Why people are dying from molly and how to stop it

Why people are dying from molly and how to stop it

VicesMarch 12, 2015

Molly can be a real bitch sometimes. Although the drug is responsible for creating the vibe at most of today's sweaty-sex-party-raves, it's also been linked to an increasing amount of hospitalizations and deaths.

Last month, ten Wesleyan University students and two of their guests were hospitalized after taking molly, leaving two of them in critical condition.

About a year and a half earlier, there were a string of so-called molly deaths around the country, including Mary "Shelley" Goldsmith, who collapsed and died at a Washington, D.C. club in 2013. That same weekend, two other molly-related deaths at the Electric Zoo Festival in New York City occurred as well as a slew of molly-related hospitalizations and incidents in Boston, Seattle, Miami, Virginia and Washington DC. Understandably, these incidents have created somewhat of a national panic about the consequences of bad molly as public figures and universities urge people to stay away from it.

It doesn't help that molly usage rates have increased dramatically over the last ten years. In 2013, the Drug Abuse Warning Network reported a sharp rise in MDMA-related hospitalizations between 2005 and 2011 among people 21 and under. In 2005, there were 4,460 estimated visits; in 2011, the estimated number jumped to 10,176 visits. Four years later in 2015,we can only imagine things have gotten hairier.

However, it's not exactly surprising that people are having such bad reactions to molly lately; the DEA recently reported that only 13 percent of the molly they seize is actually MDMA. Today's molly is cut with anything  that's in powdered form, and when it's taken along with other pharmaceutical and recreational drugs, the right combination of chemicals can cause the wrong reaction.

Although it's considered rare, death from pure MDMA can happen several ways. It can cause blood vessels in the heart and brain to constrict and result in a stroke or heart attack, especially if it's cut with another stimulant. It can also raise user's blood pressure and heart rate, causing the body to get severely overheated which can lead to brain damage. Or, it can cause blood sodium to drop, causing the brain to swell and resulting in a fatal seizure. Dehydration and over-hydration are also common. Of course, some people take molly hundreds of times and have no problem with it, others take it once and die.

Still, despite the fluctuations in chemical makeup and physiological effect molly has, people aren't going to stay away from it -- just because something's dangerous doesn't mean people become averse to its charms. Take smoking or driving or autoerotic asphyxiation; all are high-risk, high-reward, but generating fear around them isn't what's going to help people when the shit hits the fan and they get caught up in a dangerous situation with a substance or behavior. 

So, instead of punishing users or cracking down on dealers, the most efficient public health measure we can utilize when it comes to molly is education about how to use it safely and what to do when something goes wrong. It's kind of like that cocaine poster from the Netherlands that went viral because it so generously and empathetically offered Dutch people useful information without reprimanding them for drug use.

So, in light of that, we wanted to find out what causes people to react dangerously to molly, the best way to take molly safely, and how to tell if what you're taking is molly or some chemical sludge cut with snake oil and baby laxative.

To do this, we talked to an anonymous Molly manufacturer, who at one point, was producing 50,000 pills a month. He is a chemist and a staunch proponent of drug purity as well as molly's therapeutic effects, so we figured he of all people could give us some real answers.

Here's what he said about taking molly safely:

What goes into “molly” that makes it dangerous?
First, I think it’s important to understand that “molly” is a street name for what is supposed to be pure powdered MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine). However, it’s very likely that street “molly” isn’t MDMA at all. It could very easily be confused with MDA (3,4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine) or “Sass” which is slightly easier and cheaper to manufacture (depending on available reagents), or a combination of MDMA, MDA, Methamphetamines, miscellaneous analogues, cutting agents or god knows what. Unless you are, or you know, the skilled chemist that can manufacture the purest versions of these substances, it’s unlikely that you can really know what you’re eating. MDA and MDMA have many similar effects, however, so it’s easy to understand why much of what is out there will sometimes inaccurately fall under the “molly” moniker.

Why would someone die from molly?
There are three likely suspects for death followed by “molly” consumption. First, “molly” could be completely unrelated or at least not solely responsible for the death. Correlation does not equal causation. People that eat molly, are very often consuming multiple substances simultaneously (cocaine, methamphetamines, opiates, and alcohol are all potentially fatal when taken in excess) and the excess consumption or aggregate effects of all these substances could be the true cause of death. Law enforcement officials love to say that “Drug X” was the culprit so they can justify their police state. But you’d be hard pressed to prove that any one substance was the true cause of death in a courtroom or the coroner’s table.

Death could very easily have been caused by dehydration and/or hypothermia. MDMA, and any amphetamines, increase your heart rate and your metabolism. If the drug is taken at a music venue in particular, people are drinking alcohol (which is extremely dehydrating) and dancing (which obviously causes you to sweat and metabolize fluids faster). If you’re drinking and dancing all night, you need to drink water. Many people do not because it’s too expensive at the venue they are at, or because they are too drunk or drugged out to remember to drink water often. The converse of this is the possibility of drinking too much water without also replenishing essential electrolytes (Hyponatremia).

The third way, serotonin toxicity, or “serotonin syndrome,” can be the result of taking too much of one or a combination of CNS (Central Nervous System) drugs. Too much MDMA on its own, or with other drugs, including prescriptions like antidepressants (MAOI’s, SSRI’s, etc), opioids, cocaine, and a shit load of other drugs that are hard to pronounce is very bad idea. Basically, if you choose to use MDMA, and you are on antidepressants or pain killers and/or taking additional stimulants like cocaine or amphetamines, you could die. If you take anything more than a small, measured dose of any CNS stimulant (MDMA/MDA/Meth/Cocaine, etc), you could die. Taking more and more pills, or continuously “dipping” into the molly bag over and over all night long can and has lead to death.

What kinds of things do people cut molly with?
Anything. Popular cutting agents are Inositol, calcium carbonate, caffeine powder, baking soda, finely ground NaCl (table salt), and even sugar. Professionals will choose a cutting agent that is similarly solvent as the MDMA they want to cut, and then they will create a homogenous recrystallization in which the cutting agent and the drug appear to be one crystal substance. Don’t be fooled by “Crystals” or “Rocks.” This only means that the chemist or drug dealer knows how to mix things up in a solution and let them recrystallize and/or dehydrate together. Purity cannot be gauged by looking at the size of the crystals or rocks!

How can you avoid getting a bad batch of molly?
There are test kits that can test for the presence of MDMA in a drug. They are not terribly accurate because they throw up a lot of false positives, but at least you’ll know if part of the drug you test has what you want in it. I don’t see many people using test kits, so I don’t think it’s a very relevant answer. My best advice is to simply not buy drugs from anyone you don’t trust 100%. I don’t just mean, “trust” that they aren’t narc, but trust that they have your health and best interests in mind.

There are MDMA chemists and dealers out there that actually believe in the drug and don’t want people to get hurt as they responsibly use the drug. MDMA has a lot of positive psychoactive effects if it is used sparingly … and I would seek out the dealers that wish to dispense it for the therapeutic properties, not the scumbags that simply want to take all your money so you can grind your teeth all night.

Are there any characteristics of molly like smell or taste you can test to see how pure it is before you eat it?
First of all, do not use your tongue as a purity test. That’s something fictional cops do in shitty movies. Only buy from reputable sellers that you trust 100%. If it is a PURE recrystallized MDMA salt, it should be completely odorless and white in powder or crystal form. If you smell anything, you’re smelling impurities or reagent residues. If it’s pure white, and you smell nothing, it will taste like shit. If it’s not pure white (brown, yellowish, tan) and you can smell it, it will also taste like shit…but even worse, since you’re tasting the residue of strong acids and solvents, more than likely.

How hard is it to synthesize pure MDMA?
If you have all the right equipment, and all the basic reagents, it’s possible to synthesize it from “scratch” with a good 3-5 days of work. Doing this safely and effectively would take many months of training.

Even when molly is pure, is it still dangerous?
Yes. Any drug taken in excess and in combination with other drugs can be dangerous. The long term effects of MDMA are the greatest danger, however. Scientific studies have shown that long term use can lead to serotonin nerve damage, permanent deficits in hippocampal formation and negative effects on the amygdala andareas of the neocortex. This damage can cause long-term depression, memory deficits, reduced reasoning skills, and an overall reduction of intelligence.

If you think you or someone else has had bad molly, what should you do/not do?
Don’t eat it. Dump it on the ground. If you don’t know what something is … don’t eat it! That would be crazy.

How can you tell when you’ve gotten molly vs moon rocks vs ecstasy?
Street slang has no bearing on reality. Ecstasy and molly are meant to refer to MDMA. Only a chemist can tell you if what you have is truly MDMA. The term “Moon Rocks” is meant to refer to larger recrystallized chunks of MDMA. But those chunks can be rife with impurities or even other psychoactive substances. If you want pure MDMA, you need to be a chemist or be very good friends with one.

As far as “looks” go, see my response in #4. It should be pure white, and odorless. If so, it will probably be crystalline in appearance, but the size of the crystals does not matter. The MDMA could have been in a bigger crystal form (because of recrystallization) and then been crushed into a powder for easier sales. That said, some of the most deadly poisons in the world are pure white and odorless, so please take this all with a grain of salt ... no pun intended.