Over the most recent Labor Day weekend, there were at least four reported deaths of young people related to the use of the drug “Molly.” Two of those deaths happened in New York City at the Electric Zoo concert, while the third took place in Washington, D.C. and the fourth in Boston (also at music events).
In 2009 and 2010, Syracuse University was devastated by the use of a (supposedly) new drug called Molly. It quickly spread to wealthy, white suburban kids around the East Coast. In 2012, it started making its way into poorer and minority communities, and a number of music artists (Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Miley Cyrus, Kanye West, Madonna) have referenced it in their songs in the last two years.
I first came across Molly in January 2011 when a 15-year-old from Tewksbury Township, N.J., one of the wealthiest communities in the United States, was brought to my private practice by his parents. They had found around 500 gel caps along with a bag of powder. Their son was able to buy the chemicals online and assemble them in his basement (I told him that not only was he risking charges for possession and distribution, he also could face manufacturing charges if caught). He told me it was Molly, or pure MDMA, the chemical component previously known as Ecstasy.
MDMA is both a stimulant and a hallucinogen. It releases huge amounts of serotonin, which regulates eating, sleeping and mood, and dopamine, the pleasure-reward chemical in the brain. Permit me to use an analogy: Say you went without sleep over the weekend and then went to work on Monday. A good plan would be for you to go home and sleep for 12 hours. Despite this rest, you still would feel tired on Tuesday and probably Wednesday as well. For people who take MDMA, they use up so much of their serotonin and dopamine that they often feel really down and out of it for two to three days after the euphoric effects wear off. Regular users have coined the term “suicidal Tuesdays” to describe the feelings of depression and even suicidal ideation that take over after a weekend of using MDMA.
MDMA became illegal in the United States in 1985 and it was made a Schedule I (highly addictive, no medical value) drug in 1988. Ironically, MDMA became more popular after it was made illegal; its use spiked in the 1990s. It was used a great deal at raves and in clubs. It was also taken as a sexual enhancement, by both men and women.
The use of MDMA fell off in the early 2000s. I believe this occurred because of education, government crackdowns, and the increasing availability of prescription drugs.
MDMA made a big return in 2009, rebranded as Molly’s Plant Food. It was sold as “plant food” to avoid detection and regulation (we saw the same thing when synthetic marijuana was sold as “incense” and synthetic speed was sold as “bath salts”). It has been marketed as a “safe, legal and pure form of Ecstasy.” It’s not legal, it’s not safe, and it’s certainly not pure.
The people who rebranded MDMA took a page out of the prescription drug playbook—we have seen a massive increase in prescription drug use over the past decade because we are told these drugs are pure and safe. Those terms have been extremely effective in getting new customers into the marketplace, and we’ve seen that with MDMA.
Because Molly is not regulated, people have no idea what they are actually getting when they buy it. Molly is sold by drug dealers, and they are out to make a profit. By cutting MDMA with baking soda, other stimulants, PMA (para-methoxyamphetamine) or other white powders, dealers can increase the weight of their product and sell it for more money. Consumers do not know what they are taking. To be clear, pure MDMA is extremely dangerous.
In the summer of 2011, my first Rutgers student with a Molly problem appeared in my office. She was a wealthy female from a nice town. Other counselors reported more students taking it on the New Brunswick campus that fall. By the spring of 2012, Molly had made its way to the Rutgers Newark campus and was being abused by numerous members of minority groups. Molly has achieved social equality.
Molly costs about $20 to $50 for a 250 mg dose, though buyers may experience a greater price variation depending upon where they live or with whom they associate. Users can exchange their experiences on Bluelight Forum, an online site that discusses MDMA and other substance use.
Common side effects include insomnia, aches, nausea, stiff jaw, fatigue, anxiety, depression, teeth grinding, irritability, and gastrointestinal problems. More dangerous side effects include high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, dehydration and high body temperatures.
That latter group of effects sometimes can lead to organ seizure, which is what most likely contributed to the deaths in New York, Washington and Boston. We won’t know for sure until we see the toxicology reports. And in fact, it might turn out that MDMA was not involved, but rather some other stimulant that was sold as Molly. Such are the ever-present uncertainties and dangers in the world of street drugs.