An online warning claims to discusses a new drug known as “Molly”, supposedly a mixture of cocaine, crack, ecstasy, meth, and bath salts. Is this accurate?
Online Warning About Molly
First, let’s take a look at the warning itself:
“Molly has been a common drug lately & everyone is trying it. Pop 1 and your sweating? Let me explain why your sweating: Molly is a drug made up of cocaine, crack, ecstasy, meth & bath salt. It slows your heart rate 10x the normal limit & reeks havoc on your immune system with just one pill. Take two & it damages your brain without you even being able realize it. It becomes an addiction & soon a cry for help. By the fifth one you take, it starts killing your organs & preventing them from functioning as normal. It increases your chance of stroke & heart attack and can cause your lungs to stop functioning all together! It is a very powerful & VERY DANGEROUS drug! More harmful than crack itself. Many rappers are promoting it to involve young people in the manufacturing, selling, and usage of the drug. Spread the word to save lives of young people across the country! Show them the truth so they can make an informed & smart decision if they’re ever offered it.”
What is Molly?
The warning above contains a number of inaccurate statements. Molly actually refers to the powder or crystalline form of Ecstasy, or MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methamphetamine), which is not associated with cocaine, crack, or bath salt as claimed above. The powder and crystal form of the drug are said to be more “pure” than regular Ecstasy pills.
The name “Molly” may be short for “molecule,” and is believed to have been in use for about a decade. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), of all the “Molly” confiscated in New York from 2009-2013, only 13% contained actual MDMA. As with any street drug, the ingredients can vary, and Molly has been known to be laced with other substances such as caffeine, amphetamine, cocaine, LSD, PCP, ketamine, dextromethorphan, ephedrine, aspirin, and even talcum powder or fertilizer.
Although the name “Molly” is only thought to have been in use for the last decade, MDMA is by no means a new drug. In fact, MDMA was first synthesized and patented a hundred years ago in the early 1910s by the German pharmaceutical company Merck, and was originally developed as a forerunner for a blood-clotting medicine. Starting in the 1970s and stretching into the 1980s, MDMA was being therapeutically administered to patients by some psychotherapists who found the drug useful because it appeared to increase patient empathy and communication. Even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had not approved the therapeutic use of MDMA, it has been estimated that as many as 4,000 therapists were supervising MDMA sessions with patients.
In 1985, the DEA banned MDMA and labelled it a Schedule I substance. A Schedule I classification means the U.S. Federal Government has deemed the substance to be highly addictive with no medicinal value. Currently, other Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD, and marijuana.
By the late 1980s, MDMA was becoming popular in dance clubs, and in between the 1990s & early 2000s, use of the drug increased as it grew into a staple of the rave scene. Now it is experiencing new attention and media coverage under the name “Molly.”
Effects of Molly/MDMA/Ecstasy
MDMA is an empathogen, stimulant, and may also have some hallucinogenic/psychedelic properties. Like any other mind-altering psychoactive substance, effects largely depend on dosage and personal physiology. Since it may have some characteristics of hallucinogens/psychedelics, environment and the psychological state of the user may also affect the experience.
Erowid presents a comprehensive list of positive, neutral, and negative MDMA effects which seems to be fairly unbiased.
The following are some of the more common effects:
- Increased empathy, openness, and communication
- Increased motor activity
- Decreased anxiety
- Increased sensory awareness
- Decreased appetite
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Restlessness and shivering
- Changed perception of body temperature regulation
- Change from linear to more nonlinear thinking
- Anxiety, agitation, and/or paranoia
- Decrease of some emotional inhibitions
- Jaw clenching, mouth/tongue chewing, or teeth grinding
- Short term memory loss or confusion
- Muscle tension
- Hypothermia and dehydration
- Nausea and vomiting
- Headache and dizziness
Even use of pure MDMA can be dangerous. There have been fatalities due to the increase in body temperature combined with changes in perception of body temperature regulation. This can sometimes result in dehydration which can cause liver, kidney, or cardiovascular failure. The euphoric nature of a MDMA experience may also result in sadness, mild depression, and fatigue up to a week after the experience has ended. Although rare, some users experience severe depression or psychological episodes due to the sudden changes in brain chemistry.
In 2002, a study conducted by Dr. George A. Ricaurte of Johns Hopkins University claimed that MDMA use could cause permanent brain damage. His research has been widely criticized due to flaws in the study design and a nonobjective bias. The New York Times featured an inclusive criticism of the study in 2003. In studies conducted since then, researchers have not found evidence for cognitive decline in long-term Ecstasy users. Harvard psychiatrist and author of the 2012 study linked above, Dr. John Halpern has been quoted as saying, “A drug that actually does kill brain cells — which MDMA doesn’t — is alcohol.”
Potential Therapeutic Value of MDMA
Many people do not realize that some hallucinogens/psychedelics do appear to have some therapeutic value when used under specific conditions. Before lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) escaped the science lab and hit the streets in the mid to late 60’s, it was being researched by some psychotherapists as a promising therapeutic tool. The careless and freewheeling drug usage and public endorsement of LSD by Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary in the 60’s may have been partially responsible for the explosion of street acid which then resulted in LSD being banned by the DEA in 1968 and Nixon’s launch of the “war on drugs” in 1971. These events effectively shutdown psychedelic research for the next 35 years.
A similar pattern occurred with MDMA. It was first used therapeutically before becoming a street drug and subsequently banned by the DEA. After the DEA made MDMA illegal in 1985, the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) was formed in 1986. On their ‘Mission’ webpage, MAPS describes itself as ” a 501(c)(3) non-profit research and educational organization that develops medical, legal, and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful uses of psychedelics and marijuana.” In 2004, the FDA approved MAPS to carry out the first U.S. clinical trials on psychedelic drugs in 35 years, and the FDA has allowed the research to continue since then.
New research on the potential therapeutic value of MDMA has been promising, and has focused on the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among combat veterans. Some of the studies have shown that controlled use of MDMA in a safe therapeutic setting has resulted in a lasting reduction in PTSD symptoms among 83% of PTSD patients. In an interview with USA Today, a veteran of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars who was diagnosed with PTSD named Virgil Huston made the following statement regarding his participation in MDMA therapy through MAPS, “I’m not perfect, but I know this: If there is a silver bullet for curing PTSD, then this could be it.” In the article, Huston goes on to say that it wasn’t the MDMA itself that helped him, but the way in which it accelerated emotional openness and communication during therapy sessions.
Though Molly is commonly a street drug with potentially fatal side effects, in a pure form it is technically not a combination of cocaine, meth, and bath salt, nor does it typically produce the side effects described in the warning being circulated. Molly actually refers to MDMA, a synthetic drug developed a century ago. In spite of potentially fatal side effects, some research has shown that controlled administration of MDMA may have therapeutic benefits. Studies regarding these potential benefits were approved by the FDA in 2004. Prior to 2004, research on psychedelics had been banned for 35 years.