It’s not easy to generalize about why people choose certain drugs, particularly over an extended period of time. The popularity of different drugs tends to rise and fall, based partially on availability and economics and partially on taste. I’ve written about PCP’s resurgence in parts of the mid-Atlantic and how pharmaceutical painkiller abuse primed suburban America for the latest wave of heroin. But the usage of both heroin and particularly P.C.P. pales in comparison to the much more widespread usage of the party drug MDMA, otherwise known as Molly.
And while the drug’s pop culture moment owes a lot to the drug’s ubiquity in clubs and at music festivals, many adults aren’t even quite sure what it is. Some of the misunderstanding is rooted in differences in slang- likely, more people are familiar with MDMA as Ecstasy – but many people have come to believe that Molly is different from Ecstasy.
Before tonight’s episode of Drugs, Inc. takes viewers into the world of Molly, we thought we’d do some prep.
What is Molly?
Molly is a modern form/nickname for the drug MDMA, which, for all you chemical enthusiasts, is the compound 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine. MDMA is a stimulant that can cause euphoria for around three to six hours, usually either ingested as a pill or crushed and snorted. According to The New York Times, it was patented in 1917, and saw some limited medical use in the 1970s by psychotherapists hoping to induce patients to speak more freely. It’s currently a Schedule 1 drug, which the DEA defines as a dangerous drug with high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical treatment.
Isn’t that Ecstasy?
Well, yes and no. Ecstasy has long been the nickname for MDMA. However, after a lull in the drug’s use in the mid 2000’s, MDMA has come roaring back under a new name, Molly.
Molly purports to be a purer form of MDMA. Ecstasy users have long known that the drug’s cut with a cocktail of other substances – lab analysts have found everything from aspirin to ketamine to caffeine mixed in – so Molly’s supposed purity proved enticing. And while perhaps some much earlier versions were more pure, the difficulty in chemically defining the Molly that a club-goer picks up is the same problem facing other synthetic drugs: lack of regulation means fluctuation. Today, there’s little purity in Molly. CNN uses New York to illustrate its example: according to the DEA, only 13% of the Molly in the state seized by law enforcement since 2009 contained MDMA. USA Today reports that DEA seizures of pure MDMA or Ecstasy have dropped since 2008, indicating a pervasiveness of knock-offs and drugs posing as MDMA.
So it’s the same drug…why does the media keep writing about it?
Because all signs point to a growth of users nationally. This is measurable in a few ways: according to The New York Times, the Drug Abuse Warning Network reported that the number of MDMA-related emergency-room visits has doubled since 2004, and United States Customs and Border Protection reports 2,670 confiscations of MDMA in 2012, up from 186 in 2008.
There have also been a number of deaths at music festivals that can be attributed to Molly’s risks. Last year’s Electric Zoo Music Festival in New York cancelled its third day because of multiple overdoses and deaths caused by MDMA.
Why is it popular now?
This question isn’t at quite as easy to answer: drug trends tend to be cyclical, but this obviously can’t explain Molly’s current prominence. It’s worth mentioning that the drug is fairly cheap: in some cities, a “hit” or “bump” of Molly can be as low as $15-20.
One reason that many media outlets cite is the that the culture surrounding the drug has changed. MDMA is widely understood as a party drug used to both keep users stimulated through all-night parties and also allow them to enjoy various physical stimuli. According to The Atlantic, Ecstasy originally became popular at nightclubs and raves, where typically variations of house and techno music were played. MDMA’s use dipped during a concurrent low point in dance (disco, techno, house) music’s place on the charts. But pop music’s landscape has changed – The Atlantic credits music journalist Jason King’s observation that EDM has become much more successful on the music charts in the last several years. Many outlets have also cited pop artists explicitly referencing Molly in their music, but there’s little evidence that this has actually caused more users to take Molly.
Although it would be problematic to blame music itself for MDMA’s resurgence (plenty of people listen to these tracks without ever taking Molly, of course), many believe that music festival culture and dance music’s influence at clubs have at least provided a breeding ground for the cultivation of the drug’s popularity.