Molly: An Old Drug With Terrifying New Tricks


The Electric Zoo 2013 in New York City, linked to fatal Molly overdoses. (Photo by Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images …Molly — the innocuous street name for a drug linked to at least three fatal overdoses in the past month — sounds more like someone’s great-aunt than an illegal substance. A better name for the designer drug, according to both drug enforcement and medical experts, would be “Russian Roulette.”

“When a buyer abuses something called Molly, there’s no way to tell what’s in it,” Rusty Payne, a spokesperson for the Drug Enforcement Agency told Yahoo Shine. “That’s the most dangerous thing about these drugs.”

More on Yahoo: Drug linked to three overdoses

The so-called party drug is believed to be responsible for two deaths and for sickening several more attendees of last week’s Electric Zoo music festival in New York, though final toxicology reports are still pending. Earlier in the week, Molly, which sells for $30 to $50 in capsule pill or powder form, was linked to another death at a concert in Boston.

“We’re seeing more people in the E.R., more people with toxic reactions and more overdoses from the drug.” Dr. H. Westley Clark, Director for the Center of Substance Abuse Treatment, told Yahoo Shine.

In its purest form, Molly (short for 'molecule'), is a crystallized and powdered form of MDMA, a mind-altering combination of research chemicals with euphoric, empathetic and heightened sensory effects which can last anywhere from 3 to 6 hours. But the unintended side effects range from depression due to the surge of serotonin the drug releases in the brain, to severe dehydration, elevated body temperature and rapid heartbeat. And that’s if the drug is pure.

More on Yahoo Shine: New synthetic drug every parent should know about

'Molly' pill capsules Born in a lab almost a century ago, road-tested in the ‘70s as a relationship elixir, and popularized in the ‘90s as the club drug Ecstasy, MDMA has had a Zelig-like history, form-fitting to the demands of the revolving counter-culture door. The latest version is marketed as a purer form of the substance, no longer cut with cheaper fillers like caffeine.  Molly is designed, at least in theory, for a demographic raised with a fear of contaminants. But experts chalk up much of that hype to clever re-branding.

As demand for the drug spikes, Payne tells Yahoo Shine, he’s seeing synthetic counterfeits, particularly Methylone, sold under the same name. Described by one Redditor as “Molly’s sketchy cousin,” Methylone is a synthetic drug in the family of bath salts. In a 2012 report published in a toxicology research journal, one woman who believed she’d ingested Molly collapsed at a concert after taking the drug, then returned to her feet before convulsing and later dying.

On Erowid, a site featuring personalized accounts of substance experimentation, one Methylone user recounts a trip that ended in an emergency room. “It’s difficult to describe how I felt, but to cut a long story short I felt like I was about to drop down dead, right then, right there,” according to the anonymous account. “I'd never been so sure in my life.“

“Over the last 3 to 5 years and even earlier, several hundred new or synthetic drugs made their way out of labs into the U.S,” explains Payne, who claims the ingredients are largely imported from China.

“Synthetic stimulants, whether it's ecstasy or bath salts, can produce psychoactive effects like agitation, insomnia, dizziness, delusions, seizures, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, impaired perception of reality and that’s just the short term. Long-term effects are still being ironed out,“ according to Payne.

The most recent statistics show that ecstasy overdoses have more than doubled since 2004, with over 20,000 reports of emergency department visits in 2011. More than 50 percent of those admitted to the hospital with MDMA in their system were between the ages of 18 and 20, leading the drug to be labeled (as it was in the‘90s) a product of club culture.

“Dehydration and temperature regulation is a major issue,” Clark said of the drug, which depletes the body’s ability to retain fluid. “If it’s a particularly hot venue and you’re dancing, you tend to sweat and become more easily dehydrated.”

Still, he says, “You don’t get a uniform reaction and that’s the key issue. It depends on a person’s physiology…What’s more, the toxic reactions are not uniform, ranging from heart damage and liver damage, to loss of consciousness.”

 While drug enforcement agents have had Molly on their radar for some time, the drug has just now come into mainstream consciousness, with references everywhere from Instragram hashtags and T-shirt lines to pop music. Miley Cyrus and Madonna have been accused of referencing the drug (Cyrus in a song and Madonna at a concert), but both have denied it. For parents, even those who came of age when X signified more than just a generation, hype around the drug is alarming, if not alarmist. “I’m not saying everyone is going to die if they take ecstasy,” says Clark. But he warns, “the drug can be dangerous to some people and we don’t know which people.”

Within the electronic music community, now fingered by some as ground zero for abuse of the drug, there are efforts to raise awareness of the risks.  On Twitter, a campaign was launched to ban T-shirts that promote the drug. Meanwhile, the staff at a popular EDM music website posted the following message to fans in the wake of the latest fatalities in New York.

“We have been hearing about people dying at shows for years, but as veterans of the scene, we always have this hope that we as a community have moved past inclinations to such irresponsible behavior,” reads the blog. “Sadly, this simply is not true.”

“We must never forget the double dose of reality the past seven days have brought upon our community. Three people are dead, and six have been hospitalized because of our own deficiencies as a community. Let this number be the only reason we need to force drug education and festival safety into the forefront.“

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