of the person selling the drug actually knowing what it really is are pretty slim. The only way you can really know what it is that you are buying or selling is if you made it yourself (and even then it could be difficult unless you're a pretty amazing chemist, and if you know people who are actually making drugs like ecstasy, I would suggest you're hanging out with a pretty dangerous crowd!) or if you had it tested by a laboratory (which you are unable to do in this country).
MDA has been around for as long as MDMA and is possibly one of the least understood drugs around - certainly there is a lot of mythology about what it is and its effects. It tends to appear on the scene in cycles, particularly when ecstasy quality starts to drop. Users start to complain that "the pills aren't working" and all of a sudden dealers will begin to offer an alternative - MDA. It usually comes in capsules or powder form to note a 'point of difference' from pills and became particularly popular in the mid 90s to overcome the perceived 'heavy' effect of the ecstasy taken at that time. At that time users believed that MDA gave you extra energy and kept you going no matter how the ecstasy affected you! So there have been times when it has been sold for its stimulant effects ...
At other times it is sold as a 'more lovey' drug, i.e., you'll get more of an ecstasy-type of effect, or as you suggest to "trip you out". So what is MDA and is it majorly different to MDMA?
What makes MDMA so attractive to some people is its effect on serotonin release causing its unique entactogenic effects (i.e., users wanting to touch, be close to and communicate with others). MDA has similar pharmacological effects and so users usually report similar experiences. There has been no research comparing the effects of these two drugs on humans, however the major differences reported anecdotally by users between the two substances are as follows:
MDA effects last for longer
MDA users report more stimulant and hallucinogenic effects
MDA has less entactogenic effects - the effect that ecstasy users are usually looking for
It is important to note that MDA has been linked to some deaths, usuallyfrom seizures, hyperthermia or heart problems, possibly due to the stimulant effect of the drug. These deaths are rare but they do happen.
This highlights one of the major problems with illicit drugs – street drugs can contain a variety of substances, some harmless and others lethal, you simply never know what you are buying! Certainly it is important to try to find out as much about the drug you think you are buying and planning to use - but you must always have at the back of your mind that there is no way you could ever actually know what it is that you are putting into your mouth or up your nose or whatever (and even if you did, there is no certainty that something couldn't go wrong!) ... with that in mind, be aware that as soon as it doesn't feel right, seek help immediately!