Have you met Molly? You may have seen her hanging around your favorite club, bar, or house party. But be careful – she can be worse for you than that game-playing frat boy you keep telling yourself to stay away from.
If you haven’t been formally introduced, Molly is the name commonly used to refer to the crystalline or power form of MDMA, or 3, 4 Methylenedioxy-methamphetamine. Thanks to its euphoric effects, Molly is becoming popular among thrill-seeking college students.
What is Molly?
Rachel*, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, encountered Molly at the annual Ultra Music Festival in Miami, Florida last year. While she did not use the substance herself, she saw plenty evidence of it.
“It was everywhere,” she says. “The people who were on it looked like they had no idea what they were doing – kind of like drones.”
Molly is typically considered “pure” MDMA because its powder form makes it less likely to be laced with other substances, but this same drug can come in many forms.
In its pill form, MDMA is most often known as Ecstasy, a drug typically associated with nightclubs and concerts. Unlike Molly, Ecstasy is commonly laced with other substances, sometimes without the knowledge of the user.
Because it comes in a powder form, Molly can be snorted, dissolved in water, or swallowed. Regardless of the manner in which it is taken, MDMA produces energizing and euphoric effects that turn users into these walking “drones.”
“MDMA is a psycho-stimulant,” says Natalie Rich, the alcohol and drug intervention specialist at UNC-Chapel Hill. “In the short-term, it produces many of the same physical effects as other stimulants, such as amphetamine, including increased heart rate, body temperature, and overall increased energy.”
MDMA also causes psychedelic effects, like those produced by LSD, “shrooms”, and marijuana, according to Rich. These effects include euphoria, heightened empathy and connection with others, and altered sensory perceptions.
The combination of these psychedelic and stimulating effects make Molly a popular drug of choice for raging partiers or concertgoers because it reduces inhibitions and distorts perception, producing feelings of closeness with other partiers, including complete strangers… and inanimate objects.
“[People on Molly] did what their first impulse was to do, which at music festivals is usually to dance… or to make out with strangers,” says Rachel. “One guy couldn’t walk in a straight line and started talking to a pole.”
These effects are produced by Molly’s interaction with the brain. “MDMA causes the brain to rapidly release large amounts of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with many of the psychological effects like feelings of happiness and closeness to others,” Rich says.
The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies MDMA as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and it is considered unsafe – but that doesn’t seem to be stopping college students.
Where is Molly?
MDMA, especially in its pill form, is not new by any means, but its use among college students appears to be increasing.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the annual use of MDMA by college students peaked in the early 2000s, but is back on the rise again. The percentage of college students who reported using MDMA almost doubled from 2.2 percent in 2004 to 4.3 percent in 2010. The NIDA also reports that MDMA use had a higher percent increase from 2009 to 2010 than almost any other illicit drug among college students.
Because of its ability to reduce inhibitions, increase energy, and distort perception, Molly is most commonly associated with the rave and electronic dance music scene.
At last year’s Ultra Music Festival, for example, Madonna made headlines when she asked the audience, “How many people in the crowd have seen Molly?” Although she denies that her remarks were a drug reference, many people quickly assumed that meaning, which just goes to show the popularity of MDMA at such events.
Rachel says she has also seen the substance at parties on UNC’s campus, especially raves.
Molly also seems to be making a name for itself in more mainstream pop culture, aside from the rave scene.
References to MDMA are casually made in many popular songs, including Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind (feat. Alicia Keys)” and Kanye West’s “Mercy”. Now you want to go listen to those songs again, don’t you?
MDMA references are also made in popular movies, including Black Swan (2010), Horrible Bosses (2011), and Project X (2012).
Why is it a bad idea?
While the short-term effects of MDMA can make it appealing to partiers and concertgoers, there are a significant amount of risks that outweigh the perceived rewards.
The euphoric, energizing effects of Molly generally start within 30 to 45 minutes of consumption and last about three to six hours – which is plenty of time for your impulsive, carefree behavior to get you into trouble. In fact, NIDA asserts that the “closeness-promoting” effects of MDMA may lead to unsafe sex.
The exact effects of Molly vary from person to person, especially among first-time users, but they generally create a risky combination of cognitive unawareness and impulsive behavior.
“A single high does of MDMA can also result in high blood pressure, seizures, dehydration, stroke and even death,” Rich says. MDMA can also cause a dangerous spike in body temperature, a condition called hyperthermia.
Another risk is the trade of Molly itself.
“It’s actually kind of scary how people get it,” says Rachel, describing what she saw at Ultra. “Some people know dealers, but some people just go around and ask for it.”
In a crowd full of strangers, that can be a dangerous question. Even though Molly is less likely to be laced with other substances than its tablet counterpart, Ecstasy, you still can’t know for sure what a stranger will give you. After all, didn’t your mom ever tell you not to trust strangers?
“It’s total trust in someone you don’t know, and that person is super sketchy,” Rachel says.
Mixing MDMA with alcohol or other drugs can cause an even more dangerous and unpredictable reaction. For example, Rachel says she saw a girl pass out after mixing Molly with other substances.
We should all know by now that mixing alcohol and drugs is a bad idea, but the danger with Molly is that you never know what could be in that mixture of drugs thanks to the “sketchy” nature of the trade.
Up to half of the substances sold as MDMA contain no MDMA at all, but instead a combination of other drugs like methamphetamine or other psychedelics, says Rich. These other drugs can result in more dangerous effects, especially if taken in conjunction with MDMA.
“Typically, combining MDMA with other drugs will enhance the effects of both and may prolong the duration of the MDMA effects,” Rich says.
Aside from the immediate effects, repeated abuse of MDMA can leave users with serious long-term consequences. Because the substance causes a rapid release of serotonin, repeated use can lead to depletion of the brain’s neurotransmitters, which decreases a person’s ability to feel pleasure.
“After about three hours under the influence of MDMA, the brain will deplete its serotonin supplies, sometimes prompting users to take more MDMA with little effect,” Rich explains. “After the MDMA wears off, users typically experience depression and may become suicidal due to the depletion of serotonin.”
What’s more, MDMA – like all other illicit drugs – is illegal, and its use could have serious legal consequences for college students. Being caught with Molly can land you in jail and suspended or expelled from school, according to the DEA.
With all of her dangerous consequences, maybe it’s time to add one more pop culture reference to Molly’s resume.
Dear Molly, we knew you were trouble when you walked in.
*Names have been changed.