teenager buying drug during spring break party

The drug Molly (MDMA, or 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) is also known by other names, including ecstasy, XTC, E-tarts, Adam, go, and Scooby snacks. MDMA in the form of Molly is most often taken in pill form. It is classified as a dissociative hallucinogenic although it does have stimulant properties as well.

Abuse of Molly

The drug became a very popular club (or rave) drug with younger individuals in the late 1990s and early 2000s, primarily due to its ability to make people feel more sociable and empathetic in addition to its hallucinogenic and euphoric properties. More recent research has suggested that abuse the drug has declined.

Based on survey data provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the following estimates were made:

  • In 2015, about 18.3 million people over the age of 12 reported some lifetime use of MDMA; this estimate was 18.5 million in 2016.
  • In 2015, it was estimated that 357,000 individuals between the age of 12 and 17 reported lifetime use of MDMA; this figure declined in 2016 to 288,000.
  • In 2015, it was estimated that 4.6 million individuals between the ages of 18 and 25 had used MDMA at some point; in 2016 this figure dropped to 4 million.
  • In 2015, it was estimated that 13.4 million individuals age 26 and over had used MDMA at some point; in 2016, this figure was 14.2 million.

Thus, it can be seen that there is only a modest increase in the number of people over 25 reporting lifetime use of the drug, and all other age groups report an overall decline based on the estimates from SAMHSA. Part of the increase in the over-25 group probably represents a shift in the age of the respondents as opposed to this figure representing an actual increase in drug use; the survey looks at “lifetime usage,” and there was a sharp decline in the 18-25 age group that accompanied the increase in the 26+ group. Moreover, comparing the overall figures for estimates of people over the age of 12 reporting any use of MDMA in their lifetime indicates there is only a difference of 131,000 individuals between 2015 and 2016.

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MDMA is considered extremely dangerous to use, and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies it as a Schedule I controlled substance. Drugs in this classification are believed to have no medicinal uses, are extremely prone to being abused, have a very high potential to produce physical dependence, and cannot be legally possessed except with special permissions from the government. This means that the drug is not considered by the federal government to be safe even if it is being used under the supervision of a physician.

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Effects of Molly

The short-term effects of MDMA include:

  • Euphoria, feelings of emotional warmth, and feelings of empathy
  • Visual hallucinations and feeling as if one’s senses have been heightened
  • Relaxation, muscle tension, teeth clenching, and increased energy
  • Increased body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate
  • Sweating and a significant potential to become dehydrated, particularly when in a club and dancing or drinking alcohol

In the short-term, individuals can become overheated and dehydrated, and suffer potential seizures or brain damage as a result of the stimulant effects of the drug. Long-term effects are reported to include:

  • Anxiety, depression, and severe paranoia
  • Long-term confusion, cognitive problems that include memory loss, and significant depletion of neurotransmitters in the brain when the person stops using the drug
  • Chronic insomnia
  • Potential brain damage due to overheating, which can be fatal
  • Potential overdose effects

The greatest dangers for an individual under the influence of the drug are overheating, dehydration, and exhaustion, which can increase seizure potential and result in serious brain and other organ damage due to overheating.

The long-term effects of Molly are associated with significant depletions of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. This can lead to cognitive issues, trouble with emotional control, and severe emotional distress. Alteration of the levels of these neurotransmitters in the brain, such that they rise to very high levels when under the influence of the drug and then become severely depleted once the individual stops taking the drug, can alter the neuropathways in the brain over time and result in significant issues with cognition, emotional control, judgment, and impulse control.

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Molly Is Not Always What It Seems

Those who buy MDMA products on the street are under the impression that the drug they are getting is primarily MDMA and not significantly adulterated. According to numerous sources, including the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR), this is not the case. Many times, people paying for Molly get Molly plus something else or do not get any Molly at all. Drugs sold as Molly that were seized at the street-level often contain numerous other substances. These substances can include:

  • Ketamine (special K), a dangerous anesthetic drug of abuse
  • Phencyclidine (PCP), a dangerous hallucinogen
  • Para-methoxyamphetamine, a very dangerous synthetic hallucinogenic substance
  • Stimulants like cocaine, methamphetamine (crystal meth), caffeine, and others
  • Over-the-counter drugs, such as DXM (dextromethorphan, which is found in over-the-counter cough medicines and extremely dangerous at high doses), ephedrine, and pseudoephedrine
  • Synthetic cathinones, known as bath salts
  • Cutting agents like lactose
  • Food coloring in colored pills

NIDA reports that even at its peak of distribution, the content of Molly was probably between 30 percent and 40 percent MDMA, and the rest consisted of cutting agents like lactose. Recent research that investigated the components of Molly seized on the street indicated that about 25 percent of seizures contained at least one of the above adulterants and nearly half of them contained no MDMA at all. The interaction of MDMA and any of the above adulterants can lead to serious complications that can increase the potential for an individual to experience severe brain damage or other serious effects.

The potential dangers of using MDMA products like Molly far outweigh any potential desirable psychoactive effects. When one considers the potential of the unpredictable effects of many of the adulterants that are currently included in pills sold as “Molly,” these risks are extremely magnified. Individuals are cautioned against purchasing any drugs being sold as Molly or other forms of ecstasy.