In the 1970s, a substance known chemically as 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine was given to psychotherapy patients to get them to talk about their feelings. A decade or so later, MDMA, which, at the time, was widely known as ecstasy, arrived in nightclubs, quickly becoming the rave drug of choice.
Known for effects including a sense of euphoria, increased empathy and self-awareness, sensory enhancement, and reduced anxiety, the drug’s popularity skyrocketed. But by the 90s, the increased demand meant that ecstasy tablets were frequently sold laced with everything from talcum powder to ketamine. It wasn’t long before users became wary and demand dropped off.
But some years later, ecstasy reappeared on the scene. This time, it went by MDMA, which implied a purer form, and was generally sold in crystal, powder, or capsule form. The nickname “molly,” widely believed to be shorthand for “molecule,” emerged in 2010, giving it the substance an even more approachable, drug-next-door feel — though it was still chemically the same as unadulterated forms of ecstasy. Lifestyle-conscious people, including those who would never set foot in a rave, started taking it.
Proponents feel that taking molly “feels natural and basically harmless,” according to an article in The New York Times. Rick Doblin, founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), blames our increasingly digital social lives, asserting that “the rise of molly is in tune with how people are feeling emotionally.”
The drug’s laid-back, flower-child persona has been bolstered by its appearance at music festivals, with acceptance also hinging on the fact that it’s less habit-forming than other popular drugs, particularly cocaine. And unlike booze, MDMA doesn’t destroy brain cells.
But in spite of its reputation, it’s still a hard drug. Though reports linking MDMA to Parkinson’s disease and chronic depression have been disproved, it does come with risks. Erowid, a website that compiles information about psychoactive plants and chemicals, cautions that “tablets are notoriously impure.” Today, molly is likely to be laced with cheap, synthetic chemicals that mimic the drug’s effects, and in some cases, substances don’t even contain MDMA. In short, molly is no safer than the ecstasy of the late 90s.
When it comes to molly, minimizing risk means making informed decisions. Testing kits can indicate the presence of MDMA, though they can’t indicate quantity, and certain toxins might not be detected. If you’re going to take MDMA, using less can help to minimize potentially harmful side effects. Choose contexts that are safe, and stay among friends you trust, taking regular breaks and staying well-hydrated. Keep in mind that MDMA, molly, or ecstasy — call it what you will — is an illegal drug and using it can result in legal, physical, and emotional consequences.
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