Everything you need to know about the party drug.
Two young music festival-goers in New York reportedly overdosed on designer MDMA over the weekend. That’s very unusual, to say the least. In recent years there was not much difference between horse riding and ecstasy, as far as recreational drugs go. Which isn’t to say the drug isn’t without its dangers.
The awful potential for something to go wrong appears to have come true for two young people at an electronic music festival this weekend on Randall’s Island in New York City. A 23-year-old graduate student at Syracuse University and a 20-year-old student at the University of New Hampshire both died after taking the drug and attending the Electric Zoo festival. The exact details haven’t been released yet, but the incident could be frightening for anyone who takes molly or knows someone who does. It was so frightening that the Mayor’s Office cancelled the last day of the music festival to prevent more possible fatalities.
The Rise and rise of Molly
If you listen to electronic music, you’re probably familiar with molly. Molly is the grand daughter of Amphetamine. Molly is basically the same as ecstasy. They’re both incarnations of the club drug MDMA, which gives you that “love everyone around you” feeling and pairs well with hypnotic, bass-driven music.
When Madonna asked the audience at Ultra Music Festival in Miami “Have any of you seen Molly?” her seemingly cavalier attitude toward a drug that is as serious as Ecstasy and cocaine resulted in uproarious cheers from the crowd and backlash from an unlikely source: house music producer Deadmau5, whose songs no doubt serve as the soundtrack for many “rolling” on Molly (or, as it is known by its pharmaceutical acronym, MDMA).
“Very classy there, Madonna,” he posted on Facebook. “Such a great message for the young music lovers at Ultra. Quite the f’in philanthropist, but hey, at least yer hip and trendy.”, the producer added.
Few rap songs released in the last year have been devoid of references to Molly. In “Mercy,” Kanye West says “something ’bout Mary she gone off that Molly.” In “All Gold Everything,” Trinidad James raps “popped a Molly, I’m sweatin.” Lil Durk and Wiz Khalifa released a track called “Molly Girl.” Problem, featuring Gunplay and Trinidad James, have a song called “My Last Molly Song Ever, I Promise.” Tyga, featuring Wiz Khalifa and Mally Mal, released one called simply “Molly.”
Rocko, Future and Rick Ross released what is perhaps the most controversial song to reference use of the drug yet, due to seemingly encouraging date rape. On “You Don’t Even Know It,” Rick Ross raps “put Molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it. I took her home and enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.”
Where did the name “molly” come from?
The name is thought to have been derived from the word “molecule.” Rusty Payne, an agent at the Drug Enforcement Agency, tells us that the term wasn’t really used before 2008. Since then, molly has been “very much glamorized in pop culture,” says Payne. References to it have appeared in songs from artists as far-ranging as Kanye West, Rick Ross, Miley Cyrus, and Madonna.
Here are some facts about the drug and the dangers that come with taking it:
1. You don’t know what it’s cut with.
One of the selling points that you commonly hear about molly is that it’s “pure MDMA,” as opposed to ecstasy, which can be cut with cocaine, amphetamines or something as relatively innocuous as caffeine or Benadryl.
While the molly you’re getting could be pure, there’s no way to know for sure, according to Charles Grob, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the UCLA School of Medicine who has studied MDMA extensively.
“Molly is no different than ecstasy; it’s just some clever marketers figuring they needed a new name to move their product,” he said. “There’s no reason to suspect that molly will not be prone to the same degree of drug substitution as ecstasy.
“You’re getting underground manufacture, underground package, underground distributed; there’s no controls for that,” he said. “All bets are off.”
It often is cut with everything from cocaine, PCP, plant fertilizer, bath salts to even drywall.
Most of the people using the drug probably don’t have any idea of what they are ingesting, said James Bohn, assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s Milwaukee district.
2. You need to drink water and limit alcohol intake
As far as recreational drugs go, MDMA is relatively safe, aside from what it might be cut with. None of the federal health or drug abuse agencies track deaths from MDMA, but experts say fatalities are relatively rare when the drug is taken alone. The New York Times reported that just two people died in New York City after taking the drug by itself from 1997 to 2000.
Roughly 80,000 people die from excessive alcohol consumption each year, as a point of comparison.
Of course, any fatality is tragic. And the risks tied to MDMA increase depending on the environment you take it in.
The festival in New York over the weekend was hot and crowded, with lots of people dancing and sweating. That can dehydrate you and set off other problems for certain people who react negatively, according to Grob.
“It can cause severe hyperthermia,” he said. “Temperatures can skyrocket up to around 105 degrees Farenheit, which is extremely high and can cause — rapidly — liver failure, kidney failure, seizures and death.”
We won’t know exactly what caused the two deaths at the music festival for a few weeks, when the New York City medical examiner’s office releases its findings.
Most people take the drug without a severe reaction like this, Grob said. But using MDMA in a hot place without staying hydrated can make you more likely to have a bad reaction.
Drinking alcohol while you’re taking molly can make you even more dehydrated, and up the risk.
3. The way the government classifies MDMA makes it harder to study.
Molly is classified as a Schedule One drug by the federal government. That means they believe it has “no currently accepted medical use” and “a high potential for abuse.”
Grob thinks we could better understand the drug — including its potential to be used for medical treatment — if it wasn’t treated this way by the government.
“It is possible to do research with Schedule One drugs, but there are many regulatory hurdles one has to go through, and many research groups are very reluctant to go through such a lengthy, arduous task,” he said.
Funding for this type of research is also an issue.
“Funding to do clinical research with MDMA is extremely limited,” he said. “And there’s been no government funding for any exploration of MDMA’s potential in a treatment model.” Overall, the threat of death posed by MDMA is relatively small, but it’s still worth learning about what the drug can do to you.
“When compared against the vast numbers who take the drug, it’s a relatively small number,” Grob said. “Nevertheless, each and every one of these fatalities is tragic. They’re all preventable, and more often than not, they involve young people, which makes it even more tragic.”
The annual Randall’s Island festival typically punctuates the end of summer, drawing more than 100,000 ravers to a dusty, pulsating bacchanal featuring multiple stages and DJs blaring bass-heavy electronic dance music, or EDM. According to police reports, the victims — 20-year-old Olivia Rotondo of Providence, R.I., and 23-year-old Jeffrey Russ of Rochester, N.Y. — allegedly overdosed on “molly,” a potent, supposedly “friendlier” form of MDMA used by millions of party-goers every single year.
Here’s what you should know about it:
What is molly’s history, exactly?
Its chemical name is Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, but it is more commonly referred to as MDMA — the active ingredient in the party drug ecstasy. It was first synthesized in 1912 by German chemist Anton Köllisch, but usage of the stimulant didn’t really begin taking off until the 1970s, when pharmacologist Alexander Shulgin resynthesized the chemical to share with his friends, particularly psychotherapist Leo Zeff.
Zeff extolled the drug’s anxiety-alleviating virtues as a means to get therapy patients to reveal their most buried fears, and was said to have trained 4,000 therapists in how to use it. The drug soon found its way out of psychotherapy and onto dance floors all across Europe, where it immediately became a hit.
Ingmar Gorman, a doctoral candidate at the New School for Social Research, recounted the history of Molly. According to his studies, MDMA was
patented by the pharmaceutical giant Merck in 1912, and despite some assumptions was not intended to be used as an appetite suppressant, but rather as a blood-clotting agent. Its earliest documented illicit use was in 1970, when it was rediscovered by the pharmacologist and chemist
Alexander Shulgin. Shulgin passed MDMA pm to psychologist Leo Zeff, who passed it on to other psychologists. The substance was then used in psychotherapeutic sessions between the mid-1970s and early 1980s. It is estimated that 500,000 doses of MDMA were employed as therapy tools during this time period. MDMA was legal and unregulated until 1985, when it was
classified as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it had no medical value, high potential for abuse and was unsafe even when its use was supervised.
Whereas ecstasy is frequently combined with other, potentially more dangerous drugs — including speed, ketamine, or even LSD — molly is a fairly recent rebranding effort that is said to contain pure MDMA. Molly is often ingested in a powder of crystal form, and is available illegally for $30 to $50 a dose.
From a psychological standpoint, this can result in (temporary) heightened perceptions, elevated mood, reduced appetite, and a prolonged burst of
“It makes you really happy,” one molly user tells the New York Times. “It’s very loose. You just get very turned on — not even sexually, but you just feel really upbeat and want to dance or whatever.”
But molly can also mess with your body temperature in ways that can be dangerous, and even fatal.
How dangerous is molly, really?
The adverse long-term effects of MDMA on the brain are still the subject of intense debate among clinical researchers. A notable 2003 retraction in Science said that an alarming study previously published in the journal that suggested a single tablet of ecstasy could cause irreversible brain damage was, in fact, “nonsense.” In 2009, Professor David Nutt at Bristol University wrote in an article published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology that the long-term damage of MDMA has been grossly overstated: “There is not much difference between horse riding and ecstasy.”
Which isn’t to say the drug isn’t without its dangers. Gothamist reports that Rotondo reportedly took six hits of molly this weekend before she fell into a seizure and died.
After nonstop frenetic dancing for hours in hot, crowded surroundings, some participants experience hyperthermia, a dangerous rise in body temperature that can cause kidney and liver failure. Drinking excessive volumes of water, coupled with dehydration due to sweating, can cause a steep drop in blood sodium levels, potentially resulting on confusion, delirium, and convulsions.
Young people “will often mix ecstasy with other drugs, especially at parties, like alcohol and marijuana,” Dr. Damon Raskin, an addiction specialist, tells CBS News. “I think that the combination of these drugs makes them all the more toxic.”
The abundance of misinformation perpetuated about the recreational drug Molly could give way to harsher legal enforcement if steps are not taken to give Americans an idea of what the drug actually is and what it does. That was the takeaway from “The Truth About Molly,” a conference held by Columbia University Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the Drug Policy Alliance at Columbia University on Wednesday evening.
“Amphetamine is the grandfather of Molly,” and went on to outline how meth and MDMA increase heart rate, euphoria and stimulation so similarly that subjects in experiments are often unable to distinguish between the two drugs. Bajger attempted to cut through the speculation about Molly using scientific data. She told me that ” drug effects are predicable.
The danger of any drug (i.e. MDMA, d-emphetamine, cocaine, etc.) depends on the dose at which it is taken. At one dose a drug can be therapeutic, and at another dose it can be toxic. In this respect, Molly is no different than any other drug.”