What Is Sassafras?
Most people know of the hallucinogenic club drug MDMA, which is also known as ecstasy or Molly. However, there is a similar version of hallucinogen – called sassafras, sass, Sally, or MDA – that, while less known, has been around longer.
Described as a sweet-smelling, milder, slower version of ecstasy, sassafras has become popular for use again because it is considered relatively gentle. However, a smooth high does not mean that a drug is any safer for the person who uses it.
This page will discuss the dangers of MDA use and how addiction treatment works.
What Is Sassafras?
The drug known as sassafras is essentially methylenedioxyamphetamine – or MDA, a stimulant and hallucinogenic substance that has been used to create what is described as a smooth or gentle high. The origin of this substance is sassafras oil, which can be extracted from the sassafras plant and contains the active ingredient safrole, which can be used to make either MDA or MDMA.
The US Department of Agriculture defines sassafras as a flowering tree native to the eastern US. Throughout the history of this continent, it was used by Native American tribes in the area for a variety of medicinal uses, such as a:
- Fever treatment
- Cough medicine
- Treatment for diarrhea and other digestive upset
The leaves, bark, and roots have also been used for flavoring foods, such as in gumbo filé, a powder made from the roots or leaves that is used in making gumbo. Up until 1960, it was also used to make a beverage similar to root beer; however, as explained by Drugs.com, use of the sassafras plant in food and beverages is now illegal in the US due to its carcinogenic effects. Nevertheless, people are known to use sassafras directly by making tea or using the ground root, leaves, or bark as a flavoring for food. In addition, components of the plant can be used to create powder or pills that can be applied in illicit, recreational drug use.
Is Sassafras Legal?
In the United States, MDA is considered a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it has no federally recognized medical purposes and is illegal to own, use, or distribute.
Safrole and Sassafras Oil
Sassafras oil is produced as a component of fragrances and even as a component of insecticides; however, the oil is also the part of the sassafras plant that contains its psychoactive substance, safrole, which can be extracted through distilling the oil. This, in turn, can be used in the illicit production of MDA or MDMA, as described by an article from Chemistry Today. Safrole can be extracted from other, similar types of trees, two of which are native to Cambodia.
Because of its use in creating MDMA, which is a Schedule I controlled substance in the US, there are strict restrictions on the use of the oil, as well as US Drug Enforcement Agency regulation of the substance.
Effects of Sassafras
MDA, like MDMA, affects the brain’s serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine systems, causing the brain to release these chemicals while at the same time decreasing the reuptake of these neurochemicals. The result of this action is to cause a euphoric, stimulating, and hallucinogenic response in the brain. To describe it differently, sassafras has both stimulant and hallucinogenic effects and increases feelings of pleasure and well-being that create the “high” experienced by those who use it.
As explained by the National Institute on Drug Abuse(NIDA), the serotonin system in the brain affects mood, sleep, and memory functions. The hallucinogenic properties of sassafras occur through these functions. In addition, by stimulating dopamine response, sassafras can create a sense of euphoria or extreme pleasure. Finally, norepinephrine stimulation makes a person feel energetic, powerful, and focused, creating a strong sense of confidence and motivation.
Additional short-term effects of sassafras include:
- Increased heart rate and respiration
- Sleep disruption
- Digestive issues
- Reduced appetite
- Loss of inhibition
Is Using Sassafras Dangerous?
Yes. As a result of the drug’s action in the brain, the individual who uses sassafras, particularly sassafras oil or safrole, may experience the following harmful health effects, according to WebMD:
- High blood pressure
- Hot flashes and sweating
- Vomiting and digestive discomfort
- Spontaneous abortion
- Liver damage
In addition, the National Institute on Drug Abuse demonstrates that the use of sassafras can result in the destruction of serotonin and dopamine receptors in the brain. This can result in a condition called anhedonia, where an individual loses the ability to feel pleasure. Even after stopping the use of sassafras, it can be difficult to return to normal neurotransmitter function because of this destruction of neurotransmitter binding sites; the NIDA article demonstrates that it can take up to a year to regain neurochemical function in these areas.
Sassafras Abuse Treatment
Through experienced addiction treatment professionals and programs, those who are struggling with substance use problems can get sober and build the skills to remain in recovery.
Evidence-based addiction treatment works through a combination of detox, behavioral therapies, psychoeducation, and peer support.
Many people need detox to get past the acute withdrawal phase of drug addiction; however, it’s through continued treatment that patients address the underlying factors that contribute to their addiction and repair broken thought and behavioral patterns, enabling them to maintain long-term recovery.
Stop Drug Addiction with Recovery First
Recovery First provides several types of addiction treatment that can help you or your loved one recover from drug or alcohol addiction, including:
The ideal form of treatment depends on your or your loved one’s unique situation and needs. Upon admission to Recovery First, patients are evaluated by a team of specialists who will outline an individualized path to recovery. As the patient’s needs change, the course of their treatment will evolve.