What is Molly?

Molly Usually Does Not Mean MDMA Anymore

Throughout history, many drugs were considered to be miracle cures – heroin, cocaine, and chloroform to name just a few – and subsequently, taken off the pharmaceutical market once the dangers of using them were realized.

In 1916, a German chemist named Dr. Anton Köllisch who worked for Merck Pharmaceuticals is reported to be the first person to synthesize MDMA (Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) as a byproduct of another compound he was developing. It was originally developed to help control bleeding (although it is also sometimes cited as being developed for appetite suppression) but he likely did not know he had just created what has evolved to become Molly; a dangerous street drug that is far from what Köllisch was trying to develop.

In the 1990’s, MDMA became a popular choice for party-goers – specifically on the nightclub scenes and at raves – under the name of Ecstasy. MDMA was combined with other components such as methamphetamines and caffeine to create feelings of excitement and euphoria.

But people began seeking a “purer” form of MDMA, and Molly (short for “molecule”) became the next popular choice. Molly was originally sold as a more concentrated form of MDMA. Users experienced intense sensations of enjoyment largely because of the increases in brain activity that produce three feel-good chemicals:

Dopamine: Helps control levels of pleasure and attention as well as regulating mood.

Norepinephrine: Regulates sleep, mood, and arousal.

Serotonin: An important neurotransmitter that aids in sleep quality, mood, and plays an important role in things like depression and anxiety.

The use of Molly on the rave scene peaked around 2001 and then fell until 2007. Since then, it’s popularity has grown and spread among other demographics and there have been considerable increases in MDMA-related deaths and hospitalizations. In 2014, a Global Drug Survey revealed that MDMA is the fifth most popular drug in the world.

It’s The Composition

According to a report by CNN, many of the chemicals found in today’s Molly are an unpredictable combination of any number of elements and, in fact, some of the pills sold as Molly on the streets contain no actual MDMA. This is what makes them alarmingly dangerous.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that “emergency department visits related to Ecstasy use increased nearly 123 percent from 2004 to 2009 with two-thirds of these visits involving patients aged 18 to 29” and the drug has become popular among younger age groups because of it’s relatively low cost and easy accessibility.

Molly For Treatment?

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, MDMA piqued the interest of a few psychiatrists who saw benefits from their patients taking small doses of it. They reported increased communication and openness to insights in their sessions.

Indeed, doctors and scientists – particularly over the past decade – have begun to experiment with psychedelic therapy to help patients suffering from everything from PTSD to anxiety to, ironically, drug addiction.

But MDMA being classified as a Schedule I drug means it has mental and physical risks associated with it and the FDA has not concluded that it is effective in medical treatment. Still, they did allow for clinical trials to begin in 1990 to evaluate whether or not MDMA could help relieve pain in terminally ill patients, as well as serve as an adjunct to psychotherapy.

These purposes for MDMA (and other psychedelic drugs for the treatment of mental health issues and pain management) are promising from a therapeutic standpoint but, as with any controlled substance, the risk for addiction is there.

Risk of Addiction

Consider the number of people who are diagnosed with anxiety or PTSD and take selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for their symptoms. For these patients, the SSRIs are not necessarily a risk for addiction.

But for someone who does not struggle with the symptoms of anxiety, PTSD, depression, or other associated conditions, an addiction to benzodiazepines like Klonopin or Lorazepam are more likely. Additionally, it is dangerous for individuals with a prescription for these medications to abruptly stop taking them, illustrating the powerful effects of them on the brain and body.

Likewise, consider the use of pain medications. In the US, we’ve seen an astonishing rise in opioid abuse and death and this can be attributed to the over-use of medications that are not being used for their intended purpose. When people take pain medications to manage pain, the addictive properties of the medicine are overridden by the relief from pain and, ideally, once the cause of the pain is healed, the pain medications are no longer needed.

Scientists have determined that MDMA has shown great potential in treating PTSD and anxiety but medical and mental health treatment is a planned regimen and far different from buying pills on the street. Just as with painkillers and SSRIs, taking MDMA without proper diagnosis, monitoring, and management creates a risk of addiction.

The Difference Now

Back in the 1990s, Ecstacy and Molly were different. Ecstacy was generally accepted as a pressed pill that contained at least one other chemical and Molly was considered to be pure MDMA and these pressed pills were usually stamped with a unique symbol (smiley face, doves, etc.). This helped people identify which ones were “good” and which ones were not and it held dealers to a certain standard.

Now, however, Molly has emerged as a capsule or gel cap and is not as easily identified. For this reason, dealers of MDMA can add almost anything to the pills. In fact, experts say “only 13 percent of the Molly that was seized in New York State over the last four years actually had MDMA in it, the rest [had] other drugs and chemicals.”

Addiction to any substance is the result of the body being dependent on the effects of the substance from heroin to alcohol. Since MDMA affects many of the same neurotransmitters in the brain as addictive substances like cocaine, the chances for addiction are certainly there although there is no significant research regarding addiction to Molly. Still, with the skyrocketing incidents of overdoses and hospital visits, Molly has become one of the most dangerous drugs available on the streets today.


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